April 21, 2010

Reading Rainbow

We sent our new report off to the printer at OOB yesterday (well, our fearless designer/producer, the intrepid Liz Fontaine did), so I’ve been trying to catch up on my massive reading backlog. Which reminded me of the good old PBS show in this title. Which begs an important question: does anyone else remember Run-DMC on Reading Rainbow?

When I got the new Foreign Affairs in the mail Monday night, it immediately found a spot at the top of my list for CNAS colleague Bob Kaplan’s new article, “China’s Grand Map.” Kaplan produced natural security analysis at its finest here. No, I’m not just saying that because he’s our colleague (and anyone who’s hung around here will know that normally ensures a higher level of viciousness). He’s woven resources issues into a discussion of China’s political geography and security issues masterfully. Here’s a tidbit:

China’s actions abroad are propelled by its need to secure energy, metals, and strategic minerals in order to support the rising living standards of its immense population…It seeks to developed a sturdy presence throughout the parts of Africa that are well endowed with oil and minerals and wants to secure port access throughout the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, which connect the hydrocarbon-rich Arab-Persian world with the Chinese seaboard. Having no choice in this matter, Beijing cares little about the type of regime with which it is engaged.”

This is well known, but the art is that this is the scene-setter, not a footnote or buried text.

It is paramount for understanding all of the political, security and military specifics that succeed it. One other projection by Kaplan is worth mentioning here:

In the future, with China the greater power, the United States might conceivably partner with Russia in a strategic alliance to balance against the Middle Kingdom.

I guess “conceivably” is the key word here, but I think it’s too far of a stretch – especially if you consider Russia’s own energy and minerals needs. The difference is that with its small population and abundance of energy and mineral wealth on its land and in its Arctic territory, Russia stands to come out fine if it continues to plod along with its status quo. The changing climate may be friendly to Russia in many ways, and it holds much leverage with its pipelines. Unless its government weakens as a result of inequality, extremism and other factors, I can’t envision why it would need the United States in this picture. And this, I think, is an interesting dynamic of the situation with China.

Switching gears a bit, one of my other reading list items now checked off is the new Pew report, Reenergizing America’s Defense (pdf), which is a great source for many of the things DOD is doing to reduce its petroleum use (and often reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the way). A quick and smooth read that’s all content, no fluff – give it a read if you can.