Robert Kaplan in discussion with Sugata Bose

Kaplan, Robert D., 1952- Bose, Sugata Manjapra, Kris 2012-03-01


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Interview Participants
SB
Sugata Bose, lecturer (male)
RK
Robert Kaplan, lecturer (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, host (male)
KM
My name is Kris Manjapra. I'm an Assistant Professor here at Tufts University in the History Department and I am - it's my great pleasure and honor to be the chairperson for this semester's series for our lecture series at the Centre for South Asian Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts. This year, beginning last fall as Professor Ayesha Jalal who is the Director of the Center, was still in residence with us, we began a series called Islam on the Indian Ocean Rim and this semester continues that theme we have had a number of illustrious speakers last semester and in fact we are on the up and up as this afternoon or this evening we have with us tremendously articulate imaginative and influential thinker,
KM
public intellectual, journalist, and really, one might also say that an academic, given how academically informed his scholarship is and also how well read he is within academia and respected and of course, I am speaking of Robert Kaplan.
KM
And we have a special event because in some ways it is a double feature because Robert Kaplan is here with us along with Professor Saugata Bose who I would also like to thank very much for his contributions to the discussions that's going to happen. I want to just very briefly introduce both Robert Kaplan and then Sugata Bose and give a brief kind of blue print of how the discussion will work because we are hoping to have a conversation that will also involve the audience and then turn I'll it over to our guests.
KM
So Robert Kaplan is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington D.C. and it's really - he has an illustrious and long career, including at least 12 books many of them have been on bestselling lists over the last three decades in fact but it's really his latest book, "Monsoon, the Indian Ocean, and the Future of America Power," published with Random House in 2010 that this discussion will revolve around.
KM
You know, when I think of Robert Kaplan's work, I think perhaps even of Iban Batuta or I think of Alexander Von Humboldt or I think of Thessegar some of the great travelling intellectuals of not only our times but also of earlier times and the kind of ability to provide a synoptic overview as well as great detail about some of the most important changes, geopolitically, that are taking place in our world today. So that is the theme that kind of gathers us here.
KM
Saugata Bose, Professor Bose, is the gardener professor of Oceanic History at Harvard University and he is also serving in a special capacity this year and in coming years as the Chairperson for the mentor group at Presidency University in Calcutta, an important role that involves restructuring education in Bengal. Professor Bose is the author of many, many important influential books - path-breaking books - for our field and beyond the field of South Asian studies and most recently "His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose, and India's Struggle against Empire" which came out with Harvard University Press in 2011.
KM
So as not to extend, you know, my voice too far in the evening's proceedings let me cut it short and just say that it's really an honor to have two global thinkers who know the Indian Ocean world so well, who can speak about what Robert Kaplan so eloquently calls the "rim land of the Indian Ocean" and it's import for world politics with us today. In terms of how we will proceed, we asked Robert whether he might first provide about a 20 perhaps 30 minute introduction to his work to some of the themes of his book and then there will be a kind of free flowing conversation between Robert and Saugata and following that we will open it up to the audience for further discussion. So having said all of that may I turn it over to you.
RK
Well thank you it's really a great privilege and honor to be here. Saugata's book, "A Hundred Horizons," helped inspire me to write my own book. So it's you know, so it's kind of like a double feature for me too and I have his book in hard cover by the way. And let me start this way. You know, in Washington everyone wants to reduce things to policy terms and people kept asking me at the Presidents and the National Security Affairs, what should be the strategy for the Indian Ocean and my response was you don't have a strategy. It's a concept, it's not a strategy. And it's a concept because it helps you to unite two worlds: the world of the greater Middle East and the world of the Western Pacific, because we think we're too much prisoners of Cold War era studies, where we separate out the globe, or Eurasia particularly, into artificial divisions of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and so forth.
RK
And what the Indian ocean as a concept allows you to do is think organically in terms of a fluid organic continuum, whereby the Middle East does all this trade with China, for instance. And in our day all of the energy - the oil and natural gas - is in the greater Middle East, in the Arabian Peninsula and the Iranian plateau, and the customers are increasingly in the middle class conurbations of coastal China, South Korea, Japan, and so - and the Indian Ocean is the great connector, it's the interstate, it's the global highway interstate in this maritime world where despite the jet and information age, 90% of all commercial goods that travel inter-continentally do so by sea.
RK
You know, the symbol of the global age is actually the supertanker, either an oil supertanker or one of those big ships with like a thousand containers on them that you see. So the Indian Ocean, I said to Washington policymakers, allows you to think more creatively, allows you to think of Eurasia as just one united rim land - the, you know, the navigable Southern rim land because the Northern rim land of Eurasia is all ice blocked, you know, north of Russia.
RK
So we have been prisoners of Cold War era studies. Americans have been prisoners of the Mercator projection which puts North and South America in the center and splits up the Pacific and the Indian Ocean at the edges and therefore at the edges of consciousness. And what the Indian Ocean allows us to do is to see the world whole and to see really it's center over the next few decades because by 2050 there's going to be about nine billion people in the world and seven of those nine billion are going to live vaguely around the Indian Ocean rim land, the greater Indian Ocean rim land. If you take in - if you put together the populations of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, what you've got there is almost seven of nine billion people of the world.
RK
So the Indian Ocean is the unifier, it's the center of the map for the 21st century in that sense, the center of conflict and the center also of trade and cultural relations. And my theme is, you know, to me what's the most unique and relevant thing for our century about the Indian Ocean is the monsoon winds because the monsoon winds, more than any other wind pattern, are predictable, you know, blowing northeast to southwest then reversing themselves by a 180 degrees southwest to northeast, of course with a lot of small variations inside the Bay of Bengal and others. Nevertheless because of the predictability of this wind system, it allowed sailors to calculate sailing times in advance and thus the Indian Ocean did not have to wait to the Age of Steam Ships to unite it.
RK
It was united back in the Medieval Era. Remember when Vasco da Gama sailed from what is today Kenya to what is today Southwest India, half the distance of the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles, he did it in 23 days which is an amazing feat if any of you or your parents are recreational sailors, you should know this.
RK
And he was able to do this not cause he discovered the wind system or the Portuguese didn't discover it. It was the medieval Arabs who reacquainted them with it. Reacquainted them with it because the Romans and the Greeks may have known about it to, you know, to a large extent.
RK
You know, if you hunt down, you know, the estuary in Bengal you may find some Roman coins, you know, or some Greek coins because the Romans and the Greeks got that far. And so because of the monsoon winds, because it didn't have to wait for the Age of Steam Ships to unite it, you have, you know, the remains of 8th century mosques in China, you have large Malay communities from the East Indies in Madagascar just off the coast of East Africa. You have Almanis all along the coast of East Africa, you have Gujaratis from Northwest India all over the Indian Ocean map, you have Yemenis in Indonesia, you know, significant populations.
RK
Everywhere with - everyone with everywhere because in a cultural sense, because of the wind system, it was a united community. So there was like a unifying element in the medieval era that policymakers today would do well to study because it's very relevant for how they can conceive of a whole Eurasian trade and security system.
RK
Another thing that the Indian Ocean does is it allows you to think of Islam not as a desert religion, spread relatively quickly by the sword across the sands of North Africa but spread very gradually over the course of the centuries by sophisticated merchants in ships.
RK
It was - I just got back from Malaysia for instance, I just spent a month in Malaysia and Singapore and its fascinating, you know, Malaysia may be one of the most influential countries in the Muslim world in terms of where Islam is going because Malaysia's a democracy - been so for quite a few decades, not a perfect one by any means, we can study that - and it's also one of the most technologically developed countries in the world so it's become a high tech functioning democracy where 60% of the country are Muslims and interact with 20% who are ethnic Chinese and another 9% who are Indians, and this is all the residue of the monsoonal wind system, of merchants, of gradual conversions over the course of the centuries and we can talk similarly of Indonesia and other places.
RK
And as I said, we are going back to a classical super region. It's possible that in the course of the next few decades, we will see canals and land bridge projects connecting the Bay of Bengal with the South China Sea. You know, as energy prices go up, if you consider that global energy demand is going to go up by almost 50% over the next 20 or 30 years, half of that's going to come from India and China, even with Chinese growth slowing down, you're entering a world where there are going to be more consumers - more middle class consumers - for energy and goods, and that is going to mean a sea, a Strait of Malacca, Straight of Sunda, Macassar, and Lombok, that are more and more crowded with ships.
