Sunday, March 17, 2013

China and 'Best Case, Nuanced Scenario'

Review by Bill Doughty

“Monsoon” by Robert D. Kaplan provides a panoramic sweep of the Indian Ocean and its relevance to world commerce, with a special discussion of China, the United States Navy, and energy.

“Forty percent of seaborne crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz at one end of the ocean,” he writes, “and 50 percent of the world’s merchant fleet capacity is hosted at the Strait of Malacca, at the other end, making the Indian Ocean the globe’s busiest and most important interstate.”

Citing the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2007,” presented in Paris, Kaplan writes, “The world’s energy needs will rise by 50 percent by 2030, and almost half of the consumption will come from India and China.”  What are the political realities of growing economic stakes, finite energy resources and heightened nationalism in the face of globalization?

Kaplan’s observations conclude in a pivotal chapter, “China’s Two-Ocean Strategy?”

“[As] China rises economically and politically, taking advantage, in effect, of America’s military quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new and more complex order is gradually emerging in the maritime rimland of Eurasia, which includes not only the Indian Ocean but [also] the western Pacific.  What follows is an analysis of a U.S. Navy that has already reached the zenith of its dominance, faced with a rising Chinese maritime presence that, along with the rise of India, could over time herald the end of Western control over these waters.”

Kaplan evaluates the shrinking U.S. Navy -- from 6,700 ships at the end of World War II, 600 ships during the Cold War, to fewer than 280 ships today.

At the same time, “China yearns for an authentic blue water, or oceanic, navy...” in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Kaplan posits.  Add Japan, India and other Pacific nations to the mix and this will lead, he concludes, to an increasingly complex global power arrangement, one that is not bipolar or suicidal.  In fact, China already cooperates with other nations, including the United States in combatting a mutual enemy -- piracy.

Ship's Serviceman Seaman Qing Su, right, from New York, translates for a U.S-China combined visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team comprised of Sailors from the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yi Yang (FF 548) during a bilateral counterpiracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden, Sept. 17, 2012. The focus of the exercise was American and Chinese naval cooperation in detecting, boarding, and searching suspected pirated vessels. (Photo by MC2 Aaron Chase)
Kaplan cites the cooperative strategies espoused by (now retired) Adm. Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Chief of Naval Operations who, in 2007, said, “the economic tide of all nations rises not when the seas are controlled by one [nation] but rather when they are made safe and free for all.”

“Monsoon” is a key read on current CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s Professional Reading Program list in the “Operate Forward” category.  

These past two blogposts only begin to scratch the surface of this great book.  “Monsoon” demanded two posts to showcase both its science and art.  This book is essential to understanding the sweeping history, present reality and potential future of the region.

As for the future, Kaplan writes, “Strong American-Chinese bilateral relations going forward is not only plausible, but might be the best-case scenario for the global system in the twenty-first century...”

“Therefore, the most likely scenario in my mind for relations with China is something quite nuanced: the United States will both compete and cooperate with China.  The American-Chinese rivalry of the future could give new meaning tot he word ‘subtlety,’ especially in its economic and diplomatic arrangements.  Yet, if this relationship has its hard edges, I expect one of those will be where the two countries’ navies interact: in the Greater Indian Ocean and western Pacific.”

Mutually Assured Destruction, with it’s apt acronym, created an uneasy and dangerous peace during the Cold War.  Today, the intertwined economic and energy dependency of the largest economies of the East and West may achieve a mutually assured peace.  Kaplan shows that readers and leaders on all sides need to understand how the winds are blowing across the Indian Ocean in order to fully see the big picture.

Chinese sailors render honors to Secretary of the Navy the Honorable Ray Mabus during a visit to the People's Liberation Army (Navy) hospital ship Peace Ark (866) Nov. 29, 2012. Mabus visited Ningbo, China to discuss the United States' new defense strategy, deepening military-to-military engagements, rebalancing toward the Pacific and fostering a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China. (U.S. Navy photo by MCC Sam Shavers)

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