The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power

Robert Kaplan discusses his new book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power at Asia Society Washington DC on Feb. 16, 2011.

WASHINGTON DC, February 16, 2011 - The Asia Society and the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted Robert Kaplan, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (Washington, DC) for a talk centered on his latest book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. The event was moderated by Colonel Jack Gill of the National Defense University (NDU) and the SAIS South Asia Studies Program.

Kaplan opened with a review of key issues affecting US policy in countries in the Indian Ocean region, including China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. He also emphasized their increasing geopolitical importance and said that rapid changes in this dynamic region, especially China's and India's status as emerging naval powers, will influence US policy in the Indian Ocean.

Kaplan pointed out that when it comes to military issues, America has recently been distracted by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, future conflicts and wars will be tremendously influenced by naval power. Consequently, the US must strengthen its foreign policy in the Indian Ocean in order to maintain its strategic dominance. In particular, control over maritime trade in this region is critically important because 90 percent of all commercial goods and oil sent from the Middle East to Asia are delivered by ship.

As Kaplan suggested, the region from the Middle East to the growing cities of South and East Asia willbecome the nexus of world economic growth and military conflicts, as states fight to achieve democracy, energy independence, and economic liberalization. It is here that the convergence of issues of Islam, India and China will inescapably come to ahead. Kaplan says, "Rising economic growth in theregion will lead to the expansion of economic interests, which need to beprotected by military power."

In conclusion, Kaplan explained that the Indian Ocean area has been evolving into a multi-polar trading area between Muslim and non-Muslims. It is therefore necessary for America to be aware of the aspirations of regional players in order to balance their increasing commercial and military power in the Indian Ocean while maintaining US strategic influence in the region. 

Reported by Grace Gan-Yin Liu, Asia Society Washington Center