The Next Strategic Frontier: Emerging Rivalries in the Indian Ocean?
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The strategic importance of the Indian Ocean has increased steadily in recent years as the center of gravity for global economic and political activity has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Asia-Pacific. With global trade in oil, natural Listen to Audio

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gas, and manufactured goods dependent on unfettered transit through the Indian Ocean, major and nonmajor powers alike have an interest in ensuring the security of these waters. Yet there is little agreement on precisely how to ensure that security, and rising powers like India and China are beginning to spar over this former "strategic backwater." Is an escalating Sino-Indian rivalry in the Indian Ocean inevitable? Are American and Indian interests truly aligned in these waters? What role will other regional actors play? Will there be military competition in the Indian Ocean? Two panels of distinguished speakers will address these and other questions at this AEI event.

Event Summary

WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 28, 2010--Last Thursday, two panels convened at AEI to discuss the emergence of the Indian Ocean as a key strategic space. The first panel focused on the potential for economic and political rivalries among regional players. Speakers debated whether the Indian Ocean is part of a larger pan-Asian system, what AEI's Michael Auslin called the "Asian Commons," and whether destabilizing competition in the region is inevitable. Sunil Dasgupta of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County dismissed the notion of a singular strategic entity, arguing that conflicts in the region are isolated, separable, and conditional. The U.S. Naval War College's Toshi Yoshihara warned of the potential for mutual misconceptions among China, India, and the United States to cause universally unwanted tensions. Shifting focus, Andrew Shearer of Australia's Lowy Institute highlighted the counterterrorism challenges presented by failed and weak states along the Horn of Africa and South Asia. The second panel outlined the contours of a possible military competition in the Indian Ocean, describing a future in which it will be difficult for any one country to achieve dominance in the region. Thomas Mahnken of the U.S. Naval War College highlighted the growing challenges of power projection and the rapid diffusion of precision-strike capabilities. Andrew Winner, also of the U.S. Naval War College, discussed the internal tension between self-reliance and modernization that has limited India's naval development. Finally, Jim Thomas of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments underscored the critical role that geography would play in a regional confrontation given the proximity of India's industrial infrastructure to the Sino-Indian border and the Indian Ocean's various maritime chokepoints.

  • "Clearly these commons that link all of Asia together, in a way, are the sinews of the region. The interest of the United States, I think, has been and will continue to be maintaining free and open access to these commons, . . . protecting and partnering with other liberal Asian nations that we have had longstanding either formal or informal security agreements and understandings with, and being prepared to act in any way that would contain or deter disruptions to peaceful political, economic, and security relations within the region."
    --Michael Auslin, Director of Japan Studies, AEI

  • "The Indian Ocean countries are key to China's 'going-out' strategy, its insatiable quest for resources, and its preparedness, frankly, to exploit more vulnerable or isolated states in pursuing that strategy."
    --Andrew Shearer, Director of Studies and Senior Research Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

  • "War is not an outcome that any of these parties want. In the next twenty years or so, I expect both China and India to bend when the winds pick up; they may look unshakeable, but it's only in calm weather. In a crisis, I expect China and India to be accommodating to each other."
    --Sunil Dasgupta, Director of the Political Science Program, University of Maryland–Baltimore County

  • "That diffusion of military technology is going to shape the operating environment for the United States, but also other players, in years to come. Precision strike means that a growing range of targets are going to be increasingly vulnerable and, over time, certain types of targets may just not be survivable."
    --Thomas Mahnken, Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security, U.S. Navy War College


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Speaker biographies

Michael Auslin, AEI's director of Japan studies, specializes in U.S.–East Asian relations, Asian maritime security, and Japanese foreign and security policy. Before joining AEI, Mr. Auslin was an associate professor of history and a senior research fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. He has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation scholar. His writings on Japan and Japanese diplomacy include the books Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 2006) and Japan Society: Celebrating a Century, 1907–2007 (Japan Society Gallery, 2007), and the report Securing Freedom: The U.S.-Japanese Alliance in a New Era.

Dan Blumenthal
joined AEI in November 2004 as a resident fellow in Asian studies. He has recently been named a research associate in the National Asia Research Program, a joint undertaking of the National Bureau of Asian Research and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has served on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission since 2005, including serving as vice chairman in 2007, and has been a member of the Academic Advisory Board for the congressional U.S.-China Working Group. Previously, Mr. Blumenthal was senior director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia in the office of the secretary of defense for international security affairs during George W. Bush's first administration. He has written articles and op-eds for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, National Review, and numerous edited volumes. He is currently working on a manuscript that will examine divides within the China policymaking community.

Sunil Dasgupta
teaches political science at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County (UMBC) and is the director of UMBC's Political Science Program at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland. He is the coauthor with Stephen P. Cohen of Arming without Aiming: India's Military Modernization (Brookings Institution Press, 2010). Mr. Dasgupta's research focuses on security studies, especially civil-military relations, military organization, and irregular warfare.

Thomas Donnelly
, a defense and security policy analyst, is the director of the Center for Defense Studies. He is the coauthor with Frederick W. Kagan of Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields (AEI Press, 2010). Among his recent books are Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power (AEI Press, 2008), coauthored with Frederick W. Kagan; Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources (AEI Press, 2007), coedited with Gary J. Schmitt; The Military We Need (AEI Press, 2005); and Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Strategic Assessment (AEI Press, 2004). Mr. Donnelly was policy-group director and a professional staff member for the House Committee on Armed Services from 1995 to 1999, and he also served as a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is a former editor of Armed Forces Journal, Army Times, and Defense News.