RK
And there are going to need other outlets. So the Malaysians are exploring land bridge projects across the Peninsular of Malaysia. There's renewed talk about a Kra Canal across the isthmus of Thailand so that the Indian Ocean proper and the South China Sea are liable to be much more organic in terms of their relations with each other in the course of the coming decades. And the South China Sea, let me tell you, is - there we've got more than half of the world's merchant fleet tonnage, a third of all maritime traffic worldwide, the oil transported through the Malacca Straight from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea is triple the amount that passes the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that passes the Panama Canal,
RK
so we are really talking about, you know, the nerve center, you know, the real coagulated nerve center of the world, of Eurasia, going forward and the real drama here, this strategic drama, is that the West is gradually, ever so gradually, receding and indigenous powers are rising.
RK
Globalization is about navies and air force, much more than it is about armies and marine corps, because navies and air forces, you know, help protect sea lines of communication. They project power and they often have peace keeping functions that armies and marine corps don't. You know, there's an old saying that armies invade, navies make port visits, and it's really true in a way.
RK
The American Navy is plateauing in size. It may get even smaller. It's gone down from almost 600 ships in the 1980s to less than 300 hundred ships, war ships, today. It's unclear if it can sustain itself as these numbers going forward over the next 20 or 30 years. Meanwhile India and China are growing dramatically bigger navies. You know, China will have more submarines afloat than the United States Navy in about 15 years and China is not just developing these quiet diesel electric submarines but nuclear submarines which means that China has blue water oceanic ambitions because you only build or develop nuclear submarines if you want to operate in the great oceans.
RK
Because what nuclear power does is it means that you don't have to refuel. You are only limited by the amount of food you can carry, which is about 90 days on a submarine. So China is developing a great navy and air force much as the United States did at the turn of the 20th century when the United States became a great power for the first time and the United States suddenly had trading interests all over the world and dug the Panama Canal and built a great navy in order to protect those interests. And China seems to be following very much an American pattern, in that regard.
RK
There's a lot of details I can go into about everything China's doing with its, you know, cyber warfare capabilities, its fourth and fifth generation fighter jets, its, you know, its enlarged fleet of amphibious vessels, but they are very serious about ultimately protecting their own sea lines of communication, not being dependent on the American navy for this.
RK
India's navy over the past, you know, in the last few decades going forward is also increasing by leaps and bounds, and it's not just them. It's not just them. The increase in defense spending of Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore is astounding. It's all - I mean it's like submarines are the new bling.
RK
Everybody wants one, you know. Some countries aren't sure what they're going to do with them but they're buying them and they're training crews. Japan and South Korea continue to modernize their fleets. So there's a trend here which is indigenous powers are taking control of the region gradually in a very military sense. And while the American Navy and Air Force will continue to dominate, it's going to be a far more subtle multipolar situation, you know, if present trends continue and the only thing that can stop present trends frankly is if China were to undergo such a profound socioeconomic political crisis that it would impinge upon their defense budgets and that is not likely.
RK
China will have a profound socioeconomic crisis but probably not deep enough and in a direction that would impinge on rising defense budgets.
RK
And so this is the post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan world going forward and if it's a peaceful world it would take in Central Asia also, with routes and pipelines going from Central Asia into the Indian Ocean region. You know, China is sort of moving vertically south along the Indian Ocean, you know, financing port projects in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, and lately in Kenya - in Lamu, in Kenya - in Sri Lanka, all of these port projects tell a different story.
RK
The one in Gwadar in Pakistan is a great beautiful port, I've seen it, but it's a kind of road to nowhere at the moment because of security concerns, that the Chinese aren't going forward. The one in Burma is not a road to nowhere, that's taking in natural gas from the Bay of Bengal and will transport it in roads and pipelines across central and northern Burma into China's southern Yunnan province within a number of years.
RK
The port in Sri Lanka that they're building is quite impressive and you know comes at a time when China's influence in Sri Lanka is greater than ever because of the help China gave Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan regime, in winning the civil war.
RK
China has hopes to transport oil from across southern Sudan across northern Kenya to Lamu and take it. That again might for the moment be for a pie in the sky project given the instability between and the fighting between Sudan proper and South Sudan.
RK
I was in Beijing for two weeks in December, just meeting with people about this, and you know Chinese would say to me, "Well it's just our companies who are doing this. We just have a peaceful commercial purpose along the Indian Ocean." And my response was that's what the Venetians said a thousand years ago.
RK
Venice began, you know - people don't sit around a table and say now we're going to start an empire. Empires, you know, happen in your sleep, so to speak. You know, they begin as commercial ventures or for specific legitimate purposes and then they grow and expand if the state itself in question continues to become dynamic and to grow. And so what begins as commercial ventures like an expedition against piracy along Venice's northern Adriatic, along the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslavia, in 1000 AD where Venice started to establish commercial colonies. You know, 200 years later, Venice controls the whole of eastern Mediterranean. So we'll see where these port projects go over the next few decades, you know, where it will lead China.
RK
Remember the British East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, began as purely commercial ventures and evolved into much grander details, in that sense.
RK
India is also expanding horizontally along the Indian Ocean developing, you know - India will not go along with the US in terms of embargoing Iran. They're going to continue to do business with Iran because they need the natural gas that Iran affords. India too is building up ports and pipeline in Burma, you know, this way to transport the natural gas to the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh to West Bengal and India and around Bangladesh and again I think one of the most exiting developments since I finished my book is the opening up of Burma.
RK
The opening up of Burma, if it progresses and that's a big if because Burma it's not a question of snapping your finger and holding an election. It's really about ethnic conciliation and you know, and ending the low level, you know, fighting between the Burman army and the various ethnic irregular forces around the horseshoe of the Irrawaddy Valley. And, but if Burma can truly open up that could liberate Northeast India, the chicken bone of India, which has been cut off by geographical isolation and a hilly and somewhat mountainous topography in parts.
RK
And so it's spawned insurgency, underdevelopment, but with a developed, with an opening of Burma and Arakan and other areas, northeast India could finally be liberated. You know, Burma rather than being a place where India and China compete and fight over for commercial advantage could become a pulsing center of trade routes in and itself. There's a good book written about that, that just came out recently, where India and Burma meet, by I think Thant Myint-U, which is just a travel book but he goes into this in quite some depth. So if you think of Burma opening up and you think 20 years ahead with a stable Afghanistan, hopefully a stable Pakistan, you have a world of routes and pipelines connecting inner and southern Eurasia to the sea, you know, in many different directions, where you have recreation of the Tang Empire from the 9th century with China doing more and more trade with Iran through Central Asia.
RK
You know, people have this silly argument: is Eurasia's development going to be by land or by sea? It's going to be both. You know, it's very much going to be both.
RK
And so I think that this is really going to be a developing, pulsing area that is not going to be easily divided up into Cold War area studies anymore because the interconnections between the various parts of the Indian Ocean Rim, the greater Indian Ocean Rim Land, from the Middle East to the Western Pacific are going to continue to develop and be vast and I'll stop here and thank you.
SB
So that we can have a conversation, I don't intend to offer a long commentary but I think we'll let us, you know, just see it as a conversation. First of all, thank you for providing such a, you know, wonderful summary of a few of the issues that you had raised in your book and, you know, I really admire your book not just for the writing but here is one strategic analyst who had actually read all of the scholarly literature on the Indian Ocean, which is very rare you know, and which is why you know there's such a depth of analysis in "Monsoon."
SB
Let me begin by raising sort of a large question about the relationship between oceans and continents. I do that because you know this particular project - Islam on the Indian Ocean rim - is, I think, very imaginatively conceived. At one level, it takes the vast Indian Ocean as it's canvas and explores all of the connections across this ocean - economic, cultural, political - but then the project seeks to focus on two river valleys or deltas, the Indus valley on either side of the border that separates India and Pakistan and the Ganges delta on either side of the borders of Bangladesh and India.
