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'Robert D. Kaplan, the author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,” is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.'(NYT)
New York Times
Obama Takes Asia by Sea
By ROBERT D. KAPLAN
Published: November 11, 2010
PRESIDENT OBAMA has insisted that his 10-day Asian journey is all about jobs: “The primary purpose is to ... open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America.” But this recasting of the agenda, a late reaction to the midterm election, obscured the vital geopolitical importance of the trip.
In fact, the president has been confronting a new strategic map that lies beyond our messy and diversionary land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In geographical terms, two of the countries on the itinerary, India and Indonesia, are in the same increasingly pivotal region: the southern coastal areas, or “rimland” of Eurasia, which is emerging as the world’s hydrocarbon interstate, uniting energy-rich Arabia and Iran with the growing economies of the Pacific.
Gone today are the artificial divisions of cold-war-era studies: now the “Middle East,” “South Asia,” “Southeast Asia” and “East Asia” are part of a single organic continuum. In geopolitical terms, the president’s visits in all four countries are about one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea.
India is increasingly feeling hemmed in by China’s military might. It lies within the arc of operations of Chinese fighter jets based in Tibet. China is building or developing large ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma, and providing all these Indian Ocean countries with significant military and economic aid.
Although India and China fought a border war in the early 1960s, they have never really been rivals, separated as they are by the Himalayas. But the shrinkage of distance thanks to globalism and advances of military technology has spawned a rivalry that is defining the new Eurasia.
Indeed, it is India’s emergence as a great Eurasian power that constitutes the best piece of news for American strategists since the end of the cold war. Merely by rising without any formal alliance with Washington, democratic India balances statist China. Even closer links between the United States and India would be better — and no doubt factored into Mr. Obama’s talk of backing India for a seat on the United Nations Security Council — but are made complex by our chaotic land wars.
While President Obama would like to withdraw from Afghanistan, Indian leaders remain afraid he will do precisely that. To Indians, Afghanistan is not a distant Central Asian country: it is historically part of the subcontinent. Empires as distant as the Harappans in the fourth millennium B.C. and as recent as the Mughals in the early modern era made Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India part of the same polity. Indian elites carry this history in their bones.
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