The Politics of the Indian Ocean By: David Jims PSC 320 Dr. Loedel Spring 2009
Jims 2 As you well know, Mr. President, the tensions in the Indian Ocean and its surrounding waters create a genuine foreign policy concern for our nation. On March 12, 2009, when you exercised your presidential powers as commander-in-chief to send the USS Chung-Hoon to protect the USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea (Tyson), you were well aware of the implications and consequences of such actions. You are also well aware of the growing need to seek multilateral solutions by creating alliances and coalitions of like-minded nations and by initiating discussions with the leaders of less favored nations. Our ideas and ideals must be protected in such an anti-American and (sometimes) chaotic region even as we maintain our sense of pride, national dignity, and power. But this route does not come easy in such a contentious area of the world. We are hated by many, revered by few, and watched by all. To make a cohesive policy plan, we must be certain to take every detail into account so as to not spark more corrosive feelings towards the United States. Our declining naval prowess (and the surge of naval power in the Indian Ocean and surrounding waters); increasing tensions in the region amongst states who despise their proximate ethnic, racial, religious, and boundary differences; mounting anti-American sentiments throughout the region; the imploding global economy; the expanding influences of India and China; the threat of terrorist activity, the prospecting for oil; and increased incidences of piracy; these are but some of the problems and risks that face the United States in the coming future. The power of the U.S. navy increased substantially after WWII due to our toxic relations with the growing Soviet empire and the need to prevent it from becoming an ever-expansive, ever-present danger to capitalism and democracy. That power has, and is, declining in a significant way. As our military technology increases, the number of
Jims 3 ships that we produce lessens. We are now capable of attacking our enemies from remote areas of the oceans without fear of retribution. However, this lack of ships leaves us vulnerable if, and when, we need to amass ships in a certain area. Our warships and carriers are highly capable vessels, but our depleted numbers make it harder and harder to police the open waters. Our decreases do not necessarily mean we are less influential; we can actually become much more influential in many ways. The navies of India and China are expanding exponentially in order to control their national interests in the Indian Ocean and abroad. Robert Kaplan states, in his essay “Center Stage of the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean”, the vital importance of U.S. naval presence in this area: “The port operator Dubai Ports World is conducting a feasibility study on constructing a land bridge near the canal that the Chinese hope will be dug across the Isthmus of Kra, with ports on either side of the isthmus connected by rails and highways. The Malaysian government is interested in a pipeline network that would link up ports in the Bay of Bengal with those in the South China Sea...The protective oversight of the U.S. Navy there will be especially important.” (Kaplan, “Center Stage”) Our partners in these quickly developing regions will greatly benefit from the help provided by the United States, and we can only gain by providing that assistance with limited hindrances. As Kaplan states, our approach in the area shouldn’t be to control the waters, but to be as “useful” to the water bordering countries as possible. With your new approach to diplomacy, Mr. President, I think that we must understand that our primacy in some arenas can only be strengthened by uniting our global partners as well as begin positive relations amongst regimes that may not fit our political models. In the long run, it will only benefit us by opening the doors and by straying from the unilateralism that the Bush administration preached for eight years. Not only will policing the waters in the
Jims 4 area become easier with multilateral naval alliances, but “[t]he more the United States becomes a maritime hegemon, as opposed to a land-based one, the less threatening it will seem to others.” (Kaplan, “Center Stage”) To approach the increased importance of the Indian Ocean, we must first look to create alliances with these up-and-coming naval behemoths. As stated, we can’t stand alone as the police agency in international waters any longer. We will end up stretching ourselves too thin if we take on more of the world’s problems. That does not mean that we should not assert ourselves as much as we can to fit our national interests. Historically, this is a scary prospect; when dominant powers over-reached/overextended themselves, they lost power. In this sense it’s even more vital to exercise this “soft power” to influence countries without straining our resources and without making more enemies. We were so successful in exercising that power after WWII by creating NATO and implementing the Marshall Plan. We can do something similar to help curb the rising powers of China, while making closer ties with India, by potentially becoming more immersed in ASEAN. The proposed plan of creating a canal through the Isthmus of Kra, with the help of alliances, can become extremely useful to U.S. gains. “Soft power” exercises in this region of Thailand can prove to be both economically and politically beneficial to the U.S. My “soft power” plan in Southeast Asia extends westward as well. Our regional conflicts within the Middle East and (historically) in East Africa (which, today, seem to be escalating in Somalia) are mostly detrimental to the United States. Few see us as liberators, but rather as globalizing demons seeking to destroy their ways of life, steal their oil, and force them to follow our rules and guidelines. While Iraq
