Saturday, April 12, 2008

The new world

Trudy Kuehner provides a summary of Robert Kaplan's keynote address at the (Foreign Policy Research Institute's) FPRI’s Fourth Annual Partners Brunch, on April 6, 2008.

Kaplan explained that this strong defense relationship is all about Asian balance-of-power politics. India and China, which share a long land border and therefore have to maintain stable relations, are inexorably coming into competition with each other. India’s sphere of influence extends to the borders of the old British India, from the Iranian plateau to the Gulf of Thailand, encompassing Burma, where it is involved in a quiet war of influence with China. It is extending east and west. During the days of the British viceroys in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Persian Gulf, Middle East, and Southeast Asia empire was not run from London, but from the viceroy’s headquarters in Calcutta. India is now assuming those dimensions.

Meanwhile, Kaplan noted, China is pushing southward. The Chinese are building warm-water ports in Gwadar in Pakistan and in Mawlamyaing in Burma; they are going to start at Chittagong in Bangladesh. All these places are closer to cities in western and southwestern China than those cities are to Beijing and Shanghai. That is, developing warm-water ports in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, both part of the larger Indian Ocean, is a way for much of China’s landmass to break out of being landlocked.

Kaplan observed that this is the world that is being created while the U.S. is focused on messy counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if new powers are quietly rising up. The total result of the Iraq War, to him, is that it has fast-forwarded the arrival of the Asian century. India now has the world’s fourth largest navy; it is about to have the third largest. It will soon take delivery of its first nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine. Meanwhile, China’s navy is growing to be in asymmetric terms a peer competitor of the U.S., the Japanese Navy is now three times, soon to be four times, the size of Britain’s Royal Navy. All this is happening not just while the U.S. is deeply involved in two countries in the greater Middle East, but also as European defense budgets are starved at 2 percent or less of their GDPs.

What interests Kaplan is that, as an indicator of where the future is going, Europe has not been able to take advantage strategically or in many other ways of the U.S. quagmire in Iraq and the growing one in Afghanistan, but the Asian countries have. Asian militaries are becoming real civilian-military postindustrial complexes. The fact that the Chinese or Indian armies are so large was for decades meaningless, because they were poorly trained and badly equipped, more useful for defending long land borders and bringing in crops than for actual deployment, maneuverability, and fighting. That is changing rapidly. The Indians are using the Israelis to develop a new space satellite technology tied in with their own military. India and China’s software prowess is increasingly having military dimensions.

While I am obviously no Robert Kaplan, there are a number of points which I would like to comment on.

Kaplan correctly directs our attention to China's immense efforts to create secure energy routes through Central Asia, and around the Indian subcontinent, to the Caspian Sea and the Middle East. He might have added that Russia too is playing to dominate this arena, and it is one in which both Beijing and Moscow will be rivals in the coming decades. Europe, I think, is playing its feeble cards in this arena but due to its lack of direct access is attempting to achieve its goals by diplomatically pressuring America and bribing Russia.

Europe's goal is similar to China's. To ensure an overland energy highway to the Middle East and Central Asia. And Kaplan is also right to say that Iran, both for geographical and petrochemical reasons, is a hinge around which the Russian, Chinese and European plans will turn.

But I think Kaplan is wrong in thinking that Iraq and Afghanistan are irrelevant quagmires. If one had to pick two places, roughly accessible to American power, which would constitute a ringside seat and a strategic position in that arena it would be Iraq and Afghanistan. One is to the East and the other to the West of Iran. These are exactly the right places for America to be in. Whether it is doing the right thing in these places is debateable. But that they are strategic is beyond debate -- except to Barack Obama.

With respect to Kaplan's thesis of the Rise of Asia, two developments over the past 8 years are likely to be recognized as prescient. The first is the new strategic alliance between India and the United States. Its importance is self-explanatory. The second is the US relationship with Japan; the quiet nurturing of the JSDF's role in Pacific naval affairs; the partnership on Japanese homeland missile defense. These two pillars will be historical counterexamples to the often heard criticism that America has neglected its traditional European and NATO allies in favor of irrelevancies. India and Japan are not irrelevancies. Nor is Central Asia and the Middle East. While NATO remains important it would have been a mistake to treat the last ten years as an extension of the immediate post World War 2 years. Europe is still a powerful region. But it is no longer the center of the earth.

Kaplan believes that changes taking place in the Middle East will mean that the US can no longer rely on strongmen there to keep the peace. The strongmen -- indeed central authority -- is weakening all over the region.

