Review of Geoffrey Kemp’s “The East Moves West: India, China and Asia’s Growing Presence in the Middle East” (2010), by Ewan W. Anderson

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Kemp, G. (2010). The East moves West: India, China, and Asia’s growing presence in the Middle East. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press. 326 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0815703884.

Review by Emeritus Professor Ewan W. Anderson

Given the current debate about the importance on history in international relations (IR), questions might also be raised about the significance of geography.

Given the current debate about the importance on history in international relations (IR), questions might also be raised about the significance of geography. Geoffrey Kemp’s previous volume, written with Robert Harkavy, Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East (1997) illustrated the position of geography in the subject. The East Moves West continues developing the relationship between IR and geography with its strong accent upon the significance of infrastructure. Indeed, the most useful maps virtually all concern infrastructure. However, in sharp contrast to the previous book, this volume contains no discussion and very little guidance on what constitutes the Middle East. The opening chapter in Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East uses maps and a commentary on this subject. The Middle East as defined by the State Department is shown followed by a description and justification for what is described as “the new greater Middle East”. The latter definition stretches from Morocco to the far eastern side of India and from the north of Kazakstan to the southern tip of Somalia. In the present volume, Pakistan and India are deemed to be part of the “East” but Afghanistan and the central Asian states are included as Middle Eastern. As the eastern boundary of CENTCOM has now been adjusted to include Pakistan, the issue of what constitutes the Middle East remains contentious. There would have been a good opportunity in this book to set out clarification.

The acknowledgements in The East Moves West begin with a statement that the book has had a long period of gestation.

The acknowledgements in The East Moves West begin with a statement that the book has had a long period of gestation. While this has facilitated the inclusion of detailed material across a relatively wide time-span, it has resulted in a volume which reads like a collection of essays. There appears to be little in the way of a general plan for presentation. This point is to an extent overcome by the division of the volume into two parts which are, in fact, quite separate. Part 1 traces the links between major eastern countries and essentially the Gulf region while Part 2 gives broad coverage to a range of other ideas considered as strategic linkages. The key chapters examine the developing relationships in various terms between the major eastern countries: India, China, Pakistan, Japan and South Korea and, the states of the Gulf region, principally Saudi Arabia, Iran and the smaller Gulf states. There is little or no mention of the North African states including Egypt and Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Turkey or Yemen. This coverage contrasts sharply with that in Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East.

In terms of this more limited coverage, the volume has considerable assets. It includes very detailed research on economics, especially energy, security, infrastructure and other aspects of the relationships set out. The opening chapter paints a broad picture of the growing linkages between countries to the east and the states of the Gulf region, based particularly upon petroleum. Many other subjects, such as Bollywood, are employed to illustrate the fact that apart from economics and security there is growing proximity through culture. An Englishman must mention the point that cricket now provides a formidable bond between the United Arab Emirates and the states of the Indian subcontinent.

Apart from the geographical closeness, the Indian subcontinent has, through its supply of workers, developed a close relationship with the wealthier Gulf countries.

In four chapters, the next section of the volume looks at the key Asian players. Apart from the geographical closeness, the Indian subcontinent has, through its supply of workers, developed a close relationship with the wealthier Gulf countries. There are said to be 4.5 million such workers in the GCC. As India develops a global role, economically and politically, the question of energy supplies from the Gulf looms large. A major factor in limiting development is the infrastructure and the improvements to this are identified in some detail. Relationships with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, chiefly in terms of economics and defence, are discussed before the focus falls upon Iran. This section looks at not only India’s links with Iran but also includes sections on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

In the case of China, the initial accent is upon foreign policy followed by energy and infrastructure. In this case, Iran is considered first followed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. There is then a discussion, chiefly about energy, on Chinese links with Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and Turkmenistan.

Pakistan, Japan and South Korea are included within one chapter and the treatment is similar with regard to both the states involved and the type of relationship. In a sense, the lack of definition initially is illustrated further by the fact that Pakistan is treated as both an eastern and a Middle Eastern country, its economic relationships with China being included within this chapter.

The final section on the key Asian players considers the relationships between Asia and Israel. The emphasis is upon India and China with regard to security and economics but relationships with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are all included.

As any reader watches the inexorable swing of Gulf oil exports from the west to the east, this volume should be perused to provide a far fuller picture.

This entire section alone makes the volume worthwhile. There is detailed and tight discussion on each of the subjects and the key material presented has been carefully chosen. As any reader watches the inexorable swing of Gulf oil exports from the west to the east, this volume should be perused to provide a far fuller picture. In each case, key events are dissected thoroughly and the political implications considered. The only minor criticism would be that certain of the statistics could be updated.

The second half of the volume comprises three chapters which offer, in each case, an overview. There is a very detailed discussion on the infrastructure in the Gulf and Central Asia. In the Gulf, major developments in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are all discussed. Apart from the omission of the King Fahd Causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the main links together with their economic and political significance are described in detail. For Central Asia, of course, pipelines dominate all considerations.

All the states discussed, other than those of Central Asia, are linked by the maritime environment and this provides the setting for a major discussion on defence, security and strategic implications

All the states discussed, other than those of Central Asia, are linked by the maritime environment and this provides the setting for a major discussion on defence, security and strategic implications. In military terms, this is the most detailed of all the sections, illustrating the author’s well-known expertise in military geography. Finally, in chapter 8, four alternative scenarios for the growing relationships between the East and the Gulf are examined. There is a best case of steady growth and a worst case of complete mayhem and chaos. The third scenario looks at an Asian balance of power with a triangular arms race between China, India and Japan. The fourth scenario presupposes international cooperation and examines the results particularly in terms of US-Gulf relations. The major uncertainties which might influence these scenarios are then identified.

A short appendix considers the linkages with Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia and the Middle East. A second appendix examines the undersea cable networks.

This is a particularly worthwhile volume in that it gives a full coverage of the current situation in the relationships between Asian countries and Gulf states. The arguments are presented with very little obvious US bias and there is an emphasis, too little seen in the IR literature, on geography.


Emeritus Professor Ewan W. Anderson, University of Dunham, UK