Robert Kaplan warns of increased competition in the Indian Ocean and the “arrival of the Asian Century”

Nov. 15, 2010


By Vilas Rao, Research Assistant, India and South Asia Program

The Indian Ocean will become a critical area of influence over the next century, according to journalist and author Robert Kaplan, reflecting on the findings of his new book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.

Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a national correspondent at Atlantic Magazine highlighted the growing importance of naval forces in international security and the rise of a new “Great Game” between India and China in the 21st century. Following the development of large navies by these two countries, the United States is beginning to shift the focus of its Marine and naval operations towards the Indian Ocean.

“In military terms we are entering a maritime age,” Kaplan said, noting that the relative distance between the United States and the emerging naval powers of China and India is closing. “Even in a jet and information age, 90 percent of all commercial goods travel by sea,” he added.

Kaplan argued that the rise in Asian military strength stemmed from strong economic fundamentals.

“It is domestic prosperity that goes on for many decades, which leads to the burgeoning of military technology,” he said, while pointing to the fact that over the last ten years, Southeast Asian countries increased their military spending by 30 percent.
Competition over the Indian Ocean is influenced by a long history of Asian integration, the lack of a superpower on the Indian Ocean, and China’s and India’s growing energy needs, Kaplan said. The importance of petroleum trade in the Persian Gulf and the rich supply of hydrocarbons in Burma and the South China Sea have led to shifting power dynamics. Kaplan noted the United States-Vietnam relationship and China-Sri Lanka relationship would be particularly critical in the future.

However, both India and China face troubling border issues as they emerge militarily. “India is bedeviled by its difficult land borders with semi-failed states,” Kaplan cautioned, while China needed to consider what would happen in the event of North Korea collapsing. “Military-military relationships are critical,” he stressed. Without extensive cooperation between China and the United States, a collapsed North Korea could destabilize the continent with nuclear implications.

Kaplan’s address was sponsored by the Future of Diplomacy Project and the India and South Asia Program, which aims to build awareness and engagement with the South Asian region.


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rao, Vilas.. “Robert Kaplan warns of increased competition in the Indian Ocean and the “arrival of the Asian Century”.” News, , November 15, 2010.