This compact volume with an introduction by Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, former Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, United States, consists of three essays. In the first one Geoffrey Kemp discusses ‘Maritime Access and Maritime Power, The Past, the Persian Gulf and the Future.’ The second by Admiral Robert J. Hanks and Alvin J. Cottrell deals with ‘The Strait of Hormuz: Strategic Choke-point’ and the third on ‘A Permanent Naval Presence in the Indian Ocean’ by Admiral Moorer and Alvin J. Cottrell, as is clear from the title, presents the case for a perma¬nent US naval presence in the Indian Ocean area.
Of the authors, Alvin Cot¬trell and Geoffrey Kemp are well known scholars, while the other two are distinguished former naval commanders. Admiral Moorer was also Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Hence, they are well qualified to discuss USA’s needs of oil and of the importance of the Gulf from American strategic perspec¬tives. Likewise, from the per¬spectives of countries of the Indian Ocean littoral, especially of Non-Aligned countries, the analyses of US strategic in¬terests in the region ought to be equally valuable although they could perhaps be of some concern as well.
Geoffrey Kemp examines with admirable clarity the attri¬butes of a maritime power, a maritime capable but not mari¬time dependent power, a mari¬time dependent, aspiring maritime power, a land locked, non-maritime dependent coun¬try. He notes that if ‘the presence of maritime power projection is termed sea power and the absence of such capa¬bilities is termed limited or no sea power’ countries could be classified into five categories as under:
1. Maritime power (maritime dependent. significant sea power)
2. Sea power (significant sea power, little maritime depend¬ency)
3. Maritime dependent—as¬piring sea power
4. Maritime dependent—non-aspiring sea power
5. Non-maritime dependent— no sea power.
One may accept this classifi¬cation as roughly indicative of the competence of different countries in having access to the oceans and of utilizing the ocean highways in war and peace although there may be no fool-proof method of as¬signing to any particular coun¬try one of these five design¬ations except in the case of Great Powers, who are by any definition maritime powers.
In considering countries of the western and eastern bloc, Kemp states that ‘whereas Britain, France, West Germany’, Japan and the United States must have access to overseas resources and markets for their economic survival, the Soviet Union does not need similar access except as a bonus’. It is true that Japan’s economy is based on the import of raw materials including energy materials and export of manufactures and more recently of technology. To a lesser extent, the same is the case with Britain, France and West Germany.
This however is not true of the United States as Kemp him¬self indicates later on. He notes that, ‘United States, despite its massive overseas oil dependency, is and will remain a vast, well endowed, continental power that has sufficient indigenous resour¬ces…’
In other words neither US nor the Soviet Union are really dependent on external sources for essential raw materials. Hence strictly speaking for commercial purposes they do not have to acquire control over the seas. The United States is also invulnerable to assaults from the sea in the conventional sense, given its insular position and the near impossibility of an external power being able to project its power across the vast oceans that protect US coasts.
The Soviet Union is, in com¬parison, quite vulnerable as Kemp himself points out. Its bases in the Kola peninsula are within easy striking distance of USA’s NATO allies. So is the Soviet Union’s east coast to China’s and US naval forces from their bases in the Pacific and South Korea. This vulnerability of the Soviets is, however, only of theoretical interest since neither Super Power can consider attacking the other so long as the nuclear balance of power bet¬ween the two remains.
Ultimately, what sea power is all about is the ability of the country concerned to ‘project’ its military might or coercive capability on to distant coun¬tries across the vast oceans. The United States has this capability—which is consi¬dered not adequate for its strategic needs—according to some US officials and scholars. However, the Soviet Union in comparison is far behind USA in this respect.
Geoffrey Kemp discusses the importance of oil to USA’s allies. In particular, West Europe is dependent on Gulf oil to the extent of 50 to 60 per cent while Japan is far more dependent on the Gulf. In the case of USA, there need really be no dependence on external sources—Gulf or any other—for its oil. It can exploit its own Alaskan oil fields to the full; it could convert its vast shale deposits into oil and if it chooses to, can even export oil. However it is wise to conserve non-replaceable oil and USA is doing so.
USA is dependent on the sea because most of its population lives within 200 miles of the sea. Its island territories, the, Hawaiian archipelago, the Aleutians and Alaska are all far away from the Continental United States. This is true enough and it is also true that USA has to protect its island territories. From this premise to maintain that given USA’s need for Gulf Oil, USA must be able to project its power in the Gulf area in order to keep the Strait of Hormuz open can only mean that USA has to be pre¬pared to play the late 20th century version of Gunboat Diplomacy.
