Hira Shabir is a passionate wordsmith on an unending quest for knowledge. Since 2020, she has been working as a professional freelance content writer in a relentless pursuit of wisdom from every corner of the world.
Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D. Kaplan is a masterpiece highlighting the importance of the Indian Ocean in the “new Great Game” of world dynamics and its influence on the US. The author believes that in geopolitics, the Indian Ocean is always overlooked compared to the Atlantic Ocean. So he embarked on a journey to explore and scrutinize the countries in this region. As he writes about each country and his travel endeavors, he frequently addresses America, offering a strategic analysis for its policymakers to understand the region better.
Future Power Nexus
The author begins by mentioning the significant factors of the Indian Ocean region. It’s one of the world’s most heavily populated regions. Islam’s entire arc exists here, but the region also struggles with terrorism and anarchy. Despite that, it has the prime black gold or oil shipping lanes, crucial sea routes, and the most nuclearised seas that can no longer be ignored.
Critical US-China and India-China rivalries also increase the Indian Ocean region’s importance in global politics. China has already established its geographic centrality in Asia, and its increasing influence here is a troubling sign for the US as the most powerful country in the world. The author predicted this in 2010 when Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power was published. Almost 13 years later, it has come true, as China is a major US competitor and constantly challenges its power.
China vs India
India is the only country in the Indian Ocean region that rivals China. They are in constant competition to outdo each other. With its vertical expansion, China influences Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, and the Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal, specifically targeting ports to establish its maritime dominance. China, today is heavily invested in its South China Sea to the point where the US, along with its allies, Japan, Australia, and India (the Quad), are tightening their alliance to contain China’s maritime expansion.
Conversely, India is horizontally expanding with ties to the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Burma, where it engages in trade. In today’s age, India has made significant progress in its horizontal expansions with gas pipelines and the Chahbahar Port deal with Iran. Its role in Afghanistan was also a key mention, as were its increasing ties with Gulf Countries.
Kaplan has based Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power on his travels around the Indian Ocean region. Starting from the Persian Gulf’s Oman, he journeyed clockwise, progressing to the Balochistan and Sindh coastlines of Pakistan. He then continued from India’s Gujrat and Kolkata to Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia before concluding his journey on Africa’s Zanzibar Island. He mentions the volatility, cultural diversity, climatic activity, ethnic rivalries, political commotion, and economic drive of the countries straddling the Indian Ocean. He divided each country into chapters in which he narrates his experience, offers detailed historical background, and predicts the countries’ future.
The author starts his journey in Oman, showing examples of globalization with the influences of Muscat, Indian Rajasthan, and Hyderabad. Its clothes have reflections of Balochistan and Zanzibar, whereas Chinese porcelain and Yemeni and Iranian bakers display the cultural diversity brought to it by its rich trading history. According to Kaplan, Oman demonstrates that the goal in this region is justice via religious and tribal authority, unlike democracy in the West. While it does lack political freedom, its respect for human rights redeems it.
Unlike the much-visited shores of Oman, Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan coastlines show very little influence of the Indian Ocean due to a lack of visitors. While its ports are strategically located, being a pulsing hub of new silk routes on both land and sea, they haven’t been able to develop like Gulf states because of Pakistan’s poor governance. It is also infested with terrorists such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which the author calls an “Islamic bomb.” Kaplan states that Pakistan’s dysfunctional cities with ethnic groups unable to unite, troublesome politics, and neglect threaten the failure of this state.
Moving on to India, the writer muses that its spirit has undergone an uneasy shift in the era of capitalism and ethno-religious tensions. However, India’s democracy has shown sufficient elasticity to withstand insurgency and internalized anarchy, unlike China’s authoritarian system. He mentions the city of Gujrat for its economic growth but also for its religious tensions. The author recalls the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujrat riots, discussing the role of its then-chief minister, Narendra Modi.
He met Modi on his journey and states that he has never shown any remorse or publicly apologized for his stance in the riots. But the writer also states that Modi is not a fascist. He momentarily might have been a full-fledged fascist but quickly declined to be a “low-calorie” one. According to Kaplan, Modi has a two-dimensional personality of being an excellent CEO but also with a fierce ideology that is disturbing yet impressive. Lastly, he calls India the ultimate paradox for being the only non-dysfunctional state in the region.
Next, Kaplan arrives in India’s neighbor, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is suffering from an environmental emergency due to the spring floods originating from the north’s Himalayan snow and the monsoon rains brought by the south. It also has the Chittagong Port in its Bay of Bengal, which has been neglected in the face of Dhaka. Regardless, Chinese companies have been actively developing the container port facility, where China might also seek naval access. Bangladesh also suffers from the plight of Rohingya Muslims from neighboring Arkan, Burma, making its conditions tougher.