SB
So I'd like to start by looking at the sort of the big picture, the vast canvas first, and then perhaps look at these particular river valleys and deltas which are connected to the larger Indian Ocean world.
SB
My own sense is that, and this is something that you suggested towards the end of your remarks, that, you know, continents and oceans, you know, Asia and the Indian Ocean are conceptually not in an adversarial relationship. I think it is important to underscore how old the oceanic connections have been and how important they continue to be, as you emphasize 90% of the commodities still travel by ship.
SB
On the other hand, there have always been very deep land isthmuses - this is, of course, a concept of that Fernand Braudel used in his book "The Mediterranean," showing how in fact there were narrow land isthmuses which connected the Mediterranean world with Russia, Poland, Germany, France and so on.
SB
And so in the case of the Indian Ocean and Asia as well I think there are these land connections. Interregional arenas can be connected by oceanic flows. On the other hand, there could be some important land routes often going from the ports deep into the interior of the continents and this was in some ways brought home to me on a recent trip to China in October.
SB
I travelled from Kolkata by air to Kunming which is the capital of Yunnan province in southern China and it's actually such a short distance, it was a two hour flight, and people are beginning to talk about K2K, Kolkata to Kunming connection. From Kunming, I took another flight, another two hours, to Shiyan the capital of Tang dynasty China and there, of course, I saw one of the mosques that you were eluding to the Great Shiyan Mosque going back to the 740s.
SB
Mosque constructed in a Chinese architectural style but with Arabic calligraphy and clearly here was a city, Shiyan, which was at the eastern end of trade routes that connected the Arab world, the Persian world, the Indian world, with China. Now these clearly had been land connections. Shiyan is so far from both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific but also in addition to Presidency University which Kris mentioned I am involved in an effort to re-establish an Asian International University at Nalanda which was the oldest university in the world and flourished from the 5th to the 12th centuries. But if you look at the scholar pilgrims who came from China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, the most famous ones sometimes came by sea:
SB
Eijing came you know via you know Sumatra, learnt Sanskrit there, and then arrived, went back by land, you know other famous pilgrims came by land, went back by sea. And in Shiyan, of course, in addition to the great Shiyan mosque I saw the old goose or rather the big goose pagoda which is associated with Xuan Zang who had been in Nalanda in the 7th century as a teacher. So I was just wondering, you know, as you pointed out, you know, the Indian Ocean is a concept you know that's what one has to recognize, that one can't devise strategy in relation to separate bits of that world in old areas studies mold, but given what's going to be happening in Afghanistan and Central Asia, how do you see the links between the Indian Ocean world and you know the continental interiors of Asia playing out?
RK
First of all, thanks for that lovely compliment, and when you said, talked about the Gangetic Plain and the Indian Ocean, I thought of Amitabh Ghosh's recent novel about the opium trade. You know look at the geography of the opium trade, which takes you from the central Ganges down to the Bay of Bengal by ship, up into China. And the opium trade was just another trade route, essentially. The same way that, in fact, drugs come from Mexico along age old trade routes into the United States, the same route that Coronado used in his expedition of discovery in the 16th century.
RK
So I think it's fascinating to think in terms of like the Gangetic Plain coming down to the Bay of Bengal and the Indus River Valley coming down close to the Arabian sea and you know people - there's this cliché that Pakistan is artificial. In a sense, no it's not. It's an Indus Valley nation, which is, you know, very much a set, you know, an ink block of demography which had been the center of previous empires whether it is Ghaznavid or others going back into history, you know, the whole area of Al Hind that Andre Wink writes about in his book. So you have, from the Indian Ocean, you have emanating outward, you have the Ganges River Valley, you have the Indus River Valley, you have the Irrawaddy River Valley, and these are pathways into the interiors, that in turn at the head of those pathways connect in to central Asia.
RK
Because take Punjab for instance. The Punjab is, you know, in the heart of Indus Valley civilization in the northern heart. It's the closest real demographic hub to southern central Asia. So it reaches up into Northern Afghanistan and the southern, former southern, Soviet Union and reaches down through the Indus Valley all the way to Karachi and then into the wider world, the wider sea, and it crosses many, what in a historical sense are artificial states, in the sense that all states are artificial, I mean where do you draw the borders anywhere?
RK
And I think the biggest drama over the coming years - China's growth rate we know is going to come down to about 7% but that's still 7%, I mean that's still a lot compared to our own - is going to be how China reaches out to all these regions through trade and as, you know, you said it's only two hours to fly from Kolkata to Kunming, you know, imagine all the routes across Burma and through northeast India that will make it perhaps in 20 years a comfortable land trip along you know highways.
SB
You know let's talk a little bit more about China, you know. Of course, you know, reading Amitabh Ghosh's novel "Sea of Poppies," you know, there is this wonderful image of Zachary Reid, the son of a Maryland freed women who travels on the ship, the Ibis, and its only after he reaches the Hooghly river that he meets the owner of this black birder which has been refitted, a man called Ben Burnham and Ben Burnham tells Zachary Reid that this ship is not going to be used on its first voyage to carry opium to China from the Gangetic delta because the Chinese are still having trouble learning the benefits of free trade
SB
but there'll be a different kind of a cargo and of course Zachary Reid is quite concerned that, you mean, you know, you're going to use it to carry slaves, haven't your laws actually abolished that trade and of course Ben Burnham relies that yes the laws have sort of done so but there is going to be this coolie trade because, you know, when the doors of freedom are closed to one people, the Africans, it gets open to the Asiatic and so on.
SB
And so you know there was an Indian Ocean connection even in the 19th century which transformed the older ties across the Indian Ocean because this was a connection of opium between India and China,
SB
and of indentured laborers from India from that same sort of Gangetic sort of heartland of Bihar and UP [Uttar Pradesh] towards Mauritius and the western part of the Indian Ocean world. But you know coming back to China I think you are absolutely right that what has been new in the contemporary phase of globalization is China's decision, after a hiatus of several hundred years really since the times of Zhonghai, to project its power, you know, economic as well as naval, military, in the Indian Ocean
SB
Now, is it your sense that since the writing and the publication of 'Monsoon,' the Chinese leadership has become rather more aggressive and assertive than they had been because there was always a sense that the Chinese leadership was very pragmatic.
SB
It did not want to take steps too early that might in fact upset the United States of America, but in relation to the South China Sea certainly, but also in terms of its presence in many of the areas where they are building infrastructure in ports and in the Indian Ocean, do you see a new assertiveness on the part of China that may not have even existed even say three to four years ago?
RK
It's not a straight line. What it is, is this - what happened after the western financial crisis was China had a fit of arrogance and decided to send more, you know, more warships into the South China Sea to make claims, to actually publish this historic map, the nine-dash line or cows tongue, which claims you know most of the South China Sea which goes against the Law of the Sea Treaty and everything and this caused the reaction, you know, suddenly the Vietnamese, the Malaysians and others were in America's lap. They all ran to America for aid and the Japanese who had been, who had just gone through a government transition and were cool to the United States suddenly re-embraced the United States because of this new Chinese aggression.
RK
But then it seems the Chinese have backed off. They seem to backed off somewhat considerably. Keep one thing in mind, there's not nearly as much policy coordination in Beijing as even there is even in the United States. There is, you know, the ministries - there are about 15 different governmental departments in ministries that deal with the South China Sea and there is not even yet, from what I can gather, what they call a 'small leading group' of top policymakers who coordinate grand strategy on different subjects.
RK
The Chinese have been making bigger inroads into Mauritius, into Africa especially, this just goes forward regardless of official policy, pursued by Chinese companies. And as the Chinese dig for iron ores in central southern Africa, exploit for oil, they find themselves getting more and more involved in the domestic politics of those countries which is going to come back to haunt them. This all being said, keep in mind that the Chinese leadership, first because of the transition it's going through now to a new leader, but also because of the economic problems, is 95% focused domestically.
RK
It's focused domestically to a much greater extent than any American president has focused domestically. So a lot of what we are seeing is the People's Liberation Army, navy policy, its policies you know of the foreign ministry and others but the top Chinese leadership is - well I'll give you an example. When Hu Jintao came to George W. Bush's Texas ranch about 8 years ago, Bush said to him what I would worry about and keeps me up at night is a second attack like 9/11, what keeps you up at night. And Hu Jintao answered, he said, "I have to provide 25 million more Chinese with jobs every year. That's what keeps me up at night." And that's really what the leadership is focused on.
