Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Indian Ocean in the Balance

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

Indian Ocean in the Balance

Byline: Matthew Kustenbauder, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Indian Ocean is once again at the heart of the geopolitical world map, Robert Kaplan argues in his latest book. Emerging economies in China and India are shifting the global axis of trade and commerce, making sea lanes along the old East-West trade routes vital to the grand strategy of the United States as a future great power.

To prove his point, Mr. Kaplan follows the monsoon winds: touring from Oman in the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent and the Indonesian archipelago and back again to Zanzibar on the East African coast. Each stop along the Indian Ocean littoral demonstrates the individuality yet interconnectedness of a regional system into which America will need to learn to fit itself or risk losing its place in the world.

History is key to this story. Considered from a long-term vantage point, the era of the North Atlantic is a transitory phase. Arab merchants plied the waters of the Indian Ocean long before the Roman period. When Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered these waters at the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese were seeking an alternative route to India that would break the Venetian stranglehold on East-West trade through the Mediterranean.

It was not until the 19th century that the Indian Ocean was incorporated under the British into a global empire centered in the North Atlantic. The 20th century saw the rise of America as a new world power whose fleet patrolled the seas. Now the winds of change are shifting yet again as China and India emerge to exert influence through informal alliances and bulked-up navies.

Numbers are not perfect, but they do give a rough sketch of recent transformations. On the western end of the Indian Ocean, nearly 40 percent of the world's seaborne crude oil squeezes through the Strait of Hormuz, a natural bottleneck between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. At the other end of the ocean, 50 percent of the world's merchant fleet anchors at the Strait of Malacca, a gateway to the open waters of the Pacific. The waters lying between the Middle East and Southeast Asia constitute the world's busiest and most vital artery of trade.

Ninety percent of all global commerce travels by sea, half of which flows through the Indian Ocean. Here, too, passes 70 percent of the world's petroleum products. These routes will only become more crucial and more congested, as world energy consumption is predicted to rise 50 percent by 2030.

Mr. Kaplan approaches all these facts with a heavy dose of realism. The decline of American power is inevitable. It is not a question of preventing China's and India's rise, but of managing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. In the 21st century, the United States will no longer act as the single hegemon but as one of several great powers that cooperatively manage global governance. This emerging multipolar world Mr. Kaplan envisions also has the Indian Ocean at its center.

Mr. Kaplan's book is as much about the rise of the Eurasian rim lands as it is a remonstrance against the flabbiness of post-Cold War America and the pitfalls of a foreign policy dogmatically committed to ideologies of Western-style democracy, freedom and human rights that ultimately fail to serve the nation's best interests. The result is what Paul Kennedy has called imperial overstretch. While American troops have been mired in Iraq and Afghanistan on and off for two decades, the U.S. warship fleet has declined by half.

Meanwhile, China's economic rise is being followed by the growth of its military. As America exhausts itself in costly land wars it cannot possibly win, China quietly stokes its economy, builds its military and extends its trading and intelligence networks deeper into the Indian Ocean world.

For this reason, competition with China will only increase, and America's triple whammy of soaring debt, trade deficits and unemployment makes it particularly vulnerable to radical politics.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Indian Ocean in the Balance


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.