Central power in the Middle East continues to erode, Kaplan reported. Whether it is dictatorships in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or legitimate pro-Western monarchies like in Morocco or Jordan; whether it is more in-between regimes like in Tunisia, Algeria; semi-democratic ones like in South Yemen; or family corporate-style enterprises like along the Arabian Gulf, leaders, even dictators, increasingly have to listen to their own people and consult with their own people in order to take decisions. So dictatorship is weakening throughout the Middle East, as is democracy, which is not a success almost anywhere in the Middle East. Central power is weakening as fewer countries have a three- or four-man elite that determines history in these countries. There is now a whole class of people, 100-200 people who make up an increasingly modernizing elite.

As with those who hanker for a return to the halcyon days of TransAtlantic diplomacy, those who want to get off the ground and leave the settlement of problems in the Middle East to the UN or the diplomats are pining for a lost era. Those methods don't work any more. And those who put their faith in Muslim summits or flying trips around the world to show their face to hostile countries are bound to be disappointed. The current administration may have gotten many things wrong; but it would also be wrong to believe that the way forward lies in a return to the past.

That way is barred by the angel of time; as is the way forward. But the door to the future is blocked by our own outdated preconceptions; the barriers erected by our mind.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger eggplant said...

Wretchard said:

"But I think Kaplan is wrong in thinking that Iraq and Afghanistan are irrelevant quagmires. If one had to pick two places, roughly accessible to American power, which would constitute a ringside seat and a strategic position in that arena it would be Iraq and Afghanistan."

I define "short term" as over the next five years and "long term" as over the next century.

Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan are vital to our short term strategic interests in the Middle East. Our presence in Iraq was vital for many reasons, e.g.

1) Elimination of Saddam Hussein.
2) Challenging Iranian regional hegemony.
3) Maintaining access to Iraqi petroleum.
4) Creation of a killing area for eliminating Islamic fascists.

However I would argue that our presence in Iraq is not that important in terms of our long term strategic interests (obviously there can be no long term strategy if we're ruined in the short term). The Middle East is irrelevant in terms of long term strategy due to Peak Oil and the near certainty that Middle Eastern society will self-destruct after the petroleum times out.

America's long term strategic interests will be dictated by our economic relationship with China, our access to natural resources such as those in Australia, Latin America and Africa. Europe will be largely irrelevant (almost no natural resources, noncompetitive labor costs due to socialism, limited military power and more vulnerable to Middle Eastern side effects).

America's economy is about to take a major hit due to the credit bubble and mismatch between America's labor costs compared to the developing world's, e.g. China and India. The US will go through a string of major recessions (or one really big one) that will force us to redefine our economic system such that it is more competitive with the developing world. At the end of this process, we will have an economic system not based upon consuming old wealth created by our parents and grandparents. This process of redefinition will be very painful and we will appear to be vulnerable. There will also be the issue of how badly we are damaged during the Middle Eastern self destruction process (Will we lose multiple cities? How badly will this impact our economic conversion process?).

4/12/2008 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger buck smith said...

I am pretty sure over the next 5 to 15 years the strategic importance of Middle East oil will fall dramatically. I can't tell what is going to replace it. It might one or more of many things - solar, nuclear, biofuels, shale oil, or something else. But $100 oil is unleashing capitalist forces which will change energy markets dramtically.

4/12/2008 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

If nothing else, the myth of America as a Paper Tiger was killed in Iraq. Rolling over the long-feared inconquerable Afghanistan in a couple of months after 9/11 no doubt left ripples, too.

Norman Podhoretz: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
puts both battles in perspective as a global war, he calls it the "Bush Doctrine." Unlike the Democrats, neither our Islamofascist enemies nor the Bush Administration view this as a set of separate wars, such as "Bush's War" and other 'good wars.'

Likewise, the new myth that our economy is about to fall apart will vanish in the winds, like Democrat wishes for surrender.

4/12/2008 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger antithaca said...

Kaplan's writing is always a joy to read and yet can be very, very dense...sometimes hard to unpack.

Take the Middle East. Here I'd quibble with you wretchard and your remark about the past being barred. If central authority (dictatorial and democratic) is being eroded in the Middle East...that is, in some ways, a return to tradition (the past) in that region.

I can't comment about Peak Oil, the coming apocalypse, or future of world diplomacy (it will surely differ from place to place). But specifically, The Middle East: The Atlantic had a piece (After Iraq)

4/12/2008 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger watimebeing said...

The struggle of nations for resources enough to keep their population sated while keeping their economic endeavors afloat is an entirely new set of circumstance. With the rise of a global middle class a la Kaplan's vision, applying the warlord or a warrior state model to maintaining lines of communication open seems both inefficient and outdated. Indeed it may be companies like Blackwater that eventually allow us to maintain the pipelines while also arranging diplomatically the other elements of treaty and trade.