RK
I think that even the Chinese navy has different opinions. I've been reading articles about this. There's a hard line faction, there's a more moderate faction who thinks the South China Sea is just a distraction, they shouldn't push it so far. One thing that I learned is that people in power, the elites in Beijing, think of the 9-line, the historic line which just drives every other country in the region to distraction and anger, that the leadership in Beijing, the elites recognize that the historic line is simply unrealistic, that they will have to make a compromise at it, but the problem is that they have no domestic strategy for doing it because the nationalists are all involved in China.
RK
And while China is not a democracy, the party still has to assuage public opinion which is very nationalistic.
SB
Well let's talk about India and the Indian Ocean a bit and also you know, the convergences and the divergences in the United States and you know Indian sort of positions you know when it comes to critical issues in the Indian Ocean realm. At one level it seems that there is broad convergence between India's and US sort of perceptions that, you know, one, that both have agreed that one has to keep the sea lane's secure across the Indian Ocean and that is the major energy route of the world today and so on.
SB
But there are two areas within the Indian Ocean world where India and United States have not seen eye to eye in the last few years and in the present and these are of course in terms of, in relation to Myanmar, Burma and Iran. So lets you know talk about Burma on Myanmar first.
SB
India of course constantly tried to explain to the United States that there is a need for engagement with Myanmar rather than sanctions. India had to be engaged with Myanmar partly because China was so heavily involved and India could just not withdraw and also there were connections in terms of the insurgencies in the northeast and therefore however odious the regime in Myanmar might have been, India felt that there was an element of real politick involved, that there had to be engagement.
SB
And it might seem that so far as Myanmar is concerned, you know, India's position has been somewhat vindicated, that even the aged sort of military dictator has opened up Burma somewhat. Earlier today, as I was driving down from Salem to Boston I heard on the radio that he's made a statement about how in fact Burma, by being so closed, has missed out on the opportunities that globalization had presented.
SB
And of course if things work out in Myanmar and there's another country of course Bangladesh, if Burma and Bangladesh are transformed then one could sort of realize the dream that you evoked.
SB
There would be a crescent from Singapore to Kolkata connected by eight lane highways and you know through Burma and Bangladesh and both Burma and Bangladesh are rich in natural gas resources and so on. There would be connections between the eastern part of India and southern China through this particular sort of region. So you know, would you tend to agree that, you know, India's position relating to Myanmar was in fact the right one over the last ten years or so? And is the United States also coming around to the view that things may change in Myanmar?
SB
In fact, I was in Kolkata with Thant Mint-U, who was giving a lecture on the basis of his book and he seemed to think that things look positive in terms of the opening up of political democratic processes with Aung San Suu Kyi having agreed to contest by election, that on the ethnic front - ethnic insurgencies - even though there is still a very serious problem with the Gachins by and large some of the truces that have been signed are holding. Things are somewhat better than they had been before, but the main worry that Thant Mint, you know, suggested would be how well can Burma can actually manage the opening up of the economy to a larger globalized world because, you know, there isn't much of an expertise within Myanmar to oversee that transition, so I just wondered if you would say a few more words about Myanmar.
RK
I think the Indians were right all along but at the same time, and Senator James Webb of Virginia who is a South East Asian expert also agreed that the Indians were right and as soon as the Obama administration came in he kept pushing them to open, you know, to open up with Burma and this was before the regime started changing somewhat. There is - but nevertheless the very fact that India was engaged in Burma heavily in terms of real politick was very convenient for the United States because the United States could stand by half a world away and stand on its moral principles, knowing in a sense that India was balancing against China and therefore didn't have to worry about it so to speak. So there was that element.
RK
But then after the Obama administration came into office, there was an agreement between the Senator Webb and the new Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, that they would try an opening with Burma and it worked and you know it seems to have worked. And you know it's very gradual and you know it seems to be going forward the problem in Burma is because the military has been governing since 1962, there are very few people other than the military who know how to govern, who know how to run offices, bureaucracies, or others, so I don't see - think you can have a complete transition to civilian rule. You will have to have a kind of quasi-civilian-military-condominium for a number of years to keep it stable because there is very little infrastructure there.
RK
It's a kind of a semi-failed state in many regards and of course, so this is a process that's going to take years and what will facilitate it is if ethnic Burmans like Aung San Suu Kyi, once the're elected to office, can reach out to the minority groups you know all around the Irrawaddy and you know at the same time they don't completely push the military out all together because the military is - as odious as it has been - is going to have to be part of the story.
SB
And certainly Aung San Suu Kyi's father Aung San had quite a generous view of what, you know, the Burman attitude should be to the non-Burman minorities and it was a huge tragedy for Burma that he was assassinated in July 1947, six months before Burma came to full independence. Turning a bit to Iran but also to - placing it within the large Indian Ocean sort of concept - how serious are the dissentions between US and Indian policymakers when it comes to Iran? There seems to be deep anxiety in some Washington circles about what India is doing in relation to Iran. India, of course, imports about 10% of its oil, I would imagine, 10 to 12% from Iran. India has agreed to pay for some of this oil in the local currency because of the sanctions and so forth, and constraints on banking transactions, etc.
SB
India, of course, suggests that, first of all, there are these old civilizational links with Iran that cannot be ignored, you know, there are important Shia center in India such as Lucknow which have very close links with Shia theological seminaries in Iran and also in Iraq, by the way. And India suggests that the only land access that India has to Afghanistan at the moment is via Iran even though Pakistan has allowed some measure of transit trade. And I was at the Wagah border on the 25th of January and so saw that there were long queues of trucks on the Indian side but of course the trucks can't cross so there are Pakistani trucks from the other side bringing in dry fruits and so on, and Indian trucks with onions, etc., who all have to unload their cargos and into other trucks before they can move across.
SB
So you know, how serious is the difference of opinion on Iran and will it affect the large Indian Ocean policy but I would also like to, you know, perhaps, urge you to place of this whole question of Iran into this other broader view that you expressed in your book, that you know in India among strategic thinkers, among policymakers such as common friend Raja Mohan, there is sort of a neo-Curzonian vision of what India's role ought to be in the larger Indian Ocean world and in your book you interestingly suggested that this neo-Curzonian vision of a certain degree of projection of naval power in the Indian Ocean by India can in fact coexist with a Tagorian vision, sort of the deployment of India's soft power, if you will, you know, building on the age old historical cultural links that India have had with its neighboring regions both across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
SB
But a skeptic might suggest that in fact the two visions - the Curzonian one and the Tagorian one are fundamentally incompatible - because, after all, you know when Curzon went out to the - on his - with his naval flotilla from Karachi harbor to the Persian Gulf in 1903 he got his way in the Gulf sheikdoms in Muscat and Kuwait and so on but in some ways he failed in Iran. In Bushehr he didn't get off his ship because the Iranians would not agree to his definition of sovereignty but it was in that same port city Bushehr, that Tagore received a warm and an enthusiastic welcome and India in some ways recognizes that and perhaps sees the limits of a Curzonian policy, particularly in relation to its bigger neighbors or in its extended sort of neighborhood.
SB
So if you would address both the larger question of the Tagorian and the Curzonian vision in the Indian Ocean in relation to Iran but also the US and India sort of tussle in terms of what should be Iranian policy.
RK
I think you summarized it very well, I don't know what I can add. I think U.S. policy makers understand that India has fundamentally different national interests when it comes to Iran, its national interest that is driven by geography to a significant extent cause remember Persian was the language - the official language - of India I believe until 1835 which is relatively recent in history, that greater Persia in a cultural extent extends deep into the Indian subcontinent.
RK
You can hear Persian words as far as Kolkata, I believe, so India just can't cut off Iran, I mean, you know, the links in the, you know, Iran is a part of India's shadow zone, you know strategic shadow zone, while Pakistan develops Gwadar, Iran develops Chah Bahar a 150 miles away on the other side of the border and that's India's kind of answer to Pakistan cause it helps develop this other port.
