Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
Robert D. Kaplan. New York: Random House, 2010. 384 pp. Maps. Illus. Index. $28.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Claude G. Berube, U.S. Navy Reserve
This review is being written just as U.S. forces have retaken a ship from pirates in the Indian Ocean—news that is reported in detail in a first-hand account on the Naval Institute’s blog. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of news stories from that region of the world that originate or are disseminated by U.S. media. While the world’s third-largest ocean lies on the far side of the world (from, of course, a U.S.-centric perspective), it may well be the most important region in the coming decades as current and emerging powers competing for resources and nations along its rim face domestic and potentially destabilizing challenges. In the absence of extensive coverage comes a timely new book by Robert Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, which suggests that this region will require far more attention from the United States.
As one of the many U.S. service personnel who participated in tsunami relief operations off Sumatra at one end of the Indian Ocean to maritime interception operations in the Arabian Sea and anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa at its other maritime chokepoints, I can attest to the complexity of just some of the challenges inherent in the nearly 30 million square miles of ocean and its coastal nations. As Kaplan points out, 40 percent of seaborne crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, 50 percent of the world’s merchant fleet passes through the Strait of Malacca, half of the world’s container traffic passes through the Indian Ocean, and the rim land accounts for 70 percent of the traffic of petroleum products for the entire world. He contends “that the Greater Indian Ocean…may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one.”
If that is true, then this new map will include new players—or, more accurate, players of old who have rejoined the game. While the United States has maintained a naval presence in the Indian Ocean for decades, rising countries may seem to us to be new to the game based on their expanded economic interests and the navy ships that accompany those interests in a Mahanian model. China may now be conducting piracy escorts through the Gulf of Aden, but Kaplan repeatedly recalls Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s naval expeditions in the region during the early 15th century. Commerce between China and India and the ocean’s rim land began centuries earlier.
India is regaining its traditional role, and China is back. Both require more resources to fuel, literally and figuratively, their respective economies. China’s quest is increasingly driving it toward more presence, building new ports and pipelines and securing its sea lines of communication as it becomes the largest producer of merchant ships in the world. China appears to have embraced Alfred Thayer Mahan, while some might suggest the United States, as its own merchant and naval fleets have dramatically diminished since World War II, seems either to have forgotten or dismissed him. America is also at a diplomatic disadvantage among the rim land nations; as the United States retreats or elects not to invest in some areas, China fills the void with its realistic pragmatism focused like a laser on raw resources and consequent trade. Here, Kaplan suggests, “India stands dramatically at the commanding center of the Indian Ocean, near to where the United States and China are headed for a tryst with destiny.”
Each of the book’s chapters focuses on a different country. Monsoon methodically walks the reader through the geographic, economic, and political importance of every country that borders that body of water. If Yemen is conspicuously absent, it is only because Kaplan covered it extensively in his previous work, Imperial Grunts.
One of Monsoon’s strengths is the author’s characteristic style—an informed, explanatory tone building to a crescendo of strategic insights. In some ways, Kaplan follows the tradition of Herodotus, Alexis de Tocqueville, and 20th-century historians Samuel Eliot Morison and Barbara Tuchman: he extensively travels to his subject regions to understand them. In this way, Kaplan has few contemporary equals. The book demonstrates significant research into each country’s history, politics, geography, economics, and demographics. The chapters are appropriately peppered with interviews of missionaries, journalists, political and military leaders, academicians, and merchants. He walks the streets and meets in third-world huts, ivory towers, city halls, and coffee houses to gauge the pulse of communities and countries. His colorful narrative and descriptions are captivating; no word is wasted.
If readers are looking for just one book this year about geopolitical challenges, then Monsoon is it.
Lieutenant Commander Berube teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. He previously worked for two U.S. senators and as a civilian for the Office of Naval Intelligence. The co-author of two books and a pending third on maritime security, he is a frequent contributor to Proceedings and Naval History.
Securing Freedom in the Global Commons
Scott Jasper, editor. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010. 293 pp. Intro. Illus. Notes. Index. $24.95.
Reviewed by Eric Sayers
The “global commons”—sea, air, space, and cyberspace—has become a catchphrase in Washington security circles. Although hardly a new concept, a rigorous exploration of the strategic value of the commons to American grand strategy in today’s global international system has only recently commenced. Since 2009, several journals and think-tank reports have focused on the topic. Numerous government documents, including the 2010 National Security Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the congressionally-mandated independent panel tasked with reviewing the QDR also have granted significant attention to what the latter referred to as the “connective tissue around our globe upon which all nations’ security and prosperity depend.”
On the heels of this discussion, Scott Jasper’s edited volume, Securing Freedom in the Global Commons, presents an extensive and diverse academic study of the complexities defense planners, government policymakers, and private enterprise will face in the commons in the decades ahead.
The commons confer the global system with immense advantages. They are the avenues of the global economy through which trade, finance, information, technology, and people pass. They also represent the geographic and virtual space that forms the foundation for American military power. But the task of defending the commons will become more difficult as globalization increases the power and stature of rising authoritarian states and non-state actors.
