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Asia's Cauldron
Cover of Asia's Cauldron
Asia's Cauldron
The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
Borrow Borrow Borrow
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY FINANCIAL TIMES

From Robert D. Kaplan, named one of the world's Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, comes a penetrating look at the volatile region that will dominate the future of geopolitical conflict.


Over the last decade, the center of world power has been quietly shifting from Europe to Asia. With oil reserves of several billion barrels, an estimated nine hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and several centuries' worth of competing territorial claims, the South China Sea in particular is a simmering pot of potential conflict. The underreported military buildup in the area where the Western Pacific meets the Indian Ocean means that it will likely be a hinge point for global war and peace for the foreseeable future.

In Asia's Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan offers up a vivid snapshot of the nations surrounding the South China Sea, the conflicts brewing in the region at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and their implications for global peace and stability. One of the world's most perceptive foreign policy experts, Kaplan interprets America's interests in Asia in the context of an increasingly assertive China. He explains how the region's unique geography fosters the growth of navies but also impedes aggression. And he draws a striking parallel between China's quest for hegemony in the South China Sea and the United States' imperial adventure in the Caribbean more than a century ago.

To understand the future of conflict in East Asia, Kaplan argues, one must understand the goals and motivations of its leaders and its people. Part travelogue, part geopolitical primer, Asia's Cauldron takes us on a journey through the region's boom cities and ramshackle slums: from Vietnam, where the superfueled capitalism of the erstwhile colonial capital, Saigon, inspires the geostrategic pretensions of the official seat of government in Hanoi, to Malaysia, where a unique mix of authoritarian Islam and Western-style consumerism creates quite possibly the ultimate postmodern society; and from Singapore, whose "benevolent autocracy" helped foster an economic miracle, to the Philippines, where a different brand of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos led not to economic growth but to decades of corruption and crime.

At a time when every day's news seems to contain some new story—large or small—that directly relates to conflicts over the South China Sea, Asia's Cauldron is an indispensable guide to a corner of the globe that will affect all of our lives for years to come.
Praise for Asia's Cauldron

"Asia's Cauldron is a short book with a powerful thesis, and it stands out for its clarity and good sense. . . . If you are doing business in China, traveling in Southeast Asia or just obsessing about geopolitics, you will want to read it."The New York Times Book Review
"Kaplan has established himself as one of our most consequential geopolitical thinkers. . . . [Asia's Cauldron] is part treatise on geopolitics, part travel narrative. Indeed, he writes in the tradition of the great travel writers."The Weekly Standard

"Kaplan's fascinating book is a welcome challenge to the pessimists who see only trouble in China's rise and the hawks who view it as malign."The Economist

"Muscular, deeply knowledgeable . . . Kaplan is an ultra-realist [who] takes a non-moralistic stance on questions of power and diplomacy."Financial Times
From the Hardcover edition.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY FINANCIAL TIMES

From Robert D. Kaplan, named one of the world's Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, comes a penetrating look at the volatile region that will dominate the future of geopolitical conflict.


Over the last decade, the center of world power has been quietly shifting from Europe to Asia. With oil reserves of several billion barrels, an estimated nine hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and several centuries' worth of competing territorial claims, the South China Sea in particular is a simmering pot of potential conflict. The underreported military buildup in the area where the Western Pacific meets the Indian Ocean means that it will likely be a hinge point for global war and peace for the foreseeable future.

In Asia's Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan offers up a vivid snapshot of the nations surrounding the South China Sea, the conflicts brewing in the region at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and their implications for global peace and stability. One of the world's most perceptive foreign policy experts, Kaplan interprets America's interests in Asia in the context of an increasingly assertive China. He explains how the region's unique geography fosters the growth of navies but also impedes aggression. And he draws a striking parallel between China's quest for hegemony in the South China Sea and the United States' imperial adventure in the Caribbean more than a century ago.

To understand the future of conflict in East Asia, Kaplan argues, one must understand the goals and motivations of its leaders and its people. Part travelogue, part geopolitical primer, Asia's Cauldron takes us on a journey through the region's boom cities and ramshackle slums: from Vietnam, where the superfueled capitalism of the erstwhile colonial capital, Saigon, inspires the geostrategic pretensions of the official seat of government in Hanoi, to Malaysia, where a unique mix of authoritarian Islam and Western-style consumerism creates quite possibly the ultimate postmodern society; and from Singapore, whose "benevolent autocracy" helped foster an economic miracle, to the Philippines, where a different brand of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos led not to economic growth but to decades of corruption and crime.