In a global economy it makes little sense to destroy by bomb the markets required to either finance produce or purchase. Unless a group is willing to kill or wipe out a segment for a relatively short time while building up another (which is entirely possible and perhaps probable), an orderly means of maintaining new market driven segments while destroying old and outdated market segments will be necessary.

Today the challenge of getting enough rice to markets is the big deal. Tomorrow..., It is a whole other ball game. Providing safe passage to Afghanistan via the other Stans is a start, provided right of way for rails and roads are secured. That is one of the benefits hinted at in granting Russian acquisition of an ICBM shield, important in considering the potential for blackmail their current contracts exposes the FSU to.

Important also is allowing Pakistan to retain sovereignty while the hard core Islamists are eradicated all along its border, without loosing any warheads.

Still there will be a great deal of competition for energy resources and other issues, like the deep water ports and access to the kinds of capital that such commerce opens for land locked and politically locked tribal areas.

I don't care that the Iranians get Nuclear(energy only)powers per say, but I do not fancy any one currently with roots in either Qom or Quds having control even of the peacefully intended end use.

I think, Kaplan and others are correct, the era of the strongman is going away. But it is the unquenchable market forces that will make the timing of the demise and the possible replacement the bigger issue. Therefore to my mind, the more successful the Iraq experiment is the more likely that governments closer to ours by design and not just intent will be in control. That much is critical, and should drive both party's to ensuring the success as much as it is in our power to do so, of the Iraqi Government.

4/12/2008 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Habu said...

Summations are by definition distorted by their compression. That said I'm was sufficiently happy not to have had to read the entire tome.

Kaplan makes a Sherwin Williams job of it. Covering the globe: Asia, Africa, Europe and prognosticates enough to easily qualify to become a Wall Street barker explaining on a Friday that all is well only to be moribund by Sunday night.

Whether things work out in the manner he outlined time and chance will deliver that answer. China and India are ascendant powers wary of each other. That wariness is decades old and not news.

China buying into Africa is an example of the rise of states as global economic players. It is a dramatic retrograde shift from decades in which private enterprise seemed an unstoppable force in global finance, commerce, and culture. It is a unification of state control with the business principles of capitalism. And it is already causing a significant shift in global power. It is not however without its costs. China experienced over 40,000 riots last year due to the impoverished hinterlands being exploited by the wealthy coastal cities. That unrest will only magnify over the coming years and if properly managed can be exploited by India and the West to their advantage. In the short leg of the long run state control will tax the businesses into less productive entities. We see that already in the United States. But so far the African Continent is exploding with wealth and control seekers.

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, shows that the economies of politically unfree nations have grown faster than those of politically free nations over the past decade, often through forceful use of business and financial power. A recent report by the global monitoring organization Freedom House found that "a group of market-oriented autocracies" were an important force in an overall decline in world freedom. These will prove as sustainable as Lenin’s NEP which he described by saying "We are not civilized enough for socialism". Thus will be Africa’s conundrum. State control of economies are however going through a revival that no doubt will be as sustainable as Stalin’s Five Year Plans, Mao’s Great Leaps Forward, and historically all other state run economies.

There is no mention of the tribalism in sub Saharan Africa being a problem but we know from the past twenty years that it is a huge problem.

World demographic changes also did not get any play in Kaplan’s presentation and there effects will be immense going forward.

It was a rich article and one with much to comment on but I will conclude with this. Kaplan states that going forward it will be “hard to keep NATO relevant and inclusive”
In my estimation that has already occurred for a myriad of reasons. The United States needs to develop newer international bodies of democracies paralleling for a time the work of NATO and the UN until such time as the relevancy of those two organizations are not impediments to US foreign policy. We have a chance to do that with some of the old soviets…lets not miss that chance for to be able, over time, to decouple from those two organizations’ in favor of ones that will honor their commitments and charters will be a nation saver for this country.

4/12/2008 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mas Triste said...

Wretch says what Wretch says, but I say "WOW".

Wretch says WOW when he says "America's long term strategic interests will be dictated by our economic relationship with China".

We are in a Science and Technology based, Reaganesque cold war with China now and are likely in a proxy battle with the Iranian-Chinese regimes now.

This information is significant.


4/12/2008 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

"Peak Oil" does not mean that anybody is running out of petroleum. It does mean that easy to extract oil is largely a thing of the past.

