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Robert Kaplan: Monsoon Asia's Rise

Kaplan says the Indian Ocean region “may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one.”

Indian villagers look out at the Bay of Bengal, south of Calcutta, 2010. (AP)

Our great American stories of exploration, trade and power celebrate the high Atlantic, the wide Pacific, and the American flowering in between. My guest today – scholar, traveler Robert Kaplan – says it’s time to think Indian, as in Indian Ocean.

The world’s new center of gravity, he says, is in “monsoon Asia” – a broad swath from the Horn of Africa through the flanks of Central Asia, to India, Southeast Asia and China.

President Obama is headed there next week, and not by accident. It is, says Kaplan, the future.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guest:

Edward Luce, Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times, and former South Asia bureau chief for the FT.

Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and national correspondent for The Atlantic. He’s author of thirteen books on foreign policy, geopolitics and religion. His latest is “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.” Read an excerpt from the book, and a recent opinion piece of his in the LA Times.

Here’s a bit from “Monsoon”‘s preface:

…It is my contention that the Greater Indian Ocean, stretching eastward from the Horn of Africa past the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian Subcontinent, all the way to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one. Hopefully, the twenty-first century will not be as violent as the twentieth, but, to a similar degree, it could have a recognizable geography. In this rimland of Eurasia— the maritime oikoumene of the medieval Muslim world that was never far from China’s gaze— we can locate the tense dialogue between Western and Islamic civilizations, the ganglia of global energy routes, and the quiet, seemingly inexorable rise of India and China over land and sea. For the sum-total effect of U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan has been to fast- forward the arrival of the Asian Century, not only in the economic terms that we all know about, but in military terms as well.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • g

    Americans are very uncomfortable with the idea that U.S. will no longer be a super power and an idea that we have to “consider” other countries when making economic, military and other decisions.

    I embrace this change and hope that it will force people to reconsider their ideas and notions about their country and themselves, having to consider other countries, other views, other people – who do not share our fundamental beliefs; I think its a change in a positive, more tolerant direction. It will be a tough and thorny path, but in the end, I believe it will result in a more peaceful WORLD.

    Change is good.

  • http://www.saleemali.net Saleem H. Ali

    On Point should have invited a historian of the Indian Ocean like Sugata Bose from Harvard to comment on Kaplan’s work. From past writings, Kaplan is big on grand linear narratives rather than good analysis (similar to other journalistic public intellectuals like Tom Friedman).

  • Siva

    To me, Monsoon Asia is a fairy tale. Look at the chaos in South Asia – the pivot of Indian Ocean. The whole region is slowly moving toward political failure (corruption, discord among ethnic groups, arrogance of the political class, widening inequality etc). In my view, the South Asia has failed to build up on its burgeoning economic growth.

  • scott hayward

    Can you relate this issue back to the issues explored in the first hour. Tea Party vs Democrats.

    Is not the Chinese and Indian expansion fueled with government backing, while the right wing in this country is obsessed with small government?

  • ThresherK

    It’s always good for the aggregate IQ to have someone with map geek skills on.

    But I’d like more distinction made between “Americans”. Ever since the day that the first offshore tax dodge was created for a proud American corporation, or a lobbyist created an island hellhole where the label “Made in USA” could still be sewn onto garments, it should have been obvious that the government, the citizens, the corporations with a history here, and the investors are looking for different things. And all call themselves Americans.

  • james scott

    It’s a real shame that for as long as humans have been on the planet no once have we made a real effort for global peace and prosperity. It is ALWAYS who is the strongest, wealthiest, best protected, and most capable of inflicting the most harm. Sad…utterly sad and disgraceful and speaks volumes about the true nature of governments.

  • http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    I would like to see some figures on how many bombs exploding the Earths atmosphere can handle before we tip into the point of no return where everything gets so hot that all of the high albedo snow on the mountains and poles melt and we wind up in a world like T. S. Eliot explains in the Waste Land: What the Thunder Said.

    I think the only option is Swords to Ploughshares. If we mined all of the military bases, we could have more precious metals that we can use, and can take a break from mining operations that are dangerous for both the miners and the environment. The military is so good at logistics. We could use that to build rather than destroy. Our country back home is falling apart while all of our good men are over seas between a rock and a hard place. There has to be a better way. I know that there is.

  • Steve

    WBUR had a responsibility to note the background of its On Point guest as an activist, not as a credible historian. Robert Kagan is a renown agenda-driven neo-conservative participant in the advocacy of political actions including the invasion of Iraq in years immediately preceding and subsequent to September 11, 2001.

