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Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the future of…

Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the future of American power

by Robert D. Kaplan

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This interesting book is several things: part travelogue, part history, part geo-politics and geo-economics. And, the author puts it all together in an informative and engaging way.

India, China and the other countries who rely on the Indian Ocean and South China Sea for trade and transport are examined in this book. It is clear that Mr. Kaplan has done a lot of reserach, and spent time visiting all the places he talks about. He displays a deep understanding of the cultures and realities of the people he writes about. I learned a lot about this part of the world. Some of the themes explored were how Islam took different forms when it arrived via traders vs. crusaders; how social institutions are needed to support governance models, especially democracy; how China provides economic development assistance in search of access without preaching about human rights; how so much trade depends on two or three narrow straits. The one topic I thought wasn't fully explored was the subtitle: what all this means for American power.

I was able to reflect on parallels to Canada's system of Indian reserves, our insistence that foreign aid be linked to human rights, how some issues become social causes while other similar situations go virtually unheard of.

A great introduction to this part of the world. I hope I am now better able to put current events in a context. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 28, 2013 |
Excellent and informative. History, culture, travel, geography, politics and more. All in one book. My only complaint would be that the final chapter about China seemed forced. However, RDK is at the top of his league. ( )
  Jeremy_Palmer | Dec 28, 2012 |
Subtitle: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power ( )
  Elishibai | Dec 20, 2012 |
An excellent book, This book clearly explains the issues that surround the countries that are affected by the monsoons. When I picked up this book, I thought that it may be one of those geopolitical books that have been written by an American diplomat with scant knowledge of what is happening in this part of the world. This is one time that I was really proved wrong, ad Robert Kaplan has demonstrated excellent knowledge and insight into the issues affecting this part of the world.
The book has been very clearly laid out, and the writing style is easy enough to read without having to strain unnesecarrily. The chapters are complete in themselves, so it is easy to come back to a specific section and read, without having to scan the whole book again.
This part of the world changes fast, so I hope that he comes up with updated versions soon. ( )
  RajivC | Jun 3, 2012 |
Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon borrows a format from his earlier popular and very influential book Balkan Ghosts: part history, part travelogue, part geography lesson, and part political analysis. Here he broadens his scope from a European peninsula to the Indian Ocean littoral. His overall theme is that the United States no longer has the power to be the world’s only hegemon, and so it must adapt to sharing power in this theater with China and India. Moreover, the Indian Ocean littoral is the locus of some of the most unstable regimes in the world, and thus is likely to be a place where radical changes in the political status quo will occur.

While the geography of the Indian Ocean determines the scope of the book, that area’s characteristic wind patterns (the monsoons) unify its history from early medieval times to the advent of steam power. Because the winds blow like clockwork from southwest to northeast part of the year and then reverse themselves in April and October, Arab traders were able to sail to India and farther east to Indonesia with the wind at their backs, and then return home, also with favorable winds. From the east, Chinese traders were able to sail to India and East Africa, and then return home with favorable winds.

The spread of Islam is another principal theme of the book. Where Islam spread by conquest (its usual modus operandi)—in Persia and Northwest India (modern Pakistan)—it retained its intolerant, close-minded character. Where it expanded through trade and voluntary conversion—Indonesia—it absorbed many of the local religious beliefs and practices, and became much more tolerant and open minded. In India, where Islam’s spread by conquest was stopped by Hindu civilization, the history of the country is still suffused with the confrontation of Muslim and Hindu belief systems.

The coming of the Portuguese with Vasco da Gama in the late 16th century disrupted trading patterns that had prevailed for over 500 years in the area. The Dutch and British followed soon thereafter, and Europeans dominated the area until World War II.

Kaplan’s narrative takes us on a chapter-by-chapter tour of Oman, Baluchistan and Sindh (Pakistan), Gujarat (western India), Delhi (central India), Kolkata (eastern India), Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia. Oman is prosperous, but not remotely democratic. India is a thriving democracy. Pakistan and Bangladesh are atrociously-ruled basket cases. Burma is a mixture of rival ethnicities ruled by an oppressive dictatorship. Indonesia practices a remarkably tolerant form of Islam, and is fairly democratic. Kaplan’s descriptions of these countries is much more detailed and nuanced than my thumb nail sketches, so you will have to read the book for a full appreciation of his careful and detailed analysis.

Hovering over the entire area is the rapidly growing power of China, which seeks to expand its navy to protect its vital interests in oil from Arabia. At present, China, India, and the United States all have significant naval presences in the Indian Ocean. The three have been able to cooperate in such matters as suppressing piracy. However, as U.S. power wanes and Chinese and Indian power wax, the situation must be handled deftly and carefully by all involved to avoid confrontation and possible military conflict.

Evaluation: Monsoon is a lucid analysis of the complexity of the issues presented in this potentially troublesome portion of the globe that accounts for a third of the world’s population. Kaplan contends that just as Europe defined the geopolitics of the 20th Century, the Indian Ocean will define the 21st. For those interested in global power relationships, this book is essential. A helpful glossary as well as a number of maps are included. ( )
  nbmars | Nov 11, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Kaplan is at his best when he describes the “new Great Game” that is now unfolding across the Indian Ocean. As he correctly notes, it is China that is primarily responsible for setting this game in motion. Since the turn of this century, that country’s explosive economic growth has propelled it outward in search of markets, materials and, above all, energy.
Kaplan’s expectations are surprisingly upbeat. Asian investment may develop Africa, ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka and Myanmar may soften as democracy takes hold, Indonesian democracy is strong, China and India will compete more with soft than with hard power since territorial expansion is an option for neither, and the U.S. Navy can engineer an “elegant decline” from hegemony by fostering cooperation with other navies to protect the maritime commons. The more China and India rise, the more welcome U.S. power will be in the region as a counterbalance to both.
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Gradual, inexorable, and fundamental changes...are...occurring in the balances of power among civilizations, and the power of the West relative to that of other civilizations will continue to decline.

-Samuel P Huntington, 'The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order' (1996)
To Grenville Byford
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Book description
On the world maps common in America, the Western Hemisphere lies front and center, while the Indian Ocean region all but disappears. This convention reveals the geopolitical focus of the now-departed twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century that focus will fundamentally change. In this pivotal examination of the countries known as “Monsoon Asia”—which include India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania—bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power. It is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if the United States is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. From the Horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, Kaplan exposes the effects of population growth, climate change, and extremist politics on this unstable region, demonstrating why Americans can no longer afford to ignore this important area of the world. [Amazon.co.uk]
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In "Monsoon," a pivotal examination of the Indian Ocean region and the countries known as "Monsoon Asia," bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan deftly shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power in the twenty-first century. Kaplan also offers riveting insights into the economic and naval strategies of China and India and how they will affect U.S. interests, while also providing an on-the-ground perspective on the more volatile countries in the region.… (more)

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