Cut our refiners some anti-trust slack and let them fromise enforceable long-term (30 to 40 Year) contracts stating that so long a certain minimums are met they, the refiners, will buy any and all domestically produced petroleum (or similar refineable substance) for some $80 to $90 a barrel.

This is enough to pay for advanced extraction techniques, tar sands development, liquifying coal, shale oil, and crude manufactured from waste.

Do this and the mideastern oil strangelehold is broken for us
leaving our potential rivals the choice of either maintaining statist dependency or employing the free market themselves. Either way, their aggressive tendencies will be moderated.

4/12/2008 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Dave said:

"Peak Oil does not mean that anybody is running out of petroleum. It does mean that easy to extract oil is largely a thing of the past."

The basic concept behind "Peak Oil" is the energy cost of extraction and refinement versus the energy content of the final retail product. If the energy content of the final product fails this test then the raw petroleum/tarsand/shale will stay in the ground even if the cost of petroleum is $500/barrel. This leads to the counter intuitive situation of vast deposits of energy resources remaining in the ground even though there is a desperate economic need for it.

4/13/2008 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

Shell Oil says its oil shale extraction technique is economical down to $30/barrel. Techniques have been developed to more economically extract heavy oil.

New fields have been discovered in China, Bohai bay (China) and offshore of Brazil.

Oil fields have shown a surprising tendency to refill.

I don't believe in in Peak Oil.

4/14/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

"Peak Oil" is being misused at different times. Some folks by misunderstanding it, and I fear some by spinning it the way they want it.

"Hubberts Peak"====I have read the book-----referred to an accurate prediction that US domestic production would peak in the 1965 to 1970 time frame.

Like the Laffler Curve, the theory is sound but the actual dynamics are anything but symmetrical.

Hubbert's prediction was based on existing extraction techniques as well as existing locating methods.
It also presumed that the Texas Railroad Commission would stop limiting production once post WWII civilian demand replaced the wartime military demand. This happened and immediately reduced new drilling as there was no immediate need for same.
Then came Nixon's wage and price controls whic were slightly disastrous.In short, Hubbert's Peak included one set of known political externalities but omitted unforseeable others.
In addition, the Reagan administration got the Saudi's to collapse the price of oil in the mid 1980s. This was done to prevent Soviet petroleum projects from ever making a dime. Important logistics in putting the Evil Empire out of business. And extremely hard on the domestic oilpatch. The hangover lasted more than a decade.

Hubbert's theory and the recent past cannot be considered an accurate indicator of our capabilities.

"Energy content" is also a valid term that gets (deliberately???) misused. Much of the time it is irrelevant. For example: Microwaves from power satellites might prove a good way of melting the solid called shale oil from the source rock. If so, the oil gained could not generate the amount of microwaves used. But those microwaves cannot power vehicles, aircraft etc. Nor can they make plastics, fertilizer, medicines or any of the other petroleum by-products that are as vital to us as is fuel.
The concept to be employed is "petroleum overhead". It takes 1.5 barrels of crude to make the 1.29 barrels of fuel used in making but 1 barrel of ethanol. This is what must be avoided.

Hopefully this will help illustrate certain fallacies and point out that we have more than ample petroleum capabilities to meet our needs.

4/14/2008 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

LarryD said:

"I don't believe in in Peak Oil."

I don't really need to invest too much effort in pitching "Peak Oil" because it's a concept that sells itself. For those who are interested, the linked website (The Oil Drum) is a good source of information about Peak Oil. I should mention that the people who comment at the Oil Drum website are a mixed bag of petroleum engineers, scientists, actuaries, survivalists,
shrieking moonbats and raving lunatics (you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, caveat emptor).

This linked website about the Ghawar Oil Field (the world's largest oil field) was written by someone who is knowledgable about the topic.

The linked Doomer Website is entertaining but needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The author of the website might be off his rocker but is well informed about the topic and does a decent job of going through the arguments concerning Peak Oil. He addresses some of the concepts that LarryD mentioned.

4/14/2008 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Dave said:

"For example: Microwaves from power satellites might prove a good way of melting the solid called shale oil from the source rock."

As an aerospace engineer, I'd love to see Solar Power Satellites (SPS) happen. However the problem of Cheap Access to Space (CAtS) needs to be licked first before we can seriously talk about SPS (current launch costs to Low Earth Orbit are $10,000/kg). The Space Shuttle was an attempt to achieve CAtS but failed utterly at being economical (For what it's worth, I have ideas about how to achieve CAtS but no one is listening to me). Unfortunately, the Orion/Ares-I spacecraft currently being developed is NASA's way of saying that "CAtS is too hard".