Thomas G. Mahnken
is currently Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and a visiting scholar at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Mr. Mahnken was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning from 2006 to 2009. In that capacity, he was responsible for the department's major strategic-planning functions, including preparing guidance for war plans and developing the defense-planning scenarios. He was the primary author of the 2008 National Defense Strategy and contributing author of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report. He spearheaded the secretary of defense's Minerva Research Initiative and led an interagency effort to establish a National Security Council–run interagency policy-planning body for the first time in five decades. Mr. Mahnken is the author of Technology and the American Way of War since 1945 (Columbia University Press, 2008), Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation, 1918–1941 (Cornell University Press, 2002), and The Limits of Transformation: Officer Attitudes toward the Revolution in Military Affairs (Naval War College Press, 2003), coauthored with James R. FitzSimonds. He is coeditor of U.S. Military Operations in Iraq: Planning, Combat, and Occupation (Routledge, 2007), Strategic Studies: A Reader (Routledge, 2007), The Information Revolution in Military Affairs in Asia (Palgrave McMillan, 2004), and Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel (Frank Cass, 2003). Mr. Mahnken is also the editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies. He has appeared on Fox News, CNN, BBC, and CBC, among other networks. An intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he served as the intelligence plans officer for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Central in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He served in Kosovo with British forces during Operation Joint Guardian/Operation Agricola and in Bahrain during Operation Enduring Freedom. He is currently deputy chief staff officer of navy intelligence–reserve region Washington, D.C.

Michael Mazza
is a senior research associate in foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, where he studies U.S. defense policy in the Asia-Pacific, Chinese military modernization, and cross-Strait relations. In addition to writing regularly for AEI’s Center for Defense Studies blog, he is also the program manager for AEI’s annual Executive Program on National Security Policy and Strategy. In his previous capacity as a research assistant at AEI, Mr. Mazza contributed to studies on American strategy in Asia and Taiwanese defense strategy. He worked previously as a policy analyst assistant at SAIC and as an intern at Riskline Ltd., and he has lived and studied in China. Mr. Mazza has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal India, National Review Online,, the Weekly Standard, and the American.

Gary J. Schmitt
is the director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at AEI and the director of AEI's Program on American Citizenship. Mr. Schmitt is a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He was executive director of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during President Ronald Reagan's second term. Mr. Schmitt's work focuses on longer-term strategic issues that will affect America's security at home and its ability to lead abroad. His books include Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources (AEI Press, 2007), to which he was a contributing author and coeditor; Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence (Brassey's, 2002), coauthored with Abram Shulsky and now in its third edition; and U.S. Intelligence at the Crossroads: Agendas for Reform (Brassey's, 1995), to which he is a contributing author and coeditor. He is contributing author and editor of two recent books: The Rise of China: Essays on the Future Competition (Encounter Books, 2009) and Safety, Liberty, and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism (AEI Press, 2010).

Andrew Shearer
is director of studies and a senior research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He has extensive international experience in the Australian government, most recently as foreign policy adviser to former prime minister John Howard. Previously, he occupied a senior position in the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C., and was strategic policy adviser to former defense minister Robert Hill. He served in various positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Office of National Assessments.

Jim Thomas
is vice president for studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). He oversees CSBA's research programs and directs the Strategic and Budgetary Studies staff. Before joining CSBA, he was vice president of Applied Minds Inc., a private research and development company specializing in rapid, interdisciplinary technology prototyping. Mr. Thomas also served for thirteen years in a variety of policy, planning, and resource-analysis positions in the Department of Defense, culminating in his dual appointment as deputy assistant secretary of defense for resources and plans and acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. In these capacities, he was responsible for the development of the National Defense Strategy, conventional-force planning, resource assessment, and the oversight of war plans. He spearheaded the 2005–2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and was the principal author of the QDR Report. Mr. Thomas received the Department of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service in 1997 for his work at NATO, and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service (the department's highest civilian award) in 2006 for his strategy work. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. A former Navy Reserve officer, Mr. Thomas attained the rank of lieutenant commander. 

Andrew C. Winner
is a professor of strategic studies in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College. His areas of focus are South Asia, nonproliferation and counterproliferation, maritime strategy, the Middle East, and U.S. national security. He is cochair of the Indian Ocean Regional Studies Group at the Naval War College. In June 2007, he was awarded the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his work on the Navy's new maritime strategy. Before his current appointment, he was a senior staff member at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also held various positions at the U.S. Department of State on the staff of the under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs and in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where he worked on nonproliferation, security in the Persian Gulf, arms-transfer policy, bilateral security dialogues, NATO enlargement, and security assistance. He is most recently the coauthor of Indian Naval Strategy in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2009).

Toshi Yoshihara
is an associate professor in the Strategy and Policy Department and an affiliate member of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College. Previously, he was a visiting professor in the Strategy Department at the Air War College. Mr. Yoshihara has also been an analyst at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, RAND Corporation, and AEI. Mr. Yoshihara is the coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy (Naval Institute Press, 2010), Indian Naval Strategy in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2009), and Chinese Naval Strategy in the 21st Century: The Turn to Mahan (Routledge, 2008). He is the coeditor of Nuclear Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age (Georgetown University Press, forthcoming) and Asia Looks Seaward: Power and Maritime Strategy (Praeger Security International, 2008).



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