Securing Freedom addresses what “may be the signal security challenge of the twenty-first century” by reviewing the geographic, economic, military, and legal characteristics of the four commons and prescribing policy approaches for decision-makers to assess. Considering the breadth of this topic, Jasper has done a commendable job of isolating its component parts and eliciting the contributions of some of the most respected scholars and security practitioners in their fields. In addition to devoting a chapter to air, space, and cyber-security, Securing Freedom separately considers—very usefully—the challenge of maritime security and sea control. In another valuable addition, Jasper includes a chapter on ballistic-missile defense that takes the discussion of this capability beyond the traditional national-security focus by reviewing the integrated role it plays for security in the commons.
While not explicitly addressed in these essays, it is difficult to escape the recurring theme of China’s development of asymmetric capabilities to control and disrupt the commons. In space in particular, China has focused on undermining America’s traditional military advantages. Likely with this in mind, Mike Manor and Kurt Neuman emphasize the need for a balanced strategy of diplomacy and deterrence in space. But while their emphasis on developing a more sophisticated deterrence strategy is commendable, the limited attention they give to diplomatic initiatives in space—employing the work of 18th century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant as a theoretical mechanism—comes up short. Whether it is pragmatic for the United States to pursue a space treaty with states such as China, this debate deserves considerably more attention.
Finally, an intriguing contribution that has not been discussed elsewhere is the importance of strategic communications to the commons. Just as protecting the commons will require marshaling resources and recalibrating national-security institutions, it will also be necessary for the United States to manage perceptions and communicate the core values of the international system among friends and adversaries alike.
In the forward to this volume, Patrick Cronin writes that this book is the first to be written “at the beginning of a long wave of strategic planning.” Indeed, the academic policy community and U.S. strategy documents have begun to reflect an increased awareness of the growing complexities the United States and its liberal allies will face. The real task of our leadership will now be to communicate to the American people the imperative of protecting the global commons while beginning to reorient its tools of statecraft for managing the task ahead. Securing Freedom is an essential contribution to this process.
Mr. Sayers, a recent graduate of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, is a Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow at the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Winning at War: 7 Keys to Military Victory throughout History
Christian P. Potholm. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. 281 pp. Intro. Notes. Index. $39.95.
Reviewed by Shaheen Ayubi
This exceptionally well-written work focuses on how to achieve victory in war when diplomacy is unable to prevent human conflict and warfare. Potholm presents an in-depth analysis of what he describes as seven key variables to military success throughout history. Drawing from historical battles and more recent ones, the author presents a conceptual framework characterized as the “Template of Mars.” The seven principle dimensions of the template are: superior technological entrepreneurship, superior discipline, receptivity to innovation, sustained ruthlessness, the protection of capital from people and rulers, and the belief that there will always be another war. Although there have been numerous studies on the nature of war, this book breaks new ground by providing an analytic construct that compares and contrasts success in war throughout time and space as well as across cultures and societies.
The introductory chapter illustrates its non-Eurocentric relevance. For example, each of the seven dimensions is applied to analyze the Mongols’ success in defeating their enemies. By using this particular case, Potholm claims that the template transcends the traditional categories of warfare between “East” and “West.”
The subsequent chapters on the seven elements of the template are skillfully presented. In one, the author argues that societies eager to test new weapons and technology and incorporate their benefits into existing military practices and tactics are in a stronger position to win battles. In 1861 the British built new steam ironclads to replace their sailing vessels, reconstructing their entire fleet. Not only were they open to innovation, but they were also willing to integrate the new military technology into war craft. More recently, the U.S. Air Force has shown its willingness to implement new technology. The adoption of General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator, a high-altitude flying drone, to strike targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has proved to be an extremely valuable weapon.
Superior military discipline, the template’s second element, is crucial to winnin wars. The side with the most training and discipline frequently succeeds against enormous odds. For example, the British won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 against the larger forces of Spain and France solely due to superior discipline, which resulted in greater firepower. The third element of the template concerns sustained but controlled ruthlessness, from which, unfortunately, success has often resulted for those armies that have practiced it. During the Vietnam War, the brutal killing of Vietnamese civilians by the North Vietnamese contributed to the defeat of the Americans and the South Vietnamese; it broke their political will.
The fourth element focuses on a society’s receptivity to military and integrative innovation. According to Potholm, those who consider such innovation to be a positive cultural value—leading to weapons development, as well as tactical, strategic, and managerial changes in response to the changing international system—stand a better chance of winning wars. The study claims that as a result of such receptivity, the Japanese in the 19th century were able to modernize by emulating the West and thus defeated Russia in 1905.
Of the fifth element—the ability and willingness to protect capital from people and rulers—Potholm writes that it is essential for the military to have access to more rather than less capital for new weapons and training. The sixth element involves the centrality of a will to win. It was the superior will of the British that sustained them through World War II. The final element of the template addresses the belief that there will always be another war. Societies that are continually planning for the next war are in a stronger position to confront the enemy.
Potholm tests the templates’ applicability using the case of the decisive Nomonhan Incident between the Soviet Union, Mongolia, and the Japanese. Here, the template demonstrates which ingredients were responsible for both victory and defeat.
He closes the book by drawing attention to the utility of the template to a new type of warfare—terrorism and insurgency in the post-Cold War era. While the current terrorist model is transnational, decentralized, civilian-interspersed, and extremely violent, he argues that the present core of warfare has not been dramatically altered so as to make previous assumptions about war insignificant.
Overall, this is an outstanding book, its narrative clear, its research solid, and its conclusions sound. It is a fine piece of scholarship and essential reading for policy makers, scholars, and military leaders.