Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Robert Kaplan at Harvard Bookstore

Robert D. Kaplan spoke about his new book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and The Future of American Power at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA Monday night, October 25. A focus on the Indian Ocean, he informed, allowed him to escape the confines of the old Cold War world dichotomy, the paradigm that aggregated the world on the basis of two competing ideologies, and write instead from a perspective that views the world as an "organic continuum." In his analysis, the Indian Ocean promises to be the crucial sphere of competition between two emerging economic and military powers, India and China.

The US role in this region, he asserted, will be to establish cooperative ties to the region's existing stable democracies (India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea). In addition, Kaplan suggested that perhaps the most important ally in Southeast Asia will prove to be Vietnam. In fact, Kaplan predicted that in the near future the US will begin selling nuclear technology to Vietnam. Such a relationship might well resemble the nuclear partnership with India negotiated by the second Bush Administration.

He talked for about 20 minutes and used only a single note card which he barely referenced. Following his remarks, he answered questions for about 40 minutes, each question addressed with precise, informed, unhesitant replies.

Notes From the Talk

"Cold War area studies" no longer relevant.

Burma - vast mineral resources, water riches. A country coveted by both India and China.

The decades long Sri Lankan civil war that pitted the governing Sinhalese against the minority Tamils was essentially won for the Sinhalese by Chinese who came to their rescue with military and economic aid. In return? The Chinese are building a deep water port off Sri Lanka's coast.

Indeed, China is building deep water ports in several countries around the Indian Ocean basin, their longterm strategy being to establish important economic "zones of influence."

Islam is actually a considerable sea-faring civilization. The Indian Ocean edges numerous Islamic countries including the country with the highest Islamic population in the world, Indonesia. Sinbad the Sailor - an Omani. "Cosmopolitan seafaring"

Monsoon - not actually a storm, but a wind and weather system. For six months the winds blow in one direction and then they reverse and blow six months in the other direction. This dependable weather system facilitated vast seafaring contact between points as distant as East Africa and China. Long before Portugal's Vasco da Gama ventured around the Cape of Good Hope, vast networks of ocean trade already flourished throughout the Indian Ocean.

Kaplan: over time, China will peacefully incorporate Taiwan into China.

Of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - they have served to "fast forward" the rise in importance and power of China and India.

See Blake Hounshell's review of Kaplan's Monsoon in Foreign Policy.

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