RK
You know, India's encouraging roads that connect Afghanistan to Iran, you know, so that Afghanistan will have other routes to the sea and you know it's not wholly dependent on Pakistan. So that - you mentioned the oil that India gets, the natural gas that it wants to get.
RK
Iran is just too much a part, historically and geographically, of the greater subcontinent for India just to say, "All right we are going to go along with the Americans and have nothing to do with them." You know, that's not just on, in this sense, and that's an area where I think Washington and New Delhi have agreed to disagree. And in terms of - it's interesting - in terms of the Curzonian and Tagorian vision, at the very end of my book I wrote that the United States can only succeed in a great power sense, if it ties its own destiny with that of the peoples of the developing world along the Indian Ocean rim land.
RK
And so I think it's a matter of a kind of soft Curzonianism in a real way, you know, real politick, great powerdom is something that all nations have played and will play because nations will always struggle for first survival to a certain extent and will try to calculate the balance of power in their interests, you know, as it affects them and that is not going away.
RK
At the same time tough the world is getting more subtle and its getting more subtle in the way that it - in a very Tagorian sensibility, in the sense that national - in globalization, national borders are less hard - and you have softer borders with interpenetrations of, you know, of ethnic groups, sectarian groups, and others that cross borders.
RK
So you know as I wrote, Tagore would have a solution for Kurdistan and Iraq. You know he would have a solution for Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, it would just be that borders matter less and less but people in the capitals will still play a Curzonian world so to speak and especially in this global media environment like if you watch Al Jazeera, what's Al Jazeera really about? It's about the rise of the middle class in the third world, in the former third world, if you ask me and Al Jazeera is the television station for this rising middle class in the former third world which sees interconnection points with the other middle classes in the third world, at the same time that there's a nationalism and power politics at play, you know, at the same time.
RK
So that Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing can have different foreign policy that are in some ways in conflict with each other but at the same time you have an ethnic Chinese community in Malaysia that's connected with trade and family links with China. So you have - I see that if they're not compatible, the Curzonian and the Tagorian visions are parallel. They have to coexist because that's the only way to describe realistically, I think, the world that we are entering, a world that's going to continue to see you know realism-power-politics on steroids between all these different states but where there are going to be more and more interconnections at the same time.
SB
Perhaps this is the moment to talk about - before we bring you into the conversation - to talk a little bit about Tagore's sort of linguistic regional world and I have to say that Tagore's 150th birth anniversary was of course celebrated in India and Bangladesh but I also attended a Tagore conferences in Peking University in Beijing and in Singapore and so on and so there is a certain resonance across this entire Indian Ocean sort of world when it comes to a figure like Tagore. Now just wanted to talk about the Ganges Delta, following the way in which this project has been conceived.
SB
In your book, do you think in retrospect you provided a rather too pessimistic picture of Bangladesh? You visited Bangladesh before the last general elections and then of course the Awami League Sheikh Hasina government came to power and in its first couple of years it seemed to have been doing rather well, you know, Bangladesh seemed to be expressing in its politics the sort of the ecumenical Islam of the India Ocean world, not the desert Islam but the oceanic Islam that is in fact much more widely prevalent. A few of the radical sort of Islamist groups were, you know, clamped down upon and so forth. There was an attempt to improve relations with the larger neighbor, sort of India, and I have been in Bangladesh twice, in January and then again in July, and there did seem to be a very sort of vibrant civil society and educated sort of classes - I was in Dhaka University for example giving a lecture in the Senate House and so forth - so I just wonder whether you might want to revise your view of Bangladesh.
SB
By contrast, despite all of the problems that afflicted West Bengal and you know Kolkata - the poverty and the squalor and so on - you gave a rather more optimistic picture of Kolkata. In fact the subtitle of your Kolkata chapter was "The Next Global City" and you even quoted one of your interlocutors who said that Kolkata could be the next Harvard of that part of the world and of course I'd like to believe that because you know I am engaged in trying to rejuvenate the premier education institution in Kolkata - the Presidency College now University - trying to raise it to world class standards but should there be as much of a contrast in terms of pessimism and optimism about the future between the two Bengals that are divided by the shadow lines of 1947? I just wonder what your thoughts are a couple of years beyond the publication of this book.
RK
Journalists are children of the moment and the moment that I was in Bangladesh, there were still the military curfews and everything, you know, the previous civilian governments had not succeeded but nobody was happy with the military. Things did not look well. Obviously they look a lot better now and I mentioned that in a sentence in my afterward to the paperback edition - that was all the room I had - but clearly things look better now in Bangladesh, I would agree. But it's still - Bangladesh has fundamental challenges that are mainly environmental and demographic that I, you know, spoke at length in the book that are not going to go away and we are going to have to see a sustained good government for years on end but one thing that did surprise me was that many politicians when they're out of power and when they come back to power, they don't learn anything.
RK
They're as bad as they were the previous time. This was the case with Benazir Bhutto I believe in Pakistan but apparently Sheikh Hasina has learned some things, you know, that, you know, this time they're just functioning better than they did previously so that, you know, maybe there's ground for fundamental optimism in that sense.
SB
And of course, India, maybe making things a bit difficult because the promises and agreements made with Bangladesh haven't been quite implemented or fulfilled and too close a relationship with India without you know the concurrent benefits whether in terms of water resources and so on, can be politically difficult.
SB
I mean it's the usual dynamic between a smaller neighbor and a much bigger power and of course in West Bengal, there's also been a change since you visited - a 34 year old communist government has been voted out of power and there are sort of new directions being sort of taken.
RK
Bangladesh can also benefit by playing India and China off against each other.
SB
Which they are to some extent.
RK
Yeah, in terms of getting loans, grants, because India and China are playing a kind of very low key grade game with each other in Bangladesh, in Nepal and Sri Lanka and these countries can benefit if they play it right.
SB
And the last sort of question before I bring in the audience, the very patient audience here, what is your current sort of assessment of the Indus Valley nation - Pakistan - at this moment?
RK
I think that - I don't think that Pakistan is artificial as I said. I think if you look at the history of empires going back 2000 years, you find what is Pakistan was always a center of like, of a northwestern subcontinental civilization of some sort or another. And I don't think that Pakistan is a failed state because it has a vibrant middle class.
RK
It has strong institutions in some regards, but I think it's a state where the military elite is invested with the conflict with India and uses that as a raison d'etre for its existence and the civilian elite, you know, to a significant extent basically steals all it can and pays no taxes and that's, you know, that's a hard thing to say but it's a reality. So while it's not a failed state, it's an extremely troubled state and the longer it engages in a, you know, in trying to manage, in trying to kind of be the - have defacto, you know, defacto control over southern and eastern Afghanistan or at least run the various terror and other ethnic networks there, the weaker Pakistan is as a whole going to get.
RK
You can't rule out the possibility of, you know, years and decades, hints of a rump greater Punjab and a Sind and a Baluchistan that are oriented closer to India, you know, if there were to be more weakening of state institutions as there are. But I what I fear is that United States will leave gradually Afghanistan, and India and Pakistan will fight a proxy war over Afghanistan.
SB
And you don't see the possibility of some kind of a modus vivendi being worked out between India and Pakistan in relation to Afghanistan.
RK
I do, that's possible.
SB
That's possible.
RK
Yes, absolutely. But what I fear is that there can also be a proxy war.
SB
And you know, I just wonder whether the larger Indian Ocean context might have helped in, you know, finding Pakistan a place in that larger interregional arena and here of course it is India which has objected to the inclusion of Pakistan in regional organization, which hasn't really taken off when it actually should, which is the Indian Ocean Association, you know, of the rim countries. It includes all of the countries from South Africa to Indonesia, including of course Oman and India of course as the hub but Pakistan is very much an Indian Ocean country and you know so a larger inclusion in broader Indian Ocean structures may in fact help matters I think.
RK
That whole world between basically Iraq and India are in a sense part of one world, you know, one continuum where it's hard to find, you know, the right borders and they're united by Indian Ocean, they're united by Persian culture, and it's a matter of, you know, the more inter-linkages you can find between them, the better off they will all be.
SB
Well Kris I think this is the moment to bring the audience into the discussion. There's a question there I think.
