Home > Economics, Politics > Yemen and the Indian Ocean: The US strategy to maintain global power and contain China

Yemen and the Indian Ocean: The US strategy to maintain global power and contain China

As the US becomes more overtly involved in the fighting taking place within and throughout Yemen, it is important to regard the wider strategic context that has made the Middle Eastern country such a focus of action and attention.

MK Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times that,

A cursory look at the map of region will show that Yemen is one of the most strategic lands adjoining waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. It flanks Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are vital American protectorates. In effect, Uncle Sam is “marking territory” – like a dog on a lamppost. Russia has been toying with the idea of reopening its Soviet-era base in Aden. Well, the US has pipped Moscow in the race.

The US has signaled that the odyssey doesn’t end with Yemen. It is also moving into Somalia and Kenya. With that, the US establishes its military presence in an entire unbroken stretch of real estate all along the Indian Ocean’s western rim. Chinese officials have of late spoken of their need to establish a naval base in the region. The US has now foreclosed China’s options. The only country with a coastline that is available for China to set up a naval base in the region will be Iran. All other countries have a Western military presence.

About half of the world’s oil production travels by sea, as does some 90% of the volume of all global trade.  Of this seaborne trade, some 70% of petroleum products pass through the Indian Ocean.

Maritime trade routes are “strategic by its control and commercial by its usage,” says Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Associate Professor, Dept. of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University.

Meanwhile, maritime trade has nearly doubled between 1990 and 2006 (UNCTAD, ‘Review of Maritime Trade.’ 2007). The nearby Straight of Hormuz, leading in and out of the oil and gas rich Persian Gulf, is, according to the US Energy Information Administration, “the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of 16.5-17 million barrels (first half 2008E), which is roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (or 20 percent of oil traded worldwide).”

In September 2009, US Admiral Timothy J. Keating gave a lecture stating that the Asia-Pacific region will become of increasing importance to the USA and the word over time. Keating mentioned that, “of the 20 largest ports in the world, 15 of them are in the Asia-Pacific region. Nine of them are right there in China.” Shanghai is the busiest port by volume in the world. He also mentioned that some 80% of the oil to China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan goes through the Straight of Malacca. To get there, it has to go across the Indian Ocean. (You can view a video of Keating’s lecture here).

Bhadrakumar’s earlier mentioned article asserts that:

Most important, however, for US global strategies will be the massive gain of control of the port of Aden in Yemen. Britain can vouchsafe that Aden is the gateway to Asia. Control of Aden and the Malacca Strait will put the US in an unassailable position in the “great game” of the Indian Ocean. The sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are literally the jugular veins of China’s economy. By controlling them, Washington sends a strong message to Beijing that any notions by the latter that the US is a declining power in Asia would be nothing more than an extravagant indulgence in fantasy.

In the Indian Ocean region, China is increasingly coming under pressure. India is a natural ally of the US in the Indian Ocean region. Both disfavor any significant Chinese naval presence.

…China is keen to whittle down its dependence on the Malacca Strait for its commerce with Europe and West Asia. The US, on the contrary, is determined that China remains vulnerable to the choke point between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, according to Robert D. Kaplan’s article ‘Power Plays in the Indian Ocean,’ India is soon to become “the world’s fourth-largest energy consumer, after the United States, China, and Japan — is dependent on oil for roughly 33 percent of its energy needs, 65 percent of which it imports.”

Kaplan also writes that “India is enlarging its navy in the same spirit. With its 155 warships, the Indian navy is already one of the world’s largest, and it expects to add three nuclear-powered submarines and three aircraft carriers to its arsenal by 2015.”

“…How America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources,” writes the highly influential US policy adviser, Zbigiew Brzezinks, in his book, ‘Grand Chessboard – American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives.’

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