U.S INTERESTs IN INDIAN OCEAN: For Peace or For Control…
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world’s oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth’s surface. Indian Ocean contains 1/3 of the World’s population, 25% of its landmass, 40% of the World’s oil and gas reserves. It is the Locus of important International Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). Along with a high traffic of commerce, Indian Ocean highway contain several strategic chokepoints which all the major powers of the world are aware of ; and have focused on their recent strategic and defense reviews.
The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) set the tone by calling for a more ‘‘integrated approach to the region across military and civilian organizations’’.
QDR also stated “A Complex Environment The United States faces a complex and uncertain security landscape in which the pace of change continues to accelerate. The distribution of global political, economic, and military power is becoming more diffuse. The rise of China, the world’s most populous country, and India, the world’s largest democracy, will continue to shape an international system that is no longer easily defined—one in which the United States will remain the most powerful actor but must increasingly work with key allies and partners if it is to sustain stability and peace”.
Key Ally of USA, Australia noted in Australia’s 2009 Defense White Paper “over the period to 2030, the Indian Ocean will join the Pacific Ocean in terms of its centrality to our maritime strategy and defense planning”
Japan’s 2011 National Defense Policy Guidelines stipulated that ‘‘Japan will enhance cooperation with India and other countries that share common interests in ensuring the security of maritime navigation from Africa and the Middle East to East Asia.”
On 2012 Michael J. Green (Senior Advisor and Japan Chair at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and Associate Professor at Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University) and Andrew Shearer (Director of Studies and a Senior Research Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia) published a 15-page article titled “Defining U.S. Indian Ocean Strategy”. They stressed that The 2010 QDR was right to move Indian Ocean debate forward by asking the rest of the U.S. government to begin with an assessment of U.S. interests, objectives, and force posture implications in the Indian Ocean region; authors also suggested that wise thing for U.S. allies would be to do the same. Key U.S interests focused are 1) Maintaining a secure highway and flow of International Commerce Indian Ocean. 2) Freedom of Navigation and peace in strategic chokepoints and 3) Indian Ocean being a strategic problem not a crisis and that Indian Ocean might be the arena for competition between China and India
So, What are the real
U.S. Interests ?
A quick and carefree (but true) answer I always have when it comes to U.S interests is that, If it is something that exists, in Earth, Space or other Planets than it is of U.S interest.
However, Let’s look at the two main key strategic interests “Defining U.S. Indian Ocean Strategy” had focused on.
1) Importance of Indian Ocean to maintain a secure highway and flow of International Commerce.
International Commerce in Indian Ocean Region.
Going back to the Industrial Era of Indian Ocean Region, opening of Suez Canal in 1869 did bring back the “European Interest” to the East AGAIN, but no Nation was successful in controlling the region, after World War II, USSR and United States did try to dominate Indian Ocean Region but that didn’t work either, Indian Ocean Region still remains a “Zone of Peace”. Peace is rarely disrupted by Nature, it is always caused by “Human Nature”. Thus, keeping a close eye on The recent emphasis on Indian Ocean Region, especially by the West is important for all of us.
The Indian Ocean provides major sea routes connecting the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and the Americas. It carries a particularly heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oil fields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia. Large reserves of hydrocarbons are being tapped in the offshore areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, and Western Australia. An estimated 40% of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. When there is already a strong “competition” between the two Giants of Asia, India & China, The United States approach to “Dominate Indian Ocean Region” is expected to be different from how it protected its interests in Middle East. On one hand America has never actually being that “active” in the Indian Ocean and on the other hand there are conflicts of interests between India and United States in the region. While keeping China aside as the “new threat” Washington is expected to “protect their interests” in the region through India. However, the United States interest to “protect flow of trade in Indian Ocean” as they claim sound more like another “cute term” from their foreign policy textbooks. The world is way too familiar with “buzzwords” used by the World Police? Freedom of Trade, Freedom of Navigation, Democracy, Free Speech, Human Rights remain to be favorite bullets of the American-Gun! With The Trade in Indian Ocean being as important, if not more important to the Giants in Asia and many other countries, and given the peaceful history of Indian Ocean, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why U.S need a special focus on “maintaining free flow of trade” in Indian Ocean When there is possibly no Nation which is interested in disrupting the Indian Ocean Highway.Indian ocean is the main pipeline of Indian export-import machine and the main artery of the heart of Chinese Trade Route and the Trade Path of Nations, both “friends & enemies” of USA in the Region. Conflict in the region will hurt the economies of countries in this region more than the economy of U.S, but controlling the region gives unimaginable powers to control the countries in this region and their economies? When there are no countries in the region which would possibly disrupt peace in this region there is doubt about the real interests of U.S, is it to maintain peace in the region or is it to control the region?
2) Strategic Chokepoints in Indian Ocean Highway
Indian Ocean Region provides critical sea trade routes that connect the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia with the broader Asian continent to the East and Europe to the West and a number of the world’s most important strategic chokepoints
1)The Strait of Hormuz 2)The Strait of Malacca and 3)South China Sea.