Hi my name is Andy Gupta and I wanted to thank both of you for coming to Fletcher today to speak with all of us.
SB
My question was about India and China, you mentioned that there tend to be contradictory currents, where you have, you know, positive cultural and economic flows between the two countries but at the same time you have governments in both capitals having a kind of a strategic vision that might clash in the future and I was wondering how you see those relations moving forward over the next 15 or 20 years.
RK
All right, India and China may develop the world's largest complementary trading relationship which will act as a kind of cushion on their strategic rivalry. What's causing their strategic rivalry is not any historical hatred or anything. It's really the collapse of distance brought about by the advancement of military technology.
RK
So that you have fighter jets in Tibetan air fields, Chinese fighter jets that include India as part of their arch of operations. It's why you have Indians reconnaissance satellites in space focusing on China. You have Indian war ships in the South China sea, Chinese war ships in the Indian Ocean. Their strategic spaces are overlapping so they are becoming rivals, in a sense, which is something new in history.
RK
What I find in India though is that it's the elites who are very interested in the competition with China and it's very kind of - it's not a hot blooded competition or rivalry like it is with Pakistan. It's on a much lower boil and in fact I think Indian elites enjoy it because India wants to be hyphenated with China. It gives it prestige.
RK
India doesn't want to be hyphenated with Pakistan. You know the fact that India can be compared with China brings India up to a whole new level but actually India is not on that level. China is far advanced, its economy, you know its development, so you really can't compare the two. I saw a statistic that showed that China adds more highway mileage per year than India has in total in the whole country.
KM
Thank you very much, I had a question about to what extent the next - the coming period, in let's say world history might look like other periods that we've seen in history in the last two centuries. In specific, it seems that if, you know, you look at the 19th century there was a period from about 1815 to about the 1880s in which one can see a kind of British world dominance that was relatively stable followed by a period from about 1880 to 1945 in which you have, if you like, a great disorder of different types -
KM
different imperial rivalries - also the rise, part of, the other side of the disorder was that you had transnational connections like never before, whether it was Tagore going to Persia or whether it was Stella Kramrisch coming to Calcutta or whether it was M.N. Roy going to Mexico. I mean there was, that was a moment in history where we saw two world wars but we also saw a kind of unprecedented capillary network of national actors communicating. That seemed to collapse after 1945 and produced the world that we still live in, maybe the world that we no longer live in because you have spoken of a post third world war era in which we started to think of area studies, we started to think of three general domains of the world. But if we are post-1989, post-2001, you're describing the rise of a new world order.
KM
Will that world order be like the period like 1880 to 1945 where on one hand we have rising transnationalism beyond imperialism, beyond nationalism, a new kind of transnationalism, new kinds of fugitive interactions between different groups that actually is about, you know, new imaginations and communication networks or do we see also, this is the story of the 1840s to 1945, pf the world wars, and is it the case that maybe we won't have that kind of world war phenomenon because we've learned - because we are historical, I mean, we've gone through enough as it were and so how can history really repeat itself even though we do have these, what seems like structural tensions that are inevitable in the coming you know 30, 40, 60, 80 years. So how do you see this next - the contours of time - as we move forward in the next period?
RK
That's a very good profound question. Of course, British imperial rule was aided by the fact that Europe was mainly at peace between 1815 and 1880, the continent, because of the extension of the Metternichean system and with the exception of the Franco-Prussian War, which was a small war by many standards, you really had - the 19th century after Napoleon was a peaceful century for the European continent, so you know Britain could turn its attention elsewhere on the wider world. I think what we're, the real interesting thing that I see around the world is the rise of middle level powers and I don't just mean Turkey and Brazil but Vietnam for instance, which is a country of about 93 million or 90 million people, you know, a very strategic sea coast, hardworking, you know that it's sort of a maritime Turkey that's emerging.
RK
So we have Vietnam, we have Turkey, we have Brazil - I think we're going to see a post-cleric Iran, you know, in coming years that could really develop, you know, that could really, you know, that could really be a magnet.
RK
South Africa did not collapse as many people predicted in the 1990s. It didn't collapse into just general criminal disorder so and of course the rise of these middle level powers means that at least in a relative sense the United States' power is in decline, in a relative sense and so then you have the rise of a new great power China, you have Germany is rising again, you know, the real story of this European crisis is that it's no longer Brussels but Berlin that's calling the shots
RK
and will Germany have a new modus vivendi with Russia in the future because Germany looks east as well as west and the whole point of the European Union and NATO was to keep Germany in the west but that may not have worked out but does this mean a return to 1914 to 1945? I don't think so. It's not just because people do learn because people, you know, human beings are historical. It's because we'll be in a different era of technology. The 20th century corresponded with the height of the industrial revolution which was friendly to conventional militaries to, you know, aircraft carriers to tanks to planes, etc.
RK
But the middle and later 21st century, you're going to be comfortable, you know, the kinds of technologies that defeat size, you know, that empower smaller groups so that the state rather than an all-consuming centralized force with railway lines and tanks behind it that would allow for a Stalin or allow for Hitler is not going to be that all-consuming and that all-dominating, you know, in the coming decades. You know, we always look to the past because that's all that we know but I think the future is going to be far more subtle in terms of - because people will still be divided up into states and groups, you'll still have power politics operating but they'll operate in a far more complex form than they will. And I think if you were to ask me, what's the biggest question in international affairs today, I would not say will Iran go nuclear, will Israel attack Iran.
RK
I would say the direction of Chinese society and the economy there. Will - can the Chinese leader, one party leadership, adjust to a different growth model that's less steep than the one of the last 30 years and organized in a different way, less export driven than the one of the last 30 years and if they can't retain power, how will they distribute power, you know, and can it be done in a stable way because remember you could look at China as a, you know, in one sense China now expands out to Tibet, out to east Turkestan, up to Manchuria, but what if you - what if a Chinese economy that's growing less, suddenly you have more insurrections in all these areas, then what would you have? So it's to me the real interesting question in world affairs boil down to a single country is China's domestic situation over the next 10 or 15 years.
C
Hi my name is Conrad and I am a student at Tufts University here and my question is for Mr. Kaplan. I'm curious to see your reactions to the document, "Sustaining Global Leadership in the 21st Century" that the Pentagon put out in January because it represents a pretty dramatic strategic shift towards East Asia so I'm curious as to what your opinions are of this strategy shift and also what the governments on the Indian Ocean - or how they're reacting to this.
RK
Yes it's interesting, I know the person who wrote Secretary Clinton's pivot article, you know, somebody has to write these things and it's never the policymaker who gets the credit.
RK
The pivot to Asia, really when you take a step back and think about it, was supposed to have happened after the Berlin Wall fell but what happened after the Berlin Wall fell was that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and that just didn't just tie up the U.S. Army for the next year but it tied US navy and air force for the next 12 years in the no fly zone that's operating over Iraq and then you had 9/11 and then you had the Iraq war, the Afghan war, so the U.S. was tied up in the Middle East in land engagements and now the U.S. is back to where it was in 1991, so to speak, it doesn't want to withdraw from the world, the way it did after many previous wars with disastrous consequences.
RK
So rather than withdraw it's going to do meant to do after the Berlin Wall fell in the first place.
RK
It's going to pivot Asia because and it's not just about the rise of China. It's about this is the geographical center of the world economy, it's where major shipping routes are in the world and it's a shift to Asia that includes the Indian Ocean and is very naval and air centric and not land centric. So I don't see it as anything provocative. I see it as something very natural and something which should have happened as far back as two decades ago.
RK
Also the shift Asia is aspirational it's not declarational. It's an aspiration rather than a declaration because it assumes that events in the Middle East will permit and events in the Middle East never permit.
RK
The minute you think you're finished with something in the Middle East, something else pops up again. Of course if the U.S. attacked Iran, it would be an air-naval operation, it wouldn't be a ground force operation with an occupation like Iraq or Afghanistan, but still, an attack on Iran could lead to a protracted naval conflict in the Gulf that could go on for months or years, that could tie up an extra aircraft carrier strike group in the Gulf, means it's not in Asia, it's in the Gulf, so as I said it's an aspiration not a declaration and it's much more natural than people assume.
