Robert D. Kaplan, in the latest Foreign Affairs, discusses the rivalry between two rising powers as they compete for energy resources and regional influence. The Indian ocean will be the stage and as US naval primacy fades in an “elegant decline” America will play the role of mediator between two expanding navies. A passage:
The United States faces three related geopolitical challenges in Asia: the strategic nightmare of the greater Middle East, the struggle for influence over the southern tier of the former Soviet Union, and the growing presence of India and China in the Indian Ocean. The last seems to be the most benign of the three. China is not an enemy of the United States, like Iran, but a legitimate peer competitor, and India is a budding ally. And the rise of the Indian navy, soon to be the third largest in the world after those of the United States and China, will function as an antidote to Chinese military expansion.
The task of the U.S. Navy will therefore be to quietly leverage the sea power of its closest allies — India in the Indian Ocean and Japan in the western Pacific — to set limits on China’s expansion. But it will have to do so at the same time as it seizes every opportunity to incorporate China’s navy into international alliances; a U.S.-Chinese understanding at sea is crucial for the stabilization of world politics in the twenty-first century. After all, the Indian Ocean is a seaway for both energy and hashish and is in drastic need of policing. To manage it effectively, U.S. military planners will have to invoke challenges such as terrorism, piracy, and smuggling to bring together India, China, and other states in joint sea patrols. The goal of the United States must be to forge a global maritime system that can minimize the risks of interstate conflict while lessening the burden of policing for the U.S. Navy.
I like the term, “Elegant Decline.” With President Obama promising cuts in military spending and his recent reference to “Cold War era weapon systems that we don’t use anymore,” it’ll be interesting to see how elegant that decline turns out to be.