At a time when every day's news seems to contain some new story—large or small—that directly relates to conflicts over the South China Sea, Asia's Cauldron is an indispensable guide to a corner of the globe that will affect all of our lives for years to come.
Praise for Asia's Cauldron

"Asia's Cauldron is a short book with a powerful thesis, and it stands out for its clarity and good sense. . . . If you are doing business in China, traveling in Southeast Asia or just obsessing about geopolitics, you will want to read it."The New York Times Book Review
"Kaplan has established himself as one of our most consequential geopolitical thinkers. . . . [Asia's Cauldron] is part treatise on geopolitics, part travel narrative. Indeed, he writes in the tradition of the great travel writers."The Weekly Standard

"Kaplan's fascinating book is a welcome challenge to the pessimists who see only trouble in China's rise and the hawks who view it as malign."The Economist

"Muscular, deeply knowledgeable . . . Kaplan is an ultra-realist [who] takes a non-moralistic stance on questions of power and diplomacy."Financial Times
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Kaplan / ASIA'S CAULDRON

    Chapter I

    The Humanist Dilemma

    Europe is a landscape; East Asia a seascape. Therein lies a crucial difference between the twentieth and twenty-­first centuries. The most contested areas of the globe in the last century lay on dry land in Europe, particularly in the flat expanse that rendered the eastern and western borders of Germany artificial, and thus exposed to the intensive to-­ing and fro-­ing of armies. But starting in the last phase of the Cold War the demographic, economic, and military axis of the earth has measurably shifted to the opposite end of Eurasia, where the spaces between the principal nodes of population are overwhelmingly maritime. By maritime I mean sea, air, and outer space: for ever since the emergence of aircraft carriers in the early decades of the twentieth century, sea and air battle formations have become increasingly inextricable, with outer space now added to the mix because of navigational and other assistance to ships and planes from satellites. Hence naval has become shorthand for several dimensions of military activity. And make no mistake, naval is the operative word. Because of the way that geography illuminates and sets priorities, the physical contours of East Asia argue for a naval century, with the remote possibility of land warfare on the Korean Peninsula being the striking exception.

    East Asia is a vast, yawning expanse, stretching from Arctic to Antarctic reaches--­from the Kuril Islands southward to New Zealand--­and characterized by a shattered array of coastlines and archipelagoes, themselves separated by great seas and distances. Even accounting for the fact of how technology has compressed distance, with missiles and fighter jets--­the latter easily refueled in the air--­rendering any geography closed and claustrophobic, the sea acts as a barrier to aggression, at least to the degree that dry land does not. The sea, unlike land, creates clearly defined borders, and thus has the potential to reduce conflict. Then there is speed to consider. Even the fastest warships travel comparatively slowly, 35 knots, say, reducing the chance of miscalculations and thus giving diplomats more hours--­and days even--­to reconsider decisions. Moreover, navies and air forces simply do not occupy territory the way armies do. It is because of the seas around East Asia that the twenty-­first century has a better chance than the twentieth of avoiding great military conflagrations.

    Of course, East Asia has seen great military conflagrations in the twentieth century that the seas did not prevent: the Russo-­Japanese War (1904--­1905); almost a half century of civil war in China that followed the collapse of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty; the conquests of Imperial Japan and World War II in the Pacific, which followed from them; the Korean War (1950--­1953); the wars in Cambodia, Laos, and two in Vietnam involving the French and the Americans from the 1950s through the 1970s. What unites all of these conflicts is that each was organic to the formation of a state or empire, or similarly to the process of decolonization. A number of these conflicts were internal, contested by both conventional and unconventional ground forces, where navies played extremely limited roles. The fact that the grand geography of East Asia is primarily maritime had little impact on these essentially domestic wars. (I include Korea in this category: for the conflict between the North and the South was mainly fought on land, and was integral to the formation of separate states following the long Japanese occupation of 1910 to 1945.) But now the age of national consolidation...