Hi my name is Prashant and I am a second year student here at Fletcher so thank you a lot to both of you, my question was to shift the discussion a little back to India and also related to the pivot question. So India was part of the U.S. strategy and, you know, the sort of pivot to Asia and there are many administration officials talking about the more assertive role that India can play in Asia and globally as well. I sense that in New Delhi, at least in some quarters, there is some reluctance to play this role that at least right now or even in the next few years there's much more of a weariness and you know India's foreign policy ambitions may take a little bit longer to manifest themselves at least on the scale that the United States may want them to. But I was wondering what your impressions were about the trajectory of these ambitions and the sort of scale over time.
RK
Yes, America's relations with India cannot be transactional. It can't be, we'll do this but you do that. The Indian body politic, its history, will not stand for an official treaty strategic relationship with the United States. It has to be something far more subtle and subtle in the sense that India's rise, economic and military, is in and of itself a beneficial to the United States because of where India is on the map, close to China. So India balances China even if it is not close to the United States. So there's no reason to push it too far. Also India is bedeviled by land borders with states with tremendous difficulty, not just Pakistan but Nepal and Bangladesh as well.
RK
So this depletes India's energy somewhat for focusing outward on the outer world. India too like China is so focused on its internal problems, it's hard to develop this, you know, a real robust strategic vision in that sense. Do you want to...?
RK
Yes it's not that India does not have that global ambitions. It does and I think there is an increasing realization in India that difficulties with its immediate neighbors are necessarily hobbles, you know, the realization of the global ambitions and therefore for the last few years I think there has been a very deliberate attempt to try and devise a new approach to neighbors, in particular opening up India's vast market to the smaller neighbors, whether its Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Nepal and so on.
RK
And also I think what Manmohan Singh would have liked to have done, I think he really wanted a normalization with Pakistan and you know there are so many domestic challenges both in Pakistan and India that - that has not quite been realized - but India does have global ambitions but these are not ambitions which will lead India to align seamlessly with United States' positions in Asia or the Indian Ocean world.
RK
India did go to the extent of let's say having joint naval exercises with the United States, Singapore and Japan. India would like to see much more of a multipolar Asia rather than a China dominant Asia but at the same time, would not wish to be playing the U.S. game in relation to China
RK
but as Robert was suggesting that, I think, Washington understands that you don't need India to do that, simply sort of a rising India is sufficient from sort of a broad sort of generous American perspective as an alternative sort of center in Asia.
RK
Saira Hussein: Hello, my name is Saira Hussein and I am a first year MA candidate here at Tufts University in History. You mentioned Mr. Kaplan that if Burma opens up, it could liberate northeast India and I was wondering what's the relationship of Maoism in India and northeast India to the opening up of Burma and would you link the conflicts in northeast India, like Maoism for example, to underdevelopment and isolation, to being closed off from Burma and thus the Indian Ocean.
RK
I think partly, I think the whole Naxalite movement throughout central and eastern India and the Maoist movement in Nepal and these tendencies in the northeast India are partly a consequence of isolation and underdevelopment because, you know, these are groups that are cut off from the outside world to a certain degree and Maoism is not associated with the 60 million people Mao Zedong might have killed, you know, in the Great Leap Forward and, you know, in the Great Cultural Revolution and others. You know, it's just - it's kind of a slogan against oppression, you know, a slogan against underdevelopment, a slogan against the powerful from those who are disfranchised so to speak and I think that's what it comes from ultimately and -
RK
but we should not minimize this movement, it's amazing how resilient it's been over the decades, you know, it's, I mean, China may only be a few years away from really debating Mao's legacy. You know it's reasonable to assume in 10 years or so, Mao's picture may not hang over the entrance to the Forbidden City, you know, as a debate develops about Mao but through the whole swath of the subcontinent, you know, movements that call themselves Maoists or who are all likened to Mao have managed to survive because of poverty and underdevelopment.
SB
You know I would just add that, I entirely agree with Robert that it is poverty and underdevelopment that really, you know, underlies the Maoist insurgencies in India
SB
but you have to recognize that there is a, you know, there is a distinction to be made between Maoism now in the tribal heartlands of northern and central India from the southern borders of Nepal through Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, the fringes of West Bengal then Orissa, all the way down to Andhra Pradesh. And that is quite different from the kinds of disaffections that you see in northeastern India which are mostly, you know, regional insurgencies which have suffered a different kind of exclusion from, you know, from India's development story.
SB
So I would just emphasize the distinction between what is going on in north-central sort of India, that tribal heartland, and the northeast of India and also Maoism has gone through different phases I mean it started in sort of West Bengal in the late 60's during the height of Cultural Revolution and Mao had hailed the Naxalbari uprising in a small village in northern west Bengal - that's the spring thunder of the Indian revolution - but unfortunately for Mao it did not spread like a prairie fire and so, but I remember the days as we were growing up in Calcutta and we were high school students, you know, all the walls of Calcutta with posters saying "China's Chairman is our chairman." Now that phase has passed but Maoism, you know, as an inspiration for particularly marginalized tribal peoples, you know, continues to have some force. Did you have a question?
Hello, My name is Madeeah. I am also a History student here at Tufts. I was wondering if you could comment a bit more on Gwadar and where you see that port city coming up, if it were to be secured especially in light of China coming into more power on the Indian Ocean rim in next 20 or 30 years, as you said.
RK
Yes, Gwadar has a great location and it's an incredible port to look at and see because it's this super modern Chinese built port right literally in the middle of a 19th century setting cause the town itself, despite all the billboards about condos and, you know, luxury hotels, is still pretty - it's about as off the beaten path and as underdeveloped as you can imagine.
RK
It's really something right out of Wilfred Thesiger's "Travels in Arabia" in the 1950s before big oil came but Gwadar is undefended, you know, if the Chinese ever had a naval base there, they would have the Indians breathing down there neck. So I don't see it as a Chinese naval base. What I see it as is if Pakistan were ever to stabilize and Afghanistan too then I could see the Chinese extending their road building projects from the Caracorims in the north right through to Gwadar in order to take oil and natural gas from Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East, to the ship it north into western China and thus avoid the Straight of Melaka, and that would, of course, lead to a tremendous development. One of the problems in Gwadar, as I talk about in my book, has been this incredible land scheme where land has been stolen from, you know, from the local people by, you know, corrupt elites in Karachi and Lahore and that has raised the specter even further of Baluchi nationalism which has frightened off the Chinese.
RK
I think the reason - cause remember - I think it was a year ago or so, it was after Bin laden was killed and the Pakistani's wanted to get back at the U.S., so the Pakistanis Defense Minister was in Beijing saying that Chinese are going to build us a naval base there and then two days later the Chinese Defense Minister said, "Oh no we're not," you know, which was pretty much a rebuke, you know, as anything that you can imagine. I think Gwadar is a long term prospect for the Chinese. They built the port. They let the Singaporeans run it but they're not going any further with it at this point. It's not like the port is in Burma and Sri Lanka.
Hi, My name is Deriah. I am an admin person at the Harvard Kennedey school and I also do research at the Center for Middle East Studies there and I wanted to thank you both for a very fascinating conversation and I wanted to ask a kind of a left handed question for either or both of you and I don't blame either one of you if you just aren't able to connect to it at all you. You began the presentation sort of contrasting strategy, sort of what does one do with strategy, I guess one devises strategy, devising a strategy versus building concepts, conceptual sort of understanding of this part of the world, and it strikes me that the confluence of strategy and concepts might be ethics,
RK
it might be sort of an ethical understanding of how one behaves in the world in such that the world will be a better place and I was wondering with respect to, particular to the ocean, to the oceanic part of this conversation you're having, is there something oceanic in that part of the world that could sort of further or has furthered, has helped peoples to gain a more ethical understanding over time, to sort of learn from mistakes, strategic mistakes, to build maybe a longer term vision ahead of what should be happening, really of the sort that I am hearing from you, I mean I hear a very something on the way to an ethical understanding of the some of the national interests and some of the decisions that are made and I was just wondering if you could sort of talk a little further on it.