    Here is one letter co-signed by Kagan, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et. al.
    http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm

  • joseph

    Steve:

    “WBUR had a responsibility to note the background of its On Point guest as an activist, not as a credible historian. Robert Kagan is a renown agenda-driven neo-conservative participant in the advocacy of political actions including the invasion of Iraq in years immediately preceding and subsequent to September 11, 2001.”

    His name is Robert Kaplan.

    Below is the excerpt they included, at the top of this very page:

    “Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and national correspondent for The Atlantic. He’s author of thirteen books on foreign policy, geopolitics and religion. His latest is “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.” Read an excerpt from the book, and a recent opinion piece of his in the LA Times.”

  • Steve

    Apologies to WBUR and Mr. Kaplan for my error.

    Thank you for the correction, Joseph.

  • Ann

    I only got a C- in the course, but my public high school class (1963! N.J.! ) on International Affairs suggested much of this as a possibility. I am NOT saying this to dismiss the author — just the opposite! I am applauding him! He is giving us the history, the specifics, and the possible consequences so thoroughly, intricately, clearly, and in today’s terms. My question would be why previous U.S. leaders could not see this coming, when an overloaded arts student, who had trouble in this course, nevertheless learned enough to keep wondering over the decades when these issues were going to be addressed in our international affairs, and in this comprehensive manner.

    I missed about 5 minutes of the show in the middle. I do need to listen again thru the podcast, so please forgive the following, because maybe I’d change my next thoughts after listening again to this rich treasure trove of info.

    Were our U.S. leaders thinking thru the bifurcated lens of Democracy vs. Communism for too long? Could they see nothing else? Also, did we feel too close to our ally, the British? After all, many (most?) of the political hotspots in the world now and over the last few decades were formerly colonized by the British during them empire period (or other European imperialist efforts). The original de-stabilizing of areas of the world BY European colonialism still seems to be a force today, long after the Europeans pulled out. Or did they? Aren’t their armies right back, supposedly saving the countries “for democracy”. (But with yesterday’s news, the Brits cutting back 20% of their budget, including military, will they expect us to do even more of the work, really, in the hotspots they created centuries ago?!)

    Because too many of our political leaders still buy into the idea of Western Expansion into and within our own continent (early colonialism and later Manifest Destiny), and still don’t understand that the Native Americans were Freedom Fighters for their own land and cultural rights, I fear that they have taken us out into the world with that intellectual baggage — a poorly packed bag when it comes to understanding the impact of newcomers on the resident people of any area. We’ve mimicked the British who also help us carry this baggage around the world. Today’s guest is able to see the world thru the eyes of the people of the regions that we think we should have “political currency” within! Do we?

    Since I missed a bit of the show, I don’t know if the author mentioned China’s inroads into AFrica, as well. They have been there for a long time, but there was something in the news within the last few months (sorry, I forget exact topic) about another, more recent inroad they’ve made, perhaps commercially, on that continent, as is the point, on the western edge of the Indian Ocean. Does the fact that China has been in Africa since the 1960′s mean that they were already thinking in the geographic terms that the author is talking about?

    In my opinion, (and on a different, but related topic), instead of treating Central and South America like they were countries we could either exploit or ignore, for so many decades, we should have been making the entire Western Hemisphere a powerhouse of cohesiveness that could have been ready for the situation the author is describing! I believe we were less afraid of the Communism we said we were fighting off, but instead were more prejudiced against the Catholicism and Spanish-language culture that to some extent had allowed Native American and African influences to infiltrate into its core.

    I can’t wait to learn more by listening again, and, again, forgive me if I didn’t listen well enough this go round.

  • jane

    what holds up the process of putting up the audio shortly after broadcast. Really, I want to know. It is so frustrating when my window of listening starts to fade.

  • Mohamed

    India is still a big question mark. It sees every Muslim’s gain as zero sum game. It is true with its own Muslims and the Muslims in the neighboring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. India’s trade with its neighbors is lowest between any neighbors. India’s victimhood mentality is holding the whole region back. India is not ready for big league, not yet. It is very unfair to a vast segment of its own population.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/john-wihbey John Wihbey

    Jane – Thanks for the feedback. To answer your question on the timing of posting audio, we are trying to get faster and there’s been much discussion internally on this issue. It’s worth considering that we used to post these much later — typically 3 or 4 pm. We’re trying to average around 1 pm now, depending on work flow, and sometimes we can post the first hour by 11:30ish. Our one audio engineer — it’s a small, nonprofit staff here — has to stay on air for two hours then turn around and prepare national promos for the next day. We greatly appreciate your patience, in any case!
    -On Point staff

  • http://cominganarchy.com Younghusband

    FYI we have linked to this on our Kaplan site where conversation about the book has been going on for a while for those who are interested. Cheerio!