About the Author-
  • Robert D. Kaplan is the bestselling author of sixteen books on foreign affairs and travel translated into many languages, including Asia's Cauldron, The Revenge of Geography, Monsoon, The Coming Anarchy, and Balkan Ghosts. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, where his work has appeared for three decades. He was chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor, a visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, and a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Foreign Policy magazine has twice named him one of the world's Top 100 Global Thinkers.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2014
    A foreign policy expert looks at the major players in the Southeast Asia Pacific Rim and their nervous watching of what China will do. Atlantic foreign correspondent Kaplan (The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, 2012, etc.) frequently refers to geography as key in determining developments in the countries he addresses with his keen insight: namely, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan and China. Indeed, these--save the Philippines, still mired in American colonial dependency--have evolved into post-Cold War economic dynamos, with varying blends of democracy and authoritarianism. Thus, for the first time, they can "flex their muscles at sea" by making territorial claims against each other regarding the rich oil and natural gas reserves harbored among the straits and the hundreds of islands scattered throughout the area. Kaplan compares China's position amid the South China Sea grouping as akin to America's "practically sovereign" regard of the Greater Caribbean--that is, if China were finally to "Finlandize" Taiwan and replace the U.S. Navy's domination in the area. As the U.S. downgrades its naval presence and continues to be distracted by wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, China is ramping up its military presence. Although Kaplan claims there is no "moral fury" roiling the area, his discrete breakdown of each country delineates many troubling authoritarian histories, with a blithe dismissal of democratic tenets. For example, Kaplan acknowledges the ends-justifies-the-means approach of China's Deng Xiaoping and Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who effected economic miracles while ruling with an iron grip. The author's considerations of jihadist insurgent threats in Indonesia and elsewhere seem tepid. An up-and-down examination in which the author claims that the future of the Pacific Rim will be decided not by what China does but by what America does.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • The New York Times Book Review "This is the latest in a series of insightful books . . . in which Robert D. Kaplan . . . tries to explain how geography determines destiny--and what we should be doing about it. Asia's Cauldron is a short book with a powerful thesis, and it stands out for its clarity and good sense from the great mass of Western writing on what Chinese politicians have taken to calling their 'peaceful development.' If you are doing business in China, traveling in Southeast Asia or just obsessing about geopolitics, you will want to read it. . . . Throughout the book, Kaplan tempers hard-nose geopolitics with an engaging mix of history and travelogue."
  • The Weekly Standard "Kaplan has established himself as one of our most consequential geopolitical thinkers. . . . [Asia's Cauldron] is part treatise on geopolitics, part travel narrative. Indeed, he writes in the tradition of the great travel writers."
  • The Economist "Kaplan's fascinating book is a welcome challenge to the pessimists who see only trouble in China's rise and the hawks who view it as malign."
  • Financial Times "Muscular, deeply knowledgeable . . . Kaplan is an ultra-realist [who] takes a non-moralistic stance on questions of power and diplomacy."
  • Booklist "A riveting, multitextured look at an underexamined region of the world and, perhaps, at the 'anxious, complicated world' of the future."
  • New York Journal of Books "Part travelogue, part history, and part geostrategic analysis, Asia's Cauldron sets some lofty goals for itself and largely succeeds in presenting a holistic look at the competing diplomatic and economic interests of the nations along the South China Sea. . . . This volume is an excellent primer to the conflicting ambitions, fears, and futures of the nations bordering this vital sea-lane, which will remain one of the most dangerous flashpoints of the coming decade."
  • National Review "In reminding Americans that their age of 'simple dominance' must pass, [Kaplan] avoids joining those groping in the dark and almost takes the detached stance of a historian of coming decades, describing how that future Asia came to be. This acceptance of Asia's complexity and the limits of influence that any outside power has may well be the most valuable lesson."
  • Ashley J. Tellis, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace "Asia's Cauldron is a perfect summation of the present turbulent moment in history, when the World War II security structure is beginning a rapid transformation. Kaplan engages the striking possibilities of where the current confrontation between China and Japan could lead, and underscores the point that this is a lot more significant than a simple border dispute."--Paul Bracken, Yale University, author of The Second Nuclear Age "Master global strategist Robert D. Kaplan turns his gaze to the bubbling heat of the South China Sea in his latest tour de force. Asia's Cauldron deconstructs the extreme volatility of this enormous, dangerous, and vital maritime space. By thoughtfully pulling apart the complex tangle of argument and accusation among the nations of the region, he helps provide a well-charted course for the United States in this most turbulent geopolitical zone of the twenty-first-century."--Admiral James Stavridis, United States Navy (Ret.), dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 2009--2013 "Robert D. Kaplan has done it again: he has written an engaging--but disturbing--book about an area of the world that to most Americans is a distant rimland. Yet in an era of emerging Sino-American competition, the larger Southeast Asian region could well become the explosive cynosure of new great-power rivalries. Asia's Cauldron is a wonderful and captivating guide that illumines the myriad colliding forces that will shape the future of the Indo-Pacific."
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The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
Robert D. Kaplan
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