RK
Well, I think part of an ethical understanding is going from a great power based military based view to a more of a legal view. You know, if you solve things legally or rather than through force or intimidation, that's more ethical. And you know, I just came back from Singapore and Malaysia where I got a lot of briefings on the Law of the Sea Treaty as it relates to the South China Sea and one of the things that I learned is that China signed the Law of the Sea Treaty but does not adhere to it whereas the United States never signed it but does adhere to it, that the Law of the Sea Treaty kind of partially leads a way out of the military crisis and territorial crisis of the South China Sea. I say partially because everyone benefits from the Law of the Sea claims except China because China gets nowhere with the Law of the Sea.
RK
It goes 200 miles south, it's EEZ, it's just in the middle of the ocean, whereas Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, they go to 200 miles out, they get all these oil rich islands so to speak. So even the Law of the Sea Treaty, which is probably the furthest that nations have gone in terms of practically applying ethics in a great power sense, is not foolproof. You know, it does not provide an equitable solution for all parties because China just won't go along with it because you know the geography for China just isn't there. So but I think Sugata would want to say more about this, that because the oceans are a commons, a world commons, we all have to get along with them in one sense and that kind of points away towards ethnic.
SB
And also, I think, the ethical literature, so far as it addresses questions of legitimacy, good governance, and so on, historically circulated across this entire interregional arena of the Indian Ocean. If you think about the Akhlaq literature, you know, the akhlaqi nasiri or the aklakhi jalali, you know, coming out of the Arab and the Persian worlds but actually circulating for centuries later all across sort of India, so, you know, there is a concern about ethics, about what is good governance, what is legitimate government and so on, you know, that is shared across this interregional arena. And again if you think about the eastern Indian Ocean, the Raj Chakravarty idea which underpins a notion of layered and shared sovereignty that was so important before, you know, the nation-state idea got entrenched in this part of the world,
SB
that too circulates all across the eastern Indian Ocean, you know, it includes what today is Indonesia, the Malay world, Thailand, Burma and India and if you think about Tagore's journeys, you know, across the Indian Ocean, in some ways he is suggesting that we should not let colonial borders, and he's also anticipating national borders, constrict our sort of imagination ,our search for connections, and there is a bit of strategic essentializing that he is doing.
SB
And now it's not as if the premodern Indian Ocean arena had certain kinds of connections, had certain kinds of ethical aspirations but that did not mean that there was no military conflict in that period.
SB
We should not over romanticize that period. Just to give you one example, a thousand years ago in the 1020s, there were the Cholas from southern India who inflicted a very major naval defeat on the Srivijaya Empire that centered on Sumatra, okay, and in that same decade, the Cholas sent up a land army and defeated the Palas of Bengal and brought two princes from Bengal with holy water from the Ganga to consecrate the new capital of the Cholas called Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
SB
Now when I was in Singapore a few years ago I was asked to release a new book on the Chola voyages to southeast Asia and, of course, I said that, you know, this is very ironic to get a Bengali to, you know, to release this book on the Chola voyages because the Rajendra Chola had defeated both the Srivijaya Kingdom and the Pala Kingdom of Bengal
SB
but when Tagore went to southeast Asia, he underplayed these episodes of military conflict or aggression and in some ways they were exceptions rather than the rule and decided to put the spotlight on trade, on economic connections, on a common cultural acumen that connected this larger Indian Ocean world suggesting, that, you know, that is the more ethical way of behaving in the present and proceeding in the future. So that's the way I think the ethics of the oceanic realm sort of come in to play and retain some relevance in today's world, yeah.
SB
I think these should be the last two questions and they need to be brief because well, let's take with permission of the Chair Kris, let's take three quick brief pointed questions together and then let's give Robert the last word and then Kris you the last one.
Hi my name is Joe. I am an undergrad at Tufts. Thanks for coming to Tufts and talking to us. You mentioned earlier that you think that Pakistan is not an artificial nation and but also that there's between Iraq and India there's this very difficult to know where to draw the borders because of this sort of the shared Persian culture that runs across this whole region. So accepting the premise that Pakistan is not an artificial nation I think there can be agreement on the fact that the Durand line is a very artificial boundary and so bearing in mind how difficult it is to tell often times when the federally ministered tribal areas of Pakistan end and Afghanistan begins,
SB
If Pakistan, not taking such an active role in tribal politics in Afghanistan is contingent to their stabilization and their overcoming the structural problems within Pakistan, how can - what kind of solution could allow Pakistan to disengage from Afghanistan, if it's so difficult to tell where the Pashtun cultures of the FADA areas end and Afghanistan begins.
RK
Pakistan can never disengage from Afghanistan without a coming to some sort of an agreement with India because what drives Pakistan into Afghanistan is because of its insecurity over India, because it feels it needs a rear Muslim Islamic base with which to confront India, so I think ultimately the solution to what late diplomat Richard Holbrooke called "AfPack" is between Pakistan and India.
Hi my name is Asad. Thank you so much for coming here. I had a question in the 20th century, the country that was trying to get to the Indian Ocean was Russia and you still, is that dream or is that ambition over with, especially now that the arctic icecap is also melting in its north? I just wanted to see what you thought of that.
RK
Well, Russia would like not to give up on the dream but I don't see where Russia has any practical, you know, has any practical wherewithal to accomplish it anymore. Russia can barely get control of its old near-abroad of the Soviet Union and Central Asia because it's being thwarted by the Chinese with their money, by the South Koreans and other actors in Central Asia,
RK
so I think the days when Russia was on the border of Afghanistan breathing down Afghanistan's neck are long past at this point. Russia will have enough of a challenge holding up its influence in the former Soviet Central Asia.
Hi, my name is Harish and I am a freshman at Tufts University and as you mentioned earlier about your mentorship program in Kolkata, I am a Kolkata resident and I've been closely - trying to follow your mentorship program there. My question is has your membership program ever considered to change the admission policy of Presidency University or the other universities in west Bengal, just the way we have here in U.S. which doesn't only consider number but also the other parts of the application?
SB
I will talk to you at greater length about this question later but let me just yes we are trying to put into place completely new ways of recruiting faculty and completely new ways of bringing in students and actually being rather proactive, you know, a center of excellence also has to reach out to talented students who might be in the most backward districts of the country and so forth. But the current challenge is to make sure that all faculty appointments are made on the basis of academic merit alone and therefore there are 184 faculty positions that have been advertised, the deadline was yesterday the 29th of February. More than 5,000 applications have come in and there are high-powered selection committees of the best people in each discipline and field who are going to be making these appointments.
SB
And just to bring the story back into the Indian Ocean Asian world, Presidency College historically was a colonial institution and therefore the history curriculum that I had to follow focused exclusively on Indian history and on European history, with papers like, you know, they were good but 5th century B.C. Greece, Tudor and Stuart Britain, modern Europe from the French Revolution, international relations with a completely European focus. One way in which we are trying to change the curriculum for new students is to have much greater emphasis on the neighboring regions and opportunity to study the history and politics of China, Japan, southeast Asia, west Asia, you know Iran, the Arab world and so on.
SB
Tagore did that in his university, Shantiniketan, promoting the study of China and Japan but this did not occur in what were in those days colonial institutions and that colonial hangover lasted into the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate in Presidency College but we are going to give even the curriculum in Presidency an Indian Ocean orientation if you like.
Kris
Thank you very much and I think that is actually a very fitting question on which to end, partly because both of our panels both Robert and Sugata have spoken about the idea about the Indian soft power, have both spoken about the idea of bringing Curzon and Tagore together, and one way in which that way has happened historically is through higher education and the development of, you know, institutions of cultural politics
Kris
and its fascinating that even the way that you know Tufts and Harvard are connected to that, of course Sugata being on the mentors group, but here at Tufts we have a very cutting edge project, co-teaching a class with LUMS University in Lahore where Ayesha is currently, you know that in Johannesburg, Wits University is expanding kind of its research to focus on Africa and subcontinental Indian connections, Singapore University, Dhaka University and so forth, really there is a flourishing going on and I think that speaks to some of the kind of flourishings of new politics, new hydrocarbon routes and so forth that are certainly aspirational and I liked that distinction between the aspirational and the declarational. I think that's a very fascinating point to make. So we've had much to think about and it leaves me only now to thank both of our panelists - Robert Kaplan and Sugata Bose -for a most stimulating discussion and conversation. Thank You.
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