Jims 5 provides the most visible reaction to our efforts, we can see that hot-spots for insurgent activity are popping up everywhere in the region. We quickly and drastically need to reevaluate our image and how we spread our ideas of democracy and change. Pakistan is no exception. As a bordering nation to India, Pakistan is a vital interest of ours. We know that they possess nuclear weapons; we know of the conflicts in the Punjab and Kashmir regions; and we know that we must step in in order to divert future conflict. But, we can’t do this with military intervention. We don’t have the personnel to spare and we can’t afford to exacerbate our already tense relationship with Pakistan; and in the process, make more enemies in the Islamic world. However, because we need to exemplify our objectives of peaceful relations with Pakistan, potentially through the use of U.S. funds (aid, trade), the decline in the economy can only make things worse. The same is true for the relationship between India and Pakistan. The ethnic conflicts at the border between the two countries make it harder and harder to ward off military action, or, God forbid, a nuclear war between the two. The proposed gas pipeline that would run through the two countries could be a stepping stone in the right direction (it could also make things worse because of numerous pipeline disputes, but I will focus on the positive aspect). The “right foot forward,” which would act as a cohesive, effectively joining the Middle East and South Asia, is slowed greatly by the declining global economy. In an interview with Robert Kaplan, Evan Walczak asks: “What impact will the global financial downturn have on Indian Ocean relations?” Kaplan responds by saying that “the deleterious effect of the [financial] crisis on the Pakistani and other economies will increase instability” (Kaplan, “Q&A”) in the region.
Jims 6 India and China are continuing to grow, but their conflicts of interests continue to make it more difficult to create solutions. They are also very important to us because of their investments in our companies and our government. Therefore, it can only benefit us if they cooperate with one another. China has quickly become a major player in our economy. Our relationship is not only vital, but finding policy that won’t hurt our needed investments is tricky. This is where India comes into play. In Robert Kaplan’s interview, he also makes it a point to state that creating more competition between India and China can only further benefit India. And, “[i]f you accept the notion that the most important bilateral relationship of the twenty-first century will be that between the United States and China, then India — because of the size of its population and economy — emerges as the weathervane of international politics.” (Kaplan, “Q&A”) By searching to enhance agreements with other Indian Ocean countries, India can combat the growth of the Chinese influence. Mr. President, it’s in our own personal interests to expand relations with India (as well as funding) as soon as possible to help succeed in our trials throughout the Indian Ocean region. As we fight to inflate our reaches through “soft power,” we need a large and visible supporter to convey to the rest of the world the potential benefits associated with becoming our partner. “If [globalization] succeeds in India [it] should interest just about everyone, for if it succeeds in a democratic society where half the population is impoverished and one-quarter is Muslim, then it can succeed just about anywhere.” (Barnett, 242) By allying ourselves strategically to create a multilateral naval presence, exercising our “soft power” to control vital parts of the Indian Ocean, linking the Middle East and South/Southeast Asia, and expanding our ties with India, we will not only begin
Jims 7 to make many more friends than enemies, but our future in the region will begin to look more stable and much more beneficial to us as a nation.
Jims 8 Works Cited: Barnett, Thomas P. M. The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. New York: Berkley Trade, 2005. Kaplan, Robert D. "Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean." Foreign Affairs March & April 2009. Kaplan, Robert D. "Q&A with Robert Kaplan on Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean: Trade and Security on the High Seas." Interview with Evan Walczak, Chandrasekar Sellamuth, VM, John S., Rajesh Lucknauth, Greg R. Lawson, Otis Bedford, and Gillian Roberts-Gibson. Foreign Affairs. 7 Apr. 2009. 22 Apr. 2009 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/interviews/qa-with-robert-kaplan-ongeopolitics-in-the-indian-ocean>. Tyson, Ann Scott. "Destroyer to Protect Ship Near China." The Washington Post 13 Mar. 2009: A12. 22 Apr. 2009 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/03/12/AR2009031203264.html>.