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Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power Hardcover – October 19, 2010
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An inveterate traveler and author, Kaplan recently toured the rim of the Indian Ocean to inspect its geopolitics. Perspectives on the balance of power vary from country to country and speaker to speaker, but most agree that India and China are the ascending powers in the region. As Kaplan’s passages about Indian Ocean history reflect, the two countries can refer to tradition (to the fifteenth-century fleets of Zheng He, in China’s case) for their contemporary activities in the Indian Ocean, but the plain fact is they are busy for one reason: access to resources. As Kaplan journeys from Oman to Pakistan to Burma and Indonesia, the specific raw material comes into focus, as does the geopolitical angle of safely shipping it to the interested country. Touching on what could threaten maritime traffic, such as piracy, ethnic conflicts, or hostile control of choke points like the Strait of Malacca, Kaplan is guardedly optimistic that interested powers, including the U.S., can benignly manage their Indian Ocean affairs. A better-informed world-affairs reader will be the result of Kaplan’s latest title. --Gilbert Taylor
Praise for MONSOON
“An intellectual treat: Beautiful writing is not incompatible with geopolitical imagination and historical flair!”
—ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, former national security advisor
“Monsoon is a shining example of Robert Kaplan’s ability to combine the most intrepid travel with scrupulous research and scholarship. He has been proven right many times before, in other ambitious books; given his conclusions about the future of South Asia, I do hope he is wrong this time.”
—PAUL THEROUX, author of Ghost Train to the Eastern Star
“For much of the post–Cold War era, Robert D. Kaplan has been an indispensable voice in our search for order in a time of chaos. This book on the inescapable new role of the Indian Ocean and its influence on America is another enlightening and engaging contribution to our understanding of what matters most as the twenty-first century takes shape.”
—JON MEACHAM, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion
“The audacity of Robert Kaplan’s approach to geography as fate is spellbinding. Whether you agree or disagree with his analysis and forecast that the Indian Ocean will occupy the center of global change and international politics in the coming decades, you will find this erudite study gripping and informative. It is a welcome and important addition to the debate about America’s role in a rapidly changing world.”
—JIM HOAGLAND, contributing editor, The Washington Post
“Kaplan . . . inculcates a paradigm shift when he suggests that the site of twenty-first-century geopolitical significance will be the Indian Ocean, not the northern Atlantic. . . . The book’s political and economic focus and forecasts are smart and brim with aperçus on the intersection of power, politics, and resource consumption (especially water), and give full weight to the impact of colonialism. An ambitious and prescient study.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Kaplan is a landscape artist who covers the world with extraordinary perception and insight and paints brilliant portraits of people, places, history, geopolitics, religion, and big ideas. As usual, Kaplan is one step ahead of everyone else as he explores how global power is shifting.”
—AHMED RASHID, author of Descent into Chaos
“Monsoon is another masterpiece by one of the most compelling writers of our day. Anyone interested in the balance of power in our world needs to read this book, and fast.”
—AMY CHUA, Yale University, author of World on Fire and Day of Empire
“Monsoon captures vividly what many have believed for some time—that the twenty-first-century balance of power in the world will rest, more than anywhere else, on the fortunes of China, India, and the United States in the Indian Ocean. This is a superb book with important lessons for Americans.”
—NICHOLAS BURNS, Harvard University, former undersecretary of state
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Oman is a wonderful example of an alternative to democracy that has worked out for the best of the country. While Kaplan points out that this is not always the answer, it is refreshing to see an American who admits that, for some societies, democracy might not be the best option.
On Islam in Indonesia, Kaplan points out that traditional and conservative Islamic groups are more inclusive and secure since they have a stable basis in centuries of Islamic thought and do not feel threatened by other influences (which are many: Indonesia has Christian, Buddhist and HIndu communities) or define itself through enemies. It is the modern Islamic groups that tend to be more radical. "The conversion of religion to radical ideology doesn't happen because people doubt God, but because they have come to doubt themselves, which, in turn, is something that goes back to their own fear of modernization." He further quotes Giora Eliraz who says that "radical fundamentalists need worthy adversaries.".
All of this makes me think of what has been happening in Europe in the past several years. It is not the Islam that Europe should fear, but the people who are frightened, people who feel that they cannot - for whatever reason - integrate into the modern day society, the ones that feel excluded. And the cure to the current situation is not rage or increased antagonism, but acceptance of all, respect for the different sets of beliefs, and promotion of economic development throughout the world, the kind of development that will make people feel secure about their job prospects and the ability to feed their families and realize their full human potential without the necessity to resort to violence. It is fear and insecurity that breed violence. And there need not be fear in a world that is more supporting and accepting. Sadly, we are a long way from that word as of yet, but we can start on the way there by at least remembering that fear and rage is not the answer.
I would recommend reading Monsoon by Robert Kaplan to everyone!
Clearly, something is going on. Both China and India aspire to be regional powers with growing competition between them. China is investing considerably in economic aid and diplomatic outreach along the southern Eurasian rim giving China a greater presence along the Indian Ocean sea lines of communication. The Chinese need the Indian Ocean ports to transport oil and other energy products northward into its heartland. At the same time, India is expanding its influence horizontally eastward and westward.
Kaplan begins with a history lesson - "until about 100 B.C. the fulcrum of trade between East and West was Oman and the Dhofar and Yemen ports. Globalization happened in Oman and the rest of the Indian Ocean in antiquity and in the early medieval era long before it did in other places."
The monsoonal winds contributed. "The monsoon winds throughout the Indian Ocean generally flow north of the equator are as predictable as clockwork, blowing northeast to southwest and north to south, then reversing themselves at regular six month intervals in April and October, making it possible since antiquity for sailing ships to cover great distances relatively quickly, with the certainty, perhaps after a long sojourn, of returning home almost as fast." The monsoonal system favored trip planning, liberating sailors from the elements, and fostering trade.
Kaplan then takes the reader on a detailed, present day journey around the rim with each chapter devoted to a specific region ("Oman is everywhere, Curzon's Founders, Lands of India - Delhi and Kolkata, Baluchistan and Sindh, The Troubled Rise of Gujarat, Bangladesh: The Existential Challenge, Sri Lanka: The New Geopolitics, Burma: Where India and China Collide, Indonesia's Tropical Islam, Malaysia, and the Eastern shores of Africa"). He examines the historical roots of each and highlights the complicated overlapping regional layers of commercial and political influence of China, India, Iran, and the United States. He successfully captures the trials faced by each state and its people, as well as the turmoil that lies ahead.
The Indian Ocean rim and its adjacent waters are a cauldron. Kaplan argues that it is on its way of becoming the central theater of conflict in the world. "This is where the rivalry between the US and China in the Pacific interlocks with the regional rivalry between China and India, and also with America's fight against Islamic Terrorism in the Middle East, which includes the US attempt to contain Iran." "Monsoon" underscores the strategic need for the U.S. via its Navy to remain a preeminent South Asian power. "No ocean is in need of strategic stability more than the Indian Ocean, which is arguably the most nuclearized of the seven seas."
My only caveat to Kindle purchasers is that the maps are impossible to read on the Kindle 3G.