Monday, April 13, 2009

Facing Old Enemies With New Allies

One of things that makes Thomas P.M. Barnett such an interesting strategic thinker is his ability to look past the alliances of yesterday and today and imagine future relationships based on actual shared strategic interests that are stripped of previous political and cultural biases. While I don't always agree with Barnett about whether some of his proposed alliances are actually beneficial to US interests or even possible to achieve, when you look at the world the way he does it does open up intriguing ideas.

For example, when faced with the problem of pirates threatening the sea lanes and imperiling global trade, the United States would normally consider options such as:

1. Work with traditional allies like NATO to provide security

2. Try to work with the United Nations to assemble some sort of international coalition

3. Go it alone as the world's sole superpower

But if you start thinking about who really could be the most impacted by the threat of piracy and who can actually do something about, maybe it would be better if the United States looked to China and India instead. The two emerging Asian economic powers require a lot of imported materials and exported goods to keep their economies humming. They should have as much interest as we do in seeing that the threat from Somali pirates is eliminated.

Given their location and the fact that they have the world's fifth largest navy, it seems like the Indians could definitely make a meaningful contribution. And they already have been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. The Chinese Navy has also been escorting Chinese ships in the Gulf of Aden and could bring additional resources to bear. More importantly, they might be willing to pony up some dough to help an expanded multinational force provide security to patrol the shipping lanes.

To throw Europe a bone and recognize their place in history, we could also add the Royal Navy to the mix. Then we would have a scenario where American forces were working alongside forces from their oldest ally Great Britain, their most recent emerging ally India, and their current rival but possible future ally China. It's definitely an interesting exercise in unlimited strategic thinking.

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