Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

November 10, 2010 — Best-selling author Robert D. Kaplan and Ambassador Arun K. Singh joined us for a discussion of Mr. Kaplan’s new book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.  Mr. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington and a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of several books, including The Coming Anarchy, The Arabist, and Balkan Ghosts. He is also a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board.  Ambassador Singh is the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C.  He is a career Indian Foreign Service officer having served in Moscow, Tokyo, Addis Ababa, and the United Nations, among others. 

Mr. Kaplan opened with a few brief remarks about his book and the polity of the Indian Ocean region.  He noted that while western powers have been “trapped by the Mercator map” and a cold war mentality, the center of the world may have shifted to the Indian Ocean.  Recent notions that certain nations in the region, including India and Pakistan, posses nascent political systems, presenting new problems, is not entirely accurate.  For many of these countries, their political structures have been in place for years and their resiliency has been repeatedly proven.  In addition, China has begun to build a large number of ports along the Indian Ocean’s coastlines to expand its economic presence in the region and globally. The natural resource extraction in countries in the region engaged in protracted conflict, including Afghanistan and Burma, present continuing challenges as well.  Mr. Kaplan suggested India may begin to feel “surrounded” by the military build-up of its regional neighbors; therefore, India may further align itself with those regional neighbors, such as China, Russia, and Iran, in an attempt to solidify its own security against perceived threats like Pakistan. 

Our respondent, Ambassador Singh, noted that India has always regarded the Indian Ocean as the center of the world, and as a growing, global economic power, 97% of its trade, and 77% of Middle Eastern oil, passes through that body of water.  He also remarked that as trade in the region increases, the Indian Ocean’s trade routes, in particular the Straight of Malaka, will begin to get quite crowded, therefore, making peace and security in the region an even more significant priority for the international economy.  Ambassador Singh also briefly talked about President Obama’s recent trip to India and India’s hope for a renewal of the primacy of U.S./Indian relations in regional politics. 

The question and answer period covered a wide range of issues including China’s intentions and possible military ambitions, the role of energy consumption, intra-regional relationships, as well as ethnicity and religion in the region.  There was continued discussion what U.S. foreign policy should look like in the region and to what extent the U.S. needs a strong naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to mark_ya[email protected]


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