4/14/2008 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

My comments on SPS were not meant to imply that these desirable things were imminent. It was just to give an example of how "energy content" can be twisted to formulate excuses for lack of action. In dealing with oil, I hold that "petroleum overhead" is the better term to show pitfalls to be avoided.

4/14/2008 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Truthful James said...


We are presently engaged in playing on the world board a game of "Go."

And we don't understand it. We checkers players using only half the board and with fixed routes took the damnedest time understanding how the Russian "Chessosphere" board operated. Time became a new dimension in this game, but still a flat board. of 64 squares We forced the USSR into a game of economic attrition, until their game philosophy went bankrupt and the political structure toppled.

But, look around, they have copied our game and are bringing to bear their strength in raw materials.

Now to the contest at hand with the PRC. It started by moving many of the factors of production, using our capital to their home territory. They used our high level of consumption to extract billions in addition from our economy -- money which they are putting to use as they encircle us with their Adrican and South American ventures.

We had tricked the Japanese to use their trade surplus to invest in the United States subject to our economic cycles. The downturn in real estate crippled the Japanese banking system. The Japanese survived strictly because the household sector maintained a high saving rate.

The Chinese learned. They will not be caught in our economic traps. They will put our dollars to work in tying up raw materials contracts around the world, in building pipelines and ports -- all without significantly inflating their own economy.

The Chinese see as well that opur saving rate is damn close to zero. We use financial tricks to generate huge profits for a smaller and smaller part of our society. The housing bubble was caused by a combination of financial tricks and the misbegotten believe that the home was an investment device.

They see our political structure as a set of special interests and our leaders not willing to request sacrifice from the people when they go to fight a war.

The new majority in Congresds refuses to do anything to shift the economy from a consumption driven one to a saving one. Removing the lower tax rates will contract the economy, but they are ruled by a desire for reelection rather than patriotism.

The Chinese see a long recession, because there is no sector of the economy engaged in saving. All have run deficits. Government is deeply in the hole, the corporate sector is leveraged to a fare-thee-well, and the households who went into det to spend the economy into prosperity are exhausted.

4/14/2008 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Truthful James said:

"We forced the USSR into a game of economic attrition, until their game philosophy went bankrupt and the political structure toppled. But, look around, they [the Chinese] have copied our game and are bringing to bear their strength in raw materials."

I have no doubt that China's leaders are very intelligent and cunning. However we dug ourselves into the economic hole that we are currently in. I suspect that China will fall into this same hole because they're dependent upon selling us cheap consumer goods. This upcoming recession will be a bad thing for the world including China.

4/14/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Truthful James said...


Yes, the Chinese qill bear significant pain from the loaa of the US marketplace. But they can bear that loss because, once again and like Japan, there is a high level of personal savings.

In addition, the Chinese have made entree into the 'emerging markets' through their investments in Africa and their trade agreements with those nations and with the rest of the world.

If we drop into the cleansing fires of a long recession -- and I think we and the world will -- the Chinese will not be beside us but standing on our shoulders.

As I see your comments next to this entry, I must disagree with your enumeration.

1. The emination of Hussein was never necessary except from a missionary viewpoint.

That was part of our problem going in -- our missionary attitude. We forgot the lessons of the Massachusetts missionaries who went to hawaii to do good and ended up doing well.

Itan does not have regional Hegemony, at least as I understand the term. They are the largest and potentionally the strongest country and the only Shia run nation. We opened southern Iraq to their possible hegemony by ceaing a second Shia ruled nation. Since our intrusion into Iraq, Ahamadinejad and he Mercedes mullahs have extended their influence to the Alawites in Syria, Hexbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine -- not to mention the dissatisfied Shia underclass in all the Sunni ruled dictatorships in the Middle East. Au contraire, they have extended their power. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is their very own foreign legion, extending with ridiculous denial Iranian influence.

Iraqi petroleum access was a problem not for us but for the Europeans who use most of it.

The creation of a killing field for eliminating al Qaeda was not even in our War Plansgoing in. Another ex post bit of logic.

4/15/2008 05:09:00 AM  
Blogger Storm-Rider said...

"Central power is weakening as fewer countries have a three- or four-man elite that determines history in these countries. There is now a whole class of people, 100-200 people who make up an increasingly modernizing elite."

Government of the elite, by the elite and for the elite is still a form of tyranny. Just government and therefore unjust tyrannies were defined by our founding fathers: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

The Middle East and much of the rest of the world will not have just government, and therefore peaceful and just societies, until they have governments which rule with the consent of the governed. We here in America also need to take care that our government rules with the consent of the governed.

4/15/2008 09:44:00 AM  

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