Blue water rivals: China and India

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:

Elegant Decline
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.

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3 Responses to Blue water rivals: China and India

  1. Adrian says:

    “With President Obama promising cuts in military spending ”


    The last Pentagon budget (2009) was $513 billion. The 2010 budget is capped at $537 billion. That is an increase. Obama is promising cuts in Cold War era weapon systems but that will be canceled out and more by increasing the size of ground forces.

  2. Hi Adrian,

    Here’s a fuller context of what the Obama administration’s intentions are regarding military spending:
    “A third important area of the budget that deserves careful scrutiny and will no doubt be an ongoing point of political struggle is the military side of the budget. The Obama administration predicts savings will be found by scaling back on military spending and on the war in Iraq. According to the initial outline provided by the OMB, the Obama budget plans a total of $662.1 billion in 2009 for the military spending, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would be almost $4 billion less than in 2008. Although 2010 would see a slight bump of around $1 billion over 2009, the military budget for that year would stay below 2008′s level. “

  3. Armchair Analyst says:

    Aggregate spending doesn’t necessarily provide the whole picture. I don’t think elegant decline necessarily means deep cuts to defense–at least not yet. Its more a question of how that spending is prioritized and how it fits within a larger strategic framework.

    The larger point is that as the U.S. attempts to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan there may be a “repeat” of the post-Vietnam ‘Nixon Doctrine’ whereby we rely increasingly on local/regional military allies to share a larger portion of the international security burden. In short, we need to begin to think about how to return to a strategy of “offshore balancing.”

    The international system today shows signs of ‘incipient multipolairty’ but for now the U.S. remains the only nation a with truly global reach. What we really have is a system of global unipolairty and regional bi/multipolarity with the U.S. as the extraregional balancer.

    A strategy of “offshore balancing” requires ( at least in the medium and long-run) that we move away from “nation building” and COIN and focus on developing the capabilities that will enable us to play a decisive role in future interventions aimed at preserving the local balance of power.