History reveals that when rising powers match established rivals, the result is war. The cost of global goods and transport will drastically increase, and conflict will arise if China and Iran continue asserting control over Indian Ocean shipping lanes. The U.S. must assure security in the West Pacific, China Seas, and the Indian Ocean along the “string of pearls,” a route of ports that the Chinese have invested in starting from Hong Kong, and ending in the Mozambique Channel.
The Indian Ocean is home to the world’s largest center of manufacturing, commodities, and service industries, as well as the largest transport hub for imports and exports, especially petrol. U.S. presence in the Indian Ocean directly addresses deterrence of Chinese and Iranian occupation of disputed territory. The most important challenge is neutralizing Chinese and Iranian saturation in the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca, and the Mozambique Channel.
Consider China’s confiscation of the Scarborough Shoals from the Philippines, the Senkaku dispute, and the Iranian presence in Bahrain. Maybe an attack on Taiwan is next. For this reason, the U.S. must be the manager of strategic alliances in the Indian Ocean. Confiscation of territories including Taiwan will catapult China to becoming the new super power in the world.
China depends most on exports, as well as imported oil, primarily from Iran, and developing economies in Africa. While conflict and encroachment on the high seas may satisfy nationalist tendencies in China and Iran, the U.S. must convey to these two nations that it will also hamper their economy severely.
U.S. commercial development of ports of its allies proximal to Chinese and Iranian bases along its “string of pearls” is necessary, especially near the Strait of Hormuz. There are two tactics that the U.S. must explore in order to stabilize the Indian Ocean, assure safe global economic security to nations proximal to China and Iran, and assure open passageways for the shipment of goods through the Indian Ocean to the rest of the world.
First, the U.S. must aid in the enhancement of civilian cargo and fishing vessels in nations allied with the U.S. In the past, the Chinese have saturated the Indian Ocean, West Pacific, and China Seas with civilian cargo, establishing a presence before declaring occupation. Part of pushback against unwanted encroachment requires that waters of allies of the U.S. near the “string of pearls” be frequented to reduce the possibility of encroachment. With consent, these ships will communicate either U.S. forces, or the armies of countries of residence.
Frequent communication regarding developments in these waters as well as enhanced presence and activity will keep military forces aware of the tendencies of Chinese and Iranian vessels. The possibility of sudden intervention on the part of Iran or China well be less likely as well. If the threat of military intervention is required, due to constant surveillance, the most vital targets can be isolated. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Oman, U.A.E., Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are all allied with the U.S. to some extent, and are proximal to the “string of pearls.” Vietnam and Ethiopia have communications with the United States, and offer the potential for becoming vital allies.
The U.S. is meeting in Thailand this year for a military conference with ASEAN nations. Perhaps Indonesia and Malaysia should be considered as potential primary U.S. allies. Maybe Oman can be a transfer point for goods shipped from Africa, and fuels delivered from the Gulf Monarchies.
Second, the U.S. must update the fleets of its main allies in the region with unmanned technology, naval submarines, and mining. This weaponry could be stored at U.S. bases in Sunda, Lombok, the Cocos Islands, and Diego Garcia, and would be supplied its strongest allies in the region.
The Chinese have created notoriety regarding submarine launched ballistic missile technology. With a 4,000 mile range, these missiles can hit Hawaii or the Continental United States depending on where they are launched. Although ballistic missiles grab headlines, they also create controversy due to the threat of potential loss of mortality they can incur.
Submarine and mine technology do not grab headlines, however, the U.S. is potentially decades ahead of its competition in these military technologies. In addition, this weaponry poses great economic threat with drastically less loss of mortality. An abundance of U.S. allied submarine and mine technology would be successful deterrents to conflict and further encroachment.
A strong, well-connected United States in the Indian Ocean, West Pacific, and China Seas is better for all global economies. A two pronged approach including enhanced civilian presence, and development of submarine and mine technology regarding U.S. allies proximal to the “string of pearls.” Enhanced U.S. presence in the Indian Ocean should be about exercising deterrence with regard to Iran and China.