Kaplan’s "Monsoon," Part II

Indonesia’s Tropical Islam

P. 244: “With well over 200 million of its 240 million inhabitants Muslim, Indonesia represents one of Islam’s greatest proselytizing success stories. This is particularly remarkable because Islam came to Indonesia not through military conquest as it did almost everywhere else, from Iberia to the Indian Subcontinent, but, starting in Aceh in the Middle Ages, through seaborne Indian Ocean commerce.”

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Lessons from Robert Kaplan’s "Monsoon"

Reading books is a good thing; it is better to study important books. Robert Kaplan’s new book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, (Random House, NY: 2010) about what he perceives as the Indian Ocean’s central role in the future of geopolitics is a book to study. He makes a number of important points that I’d like to commit as lessons to draw upon in the future. As such, I’ll boil them down to five broad categories below:

1. Interconnectedness

“The Cold War forced an artificial dichotomy on area studies in which the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Pacific Rim were separate identities. But as India and China become more integrally connected with both Southeast Asia and the Middle East through trade, energy, and security agreements, the map of Asia is reemerging as a single organic unit, just as it was during earlier epochs in history–manifested now by an Indian Ocean map.” (p. 13)

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Professional Obligation

The Professional Obligations of Military Officership
Having graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point on 1 June 2002, receiving my diploma from President George W. Bush moments after he gave his “doctrine of preemption” speech, the image at left (which I came across this past week) evoked a response from me. Not, however, negative, as one might expect. I just sort of looked at it and thought about what it “spoke” to me as a professional military officer. Of course, I thought about the friends and classmates that have died in Iraq (and Afghanistan), and how many of them had passed earlier than they deserved. I think the cartoonist is trying to, perhaps, comment on the fears each cadet feels when the time for college is done and the war effort calls. It is a fairly shocking image to one with personal connections to West Point (I can only imagine that my Mom wouldn’t have appreciated seeing it in 2002). Continue reading “Professional Obligation”

Free Media Learning Opportunity: The American "Empire"

I’ve bumped into something, quite frequently now, while living abroad. There is a strong predilection for referring to the United States as an “empire.” I understand how it might get interjected into media, particularly newspapers via the opinion section. Some in academia, like Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich (who I happen to admire greatly) have used it as a standard part of their basic arguments. In turn, this term has seeped its way into the daily lexicon to the point that it might not be possible to bring it back out. It plays into the American decline storyline ~ it’s more fun to watch an “empire” fall than just a very powerful country. So I did some research, and have found a credible antidote to this common usage in the form of Yale historian and classicist Donald Kagan, one of the world’s most prestigious writers on the Athenian and Persian Empires, as well as the Peloponnesian War. On 14 May 2003, he gave an interview to National Public Radio on that conflict, and addressed the issue of an American “Empire.”

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Lessons "On China" ~ No Containment, No Exclusion, and towards a Pacific Community

I’ve taken to reading Henry Kissinger’s On China to prepare to write a 10,000 word paper on the strategic relationship between the United States and China. In doing so, one is forced to summarize a 500+ word book into several thoughts that might support argumentation. What follows are ten ideas that I’d like to hold onto as I start the writing process, as well as going forward, knowing that each of these ideas is set only in wet concrete, subject to shifting interpretations that might adjust how I perceive each one of them…

*Citation should read: Henry Kissinger, On China, New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.

1. Exceptionalism.
“…both societies believe they represent unique values. American exceptionalism is missionary. It holds that the United States has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world. China’s exceptionalism is cultural. China does not proselytize; it does not claim that its contemporary institutions are relevant outside China. But it is the heir of the Middle Kingdom tradition, which formally graded all other states as various levels of tributaries based on their approximation to Chinese cultural and political forms; in other words, a kind of cultural universality.” (Pg. xvi) Continue reading “Lessons "On China" ~ No Containment, No Exclusion, and towards a Pacific Community”

Lessons from Karremans at Srebrenica and Puller in China

This past week, a court in the Netherlands found that Dutch military peacekeepers were responsible for three of the 8,000+ massacred at Srebrenica in 1995. The BBC reported it this way:

The Dutch were in charge of the UN “safe area” when Bosnian Serb forces overran it in 1995 and killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
The court in The Hague ruled that the Dutch troops should not have handed the three men over to Bosnian Serb forces.
The ruling was unexpected, and may open the way for other compensation claims.
The case centred on three Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) who were working for the Dutch force, Dutchbat, during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and were among thousands who took shelter in the UN compound as Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen Ratko Mladic overran Srebrenica on 11 July 1995.
Two days later, Dutch peacekeepers forced the Bosniaks out of the compound.

The BBC 10 year anniversary coverage included this excellent timeline.


Thomas Karremans

Now that the necessary background is out of the way it is time to move on to the important analysis: the individual decision level. The Dutchbat (Dutch Battalion) was commanded by LTC Thomas Karremans, lightly armed and totaling roughly 300-450 soldiers. *The figures cited at left are different than others that I’ve come across.

Dutchbat’s mission was to protect the civilian populace in a particular “secure area” or “safe haven,” as designated by the UN. Their rules of engagement were generally for self-defense, and they counted on NATO air support to provide greater punch.

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Centralized or Decentralized?

The incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Martin Dempsey, recently did an interview with the NY Times in which he revealed that he was currently reading The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.
Upon learning that, I picked it up from the library and read its 208 pages fairly quickly. The book jacket describes:

“If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.”

This is light, summer or bathroom reading, not disturbed with thick references to detailed study. Each written page goes by quickly and casual readers should not be deterred out of fear of technical language. If I had to use one word to describe the book, it would either be “clear” or “simple.”

Which is principally why the book fails for a military audience, aptly described by HL Mencken, as “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Although I can’t recall a point at which the authors specifically mention applicability to a military audience, they do use several military examples (Apaches, Cortes, al Qaeda) which indicate at least a tacit connection. Essentially, I think The Starfish and the Spider is an over-broad application of trends related to business/economic models that have adapted to the rise of the internet ~ which has limited utility to a military audience. I also think that the book sets up a false dichotomy between centralized and decentralized features of organizations. Here are my reasons for believing so:

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