South Asia’s Geography of Conflict – Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan has recently released a report that examines the pivotal role that both India and Afghanistan play in the strategic interest of the United States. According to Kaplan, India is a crucial pivot between China and the United States, with the potential of altering future relations between these two great powers as China’s influence within the international system grows. As a result of geography and historical trends, the entire Indian Subcontinent has traditionally been united. For cultural as well as geostrategic reasons, India remains invested in the future of Afghanistan. In other words, The United States decision between commitment or withdrawal will have impacts on India’s influence within the region as well as the US-India relationship.

The report published by CNAS is both free to the public as well as a condensed version of Kaplan’s forthcoming book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. The report is concise, making it a must read for anyone interested in Middle East policy or the US-China relationship. CNAS has also published a quick interview with Kaplan:

Response:

The implications for Kaplan’s conclusions are pretty substantial. For a realist, the invasion, counterinsurgency, and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan have not pursued any national interest of the United States. Because Afghanistan does represent an existential threat to the United States, the benefits of such substantial resource allocation to Afghanistan do not outweigh the costs. After factoring Kaplan’s argument, this all changes. If Afghanistan could drastically impact India’s influence throughout the region, pursuing long-term stabilization operations in Afghanistan would serve the United States’ national interest. In other words, it completely changes the debate for committing United States’ resources in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

However, all of this rests on a single assumption that not only is China unsatisfied with the current status quo of the international system, but is also determined to challenge the hegemony of the United States. Power Transition Theory dictates that as China becomes more powerful and the influence of the United States wanes, the probability of conflict increases. But once again, there is the assumption that China is dissatisfied. Kaplan may address this assumption within his book that comes out next month and we are eager to get our hands on it to see if he does. Unless China’s dissatisfaction with United States’ hegemony can be emphatically demonstrated, the lack of importance of Afghanistan to the United States’ national interest will not change for realists.

For neoliberals of foreign policy looking to stabilize the region as a whole, leveraging the capitalist and democratic norms in India to encourage similar developments throughout the Middle East has a much greater appeal.  From this perspective, encouraging democratic norms and free-market policies has the greatest potential for reducing conflict, especially as the middle class begins to assert itself. Vali Nasr gives an excellent overview of the Middle East from this perspective in his book, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it will Mean for Our World.  With India’s ability to encourage modernization throughout the region, stabilizing Afghanistan to support India is far more important than realists will argue.

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