Academic journal article Military Review

Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End to a Stable Pacific

Academic journal article Military Review

Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End to a Stable Pacific

Article excerpt

ASIA'S CAULDRON: The South China Sea and the End to a Stable Pacific

Robert D. Kaplan, Random House, New York 2014, 189 pages, $29.00

GEOGRAPHY MATTERS. IN Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End to a Stable Pacific, Robert D. Kaplan uses a realist's lens and a historian's nuance to remind the reader that while globalization is a concept, geography is a fact. Kaplan believes geography is essential to analyzing the present and predicting the near future of the South China Sea. This region cannot be ignored because an astonishing amount of shipping passes through it. It is the "demographic cockpit of the globe," and there is no balance of power. China is a giant among significantly weaker nations.

Kaplan convincingly argues that geography informs world views. Specifically, a nation's relationship to three archipelagos (the Pratas, Parcels, and Spratlys) profoundly affects its foreign policy paradigm. Claimed by nearly everyone, these islands present a challenge that the United States and Asian nations will face. It is not simply about who wins territorial claims, but it is about world order and international norms versus military might (the Melian dialogue comes up frequently).

The bulk of Kaplan's work focuses on how other nations will deal with China and its "nine-dotted line"--the line that illustrates China's audacious claim to most of the South China Sea. Kaplan tours the nations who contest China's claim to see if they will be able to back up their contentions with more than rhetoric. Kaplan is at his weakest in this section, where he tends toward overgeneralizations and assessments made largely from observing luxury shopping malls and official functions. Still, the historical and cultural bits are interesting. They build to Kaplan's assessment that no other Southeast Asian nation is capable of contesting China.

Enter the United States, which at present stands to defend the status quo. Yet, if China's growth continues, China eventually will be able to replace the United States and determine the regional order. …

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