The Strait Of Hormuz
The strait of hormuz is located between Oman and Iran, connects the persian gulf with the gulf of oman and the Arabian Sea. Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011, up from between 15.5-16.0 million bbl/d in 2009-2010. flows through the strait in 2011 were roughly 35% of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20% of oil traded worldwide. On average, 14 crude oil tankers per day passed through the Strait in 2011, with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering to pick up new cargos. More than 85% of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.
It is very important to note that more than 85% oil exports goes to ASIAN market, not to the United States. However controlling The Strait Hormuz would mean the “power” to influence and to a huge extent control the rise of India and China who depend heavily on Persian Gulf Oil. U.S interest to control this important ChokePoint, which is more important to many other nations, presently controlled mainly by Iran (The Nuclear Threat) is about Freedom of Navigation? Or is it a necessary geopolitical move to ensure rest of world’s development and rise is kept “under control”?
Strait of Malacca
The Strait of Malacca is often referred as The Meeting Point of Two Giants! It is the most important 800km stretch of water on the face of the earth. The strait is the main shipping line which link all the major Asian economies. China beyond doubt is the country which depend most heavily on this passage of water, the United States is certainly dependent upon oil from zones of international tension. However, in the case of China, this dependence is far more pronounced. While U.S source over 50% of its oil import from western hemisphere, China is heavily dependent on reserves from places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Strait of Malacca is also the doorway that connect trade routes between South China Sea to the other side of Indian Ocean Region. Though Strait of Malacca amounts to 80% of China’s oil imports, it is controlled by Americans under the pretext of “stability in the Region”. The American interest in the region again looks like an imperialistic interesttowards controlling a “life line” which other countries economy is based on. Full access to the strait allows control over sea routes connecting East Asia to Eurasia and Africa. As china’s economy is growing, requiring ever more natural resources, controlling the one and only transportation route is the way to control the “rise of China?”. Tension or competition between India and China to maintain peace in the strait of Malacca or even controlling it to “ensure stability” is understandable for China and India are the two Gainst that are in the region who heavily depend on the Strait. However U.S seems to be the country with the most “strategic interest” towards this chokepoint, again under the banner of “maintaining stability” while portraying a “bad China” and a “weak India” that somehow makes it obligatory for U.S to “control” the area.
South China Sea
South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea of 3.5 Million SKM’s which extends from the Eastern end of Singapore Strait to the Taiwan Strait. It is bordered by Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Taiwan. The South China Sea is important to International shipping because one third of the world’s shipping transits the sea on the route between Europe and the Middle East to East Asia.
“The US interest is not in particular claims on any of the land features but rather in the continued free flow of commerce in this region of the world”, the White House Official told reporters, “ that has significant consequences for the global economy and significant consequences for the US economy”
Again, as per U.S their interest is in “free flow of commerce”, but is there any nation in this region who is a threat to the free flow of trade in SCS? Given the actions of U.S in the region, it looks like China is a “threat” to peace in SCS! But is China a threat to SCS? Will China disrupt the peace in South China Sea? Let’s analyze some facts about South China Sea, China and what disrupt of peace in the region would mean to China. As Washington stated conflict in SCS will have significant consequences for the global economy, but who is the biggest player in this global economy? Isn’t China the world’s biggest trading power? Isnt South China Sea the waterway through which most of the trade with China pass through? Should China be any less concerned about safeguarding its own lifeline? The notion “China is a threat to South China Sea”, is equivalent to saying “China is a threat to China”! So again, the real interest of U.S in the region is questionable, is it about maintaining free flow of trade or is it about controlling the lifeline of a rising economy by creating “threats” that doesn’t exist? Yes, there are some disputes between China and neighbouring countries over some areas of South China Sea, but let’s not forget that China shares land borders with 14 countries and has solved border issues with 12 of them through bilateral negotiation. So there is no logical reason to believe present dispute cannot be resolved through peaceful negotiations unless there are parties who deliberately want to “use” the dispute as a “reason” to defame China or create the illusion of a risk or threat in South China Sea so that they can actually militarize and control the region under the pretext of “maintaining peace”.
“Talking about militarization, if you look into it carefully, the advanced aircraft, warships in and out of the South China Sea, aren’t most of them deployed by America?” said NPC spokesperson Fu Ying.
“Despite all the recent attention, there is no immediate or looming crisis in the security of the Indian Ocean.”
True, there is no crisis in Indian Ocean, there is no threat in Indian Ocean, but there are rising powers whose development depends on Indian Ocean and important chokepoints in Indian Ocean and whoever fully control this region can and will control the rising powers in the region like India and China. As Asians we have a long history of outsiders controlling us, as imperialists, colonists or even under the label of “peacemakers”. While “Defining U.S Indian Ocean Strategy” emphasis on maintaining U.S naval power in the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea and the highway (supported from Diego Garcia and Australia), maintaining vibrant alliances in East Asia and developing a strategic partnership with a rising India, we can’t be sure which Strategy U.S will use or which Asian “friends” would assist them but one thing facts and numbers discussed above clearly point out is that the U.S interests are not about maintaining peace in the region but about controlling the region, thus the developing nations in the region. Question is,will Asia give foreign powers another chance to use ‘Divide and Rule” tactic on us?