  • Kevin

    How do I download this On Point show (Robert Kaplan: Monsoon Asia’s Rise) to my computer or MP3 player?

  • millard_fillmore

    “India is still a big question mark. It sees every Muslim’s gain as zero sum game. It is true with its own Muslims and the Muslims in the neighboring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. India’s trade with its neighbors is lowest between any neighbors. India’s victimhood mentality is holding the whole region back. India is not ready for big league, not yet. It is very unfair to a vast segment of its own population.”

    ==

    Yeah, Mohamed. Unfortunately, there’s not much profit in importing terrorism from the neighboring Land of the Pure. Besides, they are busy training and sending people to the Great Satan, with Faisal Shahzad being the latest, but certainly not the last soldier of the Great Peaceful Religion.

    Bangladesh – what is its claim to fame, other than Yunus’s Nobel Prize and terrorizing its Hindu minorities to the extent that many of them had to leave their homes and settle in India? Even Bangladeshis in the US and UK open restaurants under “Indian food” banner. Talk about (lack of) dignity and stabbing in the back, the same country using the name of which one earns a livelihood.

  • Joan

    I find it unconscionable that expansionists like Robert Kaplan view US military push into India and Central Asia as a necessary and collective good …

    Just when is he going to face the fact Americans are tired of war and conflict after Bush’s misled war in-
    to Iraq and now Obama’s surge into Afghanistan…

    It is high time in the interests of all they make do with what they have and allow others to do likewise.

    Plus, with the downturn in the economy it has become unconscionable to support a bloated Pentagon with hun-dreds of US military bases around the world while state(s)and cities and towns are cutting back essential
    services.
    As Harry Truman noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,”

    How right he was! And as Martin Luther King,jr. pointed in his column , Breaking the Silence a government that engages in such warfare year after year is not only spiritually dead but morally bankrupted….Joan

  • Joan

    P.S Please read the Historian Howard Zinn, who calls
    upon Americans to make a better way for themselves…
    http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0321-20.htm

  • Zinovy Vayman

    What inites Mr Kagan, Mr Zinn and Mr Kaplan is their Jewishness, their TIKKUN OLAM work.
    Jews did take part in the Indian Ocean saga (Eilat, Ofira, the Queen of Sheba and Jews of the Malabar Coast.)
    However Robert Kaplan’s writing is erroneous to state that while Europe was in the Dark Ages the “Monsoon Asia” with its Africa’s slaves from Dar Es Salaam and the stone age of Australia was someting more than that.
    Mr Kaplan is just exercising his Talmudic brain and making money in the special academia climate of the US.
    Dark Ages were luminous because Jewish religions and the Roman inheritance were profoung. It was the time of gestation! It was the epic time!
    Haibun for Eduardo

    my couch- induced midriff:
    one roll of fat
    slides on another

    Eduard Rozansky’s hour of stardom has arrived again. After maturing in a Judaized enclave of Cherkizovo in eastern Moscow, after marrying a daughter of the Red Army general and his much publicized campaign to whisk her out of Muscovy to the West the American public television channel WGBH has invited a former Soviet citizen Edward Osherovich Rozansky to talk about independent Ukraine.

    Kievan Rus
    an interfaith couple
    runs to the Khazars

    Another specialist for Ukrainian affairs takes part in the broadcast. He knows Lviv and Kharkiv. Being a polished Anglo-Saxon fellow, he swiftly describes the layout of industry and sheds light on mindset of intrepid Ukrainian lads.
    But wait!
    Mr. Rozansky speaks fluent English too, very much so.
    He became an American citizen in the 80s.

    He worked in Washington. And now he is a key figure in one of Moscow universities.
    Edward Rozansky has become a spokesman for the new Russia.
    He intimates, “What do we get from the USA
    as a payback for our support in the war against terrorism?”
    A rapid succession of dissatisfaction, perplexity
    and think tank intimation runs on his face.
    gI would like to see more American help and I want the US to cooperate with us, with the Russian Federation,” says Edward Osherovich.
    Eyes of the female interviewer look at him
    with utter skillfulness.
    gReally,” Mr. Rozansky continues, “We in America try to discredit Putin, to undermine him. Instead of it we, Americans should support Putin, to show our approval of Russia and take her interests into account.”
    And Eddie produces a short chuckle.
    This chuckle comes directly from the Polish Pale, not Palestine, Pittsburgh or Paris.

    Sea of Galilee:
    my Yiddish legs tickled
    by juvenile fish

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