In Sri Lanka, the writer mentions its Hambantota Port entirely built by China. It has a natural gas refinery, aviation fuel storage, three docks, and one dry dock. It would allow Sri Lanka to eventually move beyond being a byword for ethnic conflict and emerge as a strategic node in global maritime commerce. It is the key to 21st-century maritime communication, which the US has ignored so far. However, it has faced its share of violence from the fascist Tamil Tigers terrorists, the first-ever guerilla insurgents with their own air force.
Burma, or present-day Myanmar, is also located at a strategic junction on the Indian Ocean. However, it is a rugged guerilla country with a military regime and a corrupt, desertion-plagued force. Burma may be a potential North Korea. For the US military, it is a perfect psychological operation target. It is coveted by both India and China. India wants it because it’s the most direct route to China, whereas China wants Burma for port access for its landlocked south and west.
The author believes Islam’s future will be determined in Indonesia. The country represents Islam’s greatest success story, where the religion came via commerce through the Indian Ocean, unlike invasions in other parts of the world. However, Indonesia is in a ring of fire due to active volcanoes, shifting tectonic plates, and continental fault lines. Interestingly, the accompanying natural disasters only make Islam’s impact stronger here.
Indonesia is a 21st-century economic giant, religiously vibrant, and intellectually rich, avoiding the ideologization of faith. Almost all global shipping lanes converge between the Red Sea and the Sea of Japan at the Strait of Malacca. This strait emphasizes that the Indian Ocean is semi-closed, unlike the Pacific or Atlantic, making it vulnerable yet crucial. Indonesia is also a major oil producer and the primary supplier of East Asia, playing a key role in the region.
The author points out Africa as the Indian Ocean’s only untapped side with a huge land mass of critical importance. China has turned to Africa for its energy needs to avoid dependency on the Strait of Hormuz. It also offers African nations technological and economic aid to mark its influence. To keep up with China, India is also focusing on Africa. It already has trade links here, accessing its diamonds in exchange for gold. It’s also courting Africa with soft loans, development aid, and political support to win lucrative oil projects. The last stop in Kaplan’s journey is the autonomous island of Zanzibar of Tanzania. It is stuck in a post-colonial past, whereas mainland Tanzania and nearby Mozambique have made modest economic and political progress.
He believes Burma and Pakistan are most susceptible to collapse and radicalization due to their unstable political scenarios and intolerant cultures. However, Indonesia and India have stabilized themselves via tolerant cultures, democratic measures, and administrative courses. Lastly, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are still in the middle of the axis and could either fall or rise.
The writer makes a clever connection in the book’s title – Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – with the monsoon season, which is unique to this geographical area. It signifies the importance of this weather and the countries of the regions. Kaplan mentioned that the monsoon is destructive yet crucial for the region’s development and climate. Similarly, the countries in this region are very volatile but will play a vital role in the world’s future. This analogy is spot on in modern times. It can be witnessed already that these nations are quickly rising in the global power race while battling various social, economic, and political challenges.
Lastly, this book mentions China as a challenge for America but ultimately brings forth another bigger challenge, one that requires the US to improve its communication with the African and Asian countries of the region to retain its dominance. If America wants to be viewed as legitimate, it must make peace with the billions symbolized by the Indian Ocean, most of which are Muslims. Only by seeking every opportunity to identify its struggles with those of the larger Indian Ocean world can American power finally be preserved.
It is a comprehensive book that highlights the region’s crucial role in remarkable detail. The West has always undermined this region, but Kaplan has ensured they understand its importance for their future. It provides an intelligent mix of policy analysis and Kaplan’s travel adventures to avoid boring its readers. By providing a detailed historical perspective on each country in the region, the author improves the reader’s understanding. Lastly, the fluid transitions from history to policy and travel stories show the author’s expertise in writing.
However, some aspects of the Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power may be biased. The author’s favoritism toward India compared to Pakistan was highly noticeable. His views of Pakistan’s future were less than hopeful, but he was able to move on from Modi’s fascist acts of the past. Every day, religious intolerance is rising in India more and more under Modi’s government. Despite its political challenges, Pakistan is making notable efforts for its development. While the author downplayed Pakistan, it is still emerging as one of the most crucial countries in the region.
Overall, the book echoes one thing: the Indian Ocean region is an area of the world Americans can no longer afford to ignore. Countries of the Indian Ocean region are mostly seen as backward by the world but they hold the key to global power. In this remarkable book, Robert Kaplan uses geopolitics and foreign correspondence expertise to eradicate the previous ill-conceived image and present the region in a new, clearer light. Whether you are a geopolitics enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking to comprehend the forces shaping our world, this book offers an engaging and enlightening expedition into the heart of the Indian Ocean’s complexities.
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