An ambitious, somewhat amorphous look at the many “transition zone[s]” comprising traditional trading posts along the Indian Ocean that are now emerging as important strategic flashpoints.
A well-traveled author and fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Atlantic Monthly national correspondent Kaplan (Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, 2005, etc.) hops among the countries making up the “rimland” of the Indian Ocean for a busy look at the ethnically rich “central theater of conflict and competition,” of intense interest to the United States, China and India. This is the ocean to which Marco Polo devoted his Travels; where Vasco da Gama’s voyage in 1498 inaugurated important sea routes for the Portuguese; where Prince Henry the Navigator dreamed of “outflanking the Muslim world” and Lord Curzon, viceroy from 1899-1905, presided over a powerful Greater India, influencing affairs from Aden to Malacca to London. Today, with the Indian Ocean comprising nearly one half of the world’s container traffic—and 70 percent of the traffic in the world’s petroleum products—this is a strategic swath indeed, where “China expands vertically, India horizontally,” and America, happily ensconced between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, barely grasps the geography. Kaplan gives a smattering of history and contemporary issues for each hotspot, touching on the separatist rebellions of Balochistan and Sindh, which make up Pakistan’s 400-mile Makran coast, also the scene of Arab conquests in the eight and ninth centuries. The author also provides a mini-biography of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and examines the troubled histories of Gujarat, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and densely populated Bangladesh, beset by monsoons, now a “perfect place for al-Qaeda affiliates”; and how China is keeping its strategic eye on Sri Lanka and Burma.
A useful, teeming point of departure for exploring these up-and-coming Eurasian dynamos.