If USA and its allies need Gulf oil they can buy oil from Gulf producers in the course of normal commercial transac¬tions. Where is the need for USA to project its power in order to keep the Strait on Hormuz open? Surely if the Hormuz is to be open for com¬merce for USA’s allies, it has to be open for other Gulf oil buyers too? USA imposes res¬trictions, on a discriminatory basis, on the sales of some of its products. How then can Gulf states be deprived of the right to choose their custo¬mers? USA’s stand is that if it needs a commodity, it has the right to obtain it, if neces¬sary by using or threatening the use of force.
Geoffrey Kemp concludes that USA’s answers to challenges (sea control, obtaining raw materials etc.) lie in the deve¬lopment of technologies, which can reduce USA’s dependence on external sources. In this he is right. It is a point that Third World countries ought to note, particularly India.
In their essay on ‘The Strait of Hormuz’ Admiral Hanks and Alvin Cottrell note the geo-strategic importance of the narrow waters of the Hormuz Strait and the role of the long and shallow Gulf as the main route for transport¬ing Gulf oil to the world out¬side. They draw attention to political instability of Gulf Sheikdoms some, of whom according to the authors may collapse in five to ten years.
They also draw attention to the possibility of territorists sinking a few ships and blocking the Gulf as also of initiating revolutions in some of the more vulnerable Gulf states. Their conclusion is that given the importance of Gulf oil to the West, the security threats to and possible insta¬bility of some of the oil pro¬ducing states, the strength of US naval forces in the region has be raised.
The third essay by Admiral Moorer and Alvin Cottrell is important for the positive re¬commendations in make in order to ensure USA’s undis¬puted control over the region. These recommendations pro¬foundly affect littoral states. They assume added impor¬tance because of Admiral Moorer’s position in US Arm¬ed forces. The authors argue that the wall erected by Eisen¬hower and Dulles in the Fifties in West Asia for stem¬ming Russia’s possible advance southwards lies in shambles following the Iraqi and more recently the Iranian revolu¬tions.
In the meanwhile, the impor¬tance of the Gulf and of Pakistan have increased for USA. The Gulf is important to USA not because of the much advertised oil but more particularly because of possi¬ble accretions of Russian influence in Iran and the physical presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. USA wants bases in Muscat, Masirah and Gwadar in Pakistan in order to preemptively rule out any possible increase of Soviet influence in the region.
It also wants staging posts for its Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) units in Pakistan.
The authors proceed from the premise that the Indian Ocean region has been at the mercy of external powers, particularly naval powers and that in this region power is respected. Hence, the authors contend that the stand taken by some American intellectuals in the wake of the Vietnam disaster that there is no visible rela¬tionship between US military presence in an area and its ability to influence events in the area, is totally wrong. The want of mutual trust among countries of the region unfor¬tunately gives this impression to external powers, which like Britain in an earlier period and USA now are only too eager to utilize regional dis¬unity to their own advantage, by ‘projecting power.’
Admiral Moorer and Alvin Cottrell consider the Indian Ocean an area of vital interest for USA. Apart from the well worn argument about Gulf oil, they draw attention to the advantage of gaining and/or retaining control over some attractive bits of real estate in the region such as Oman and its Masirah island, Gwadar on the Pakistani coast and even Karachi with its port, which would come in very useful for unloading heavy equipment.
A Great Power seeking to acquire bases in a country has to proceed with a good deal of circumspection, the authors warn. Whatever the advantages that the base giving country thinks it can gain, it has to reckon with the tangible and intangible costs of providing bases on its soil to an external power. These costs as listed by the authors are:
1. No matter how qualified arrangement is by contrac¬tual language, it represents some impingement on a nation’s sovereignty;
2. It renders the host country a more conspicuous mili¬tary (and political) target;
3. The influx of foreign per¬sonnel invariably leads to local frictions;
4. For all of the above reasons foreign bases or access rights can become the focal point for domes¬tic political opposition and revolutionary movements.
The authors urge that USA should act quickly to secure bases and in deference to the wishes of leaders of the host country, refer, to the bases granted to USA as ‘facilities’ (port facilities, refuelling faci¬lities, recreational facilities etc.).
Oman, together with Masirah, and Gwadar are highly prized by US naval strategists since the control of these enables US forces to dominate the Hormuz Strait and through that chokepoint, the entire Gulf region.
Since Diego Garcia, well away from littoral countries, depo¬pulated by Britain’s courtesy before handing over to USA, is already a well developed base, USA is all set to domi¬nate not merely the Gulf region but the entire Indian Ocean.
There is no Soviet threat in this Ocean region for the simple reason that the Soviet navy is not strong enough and its units in order to enter the Indian Ocean have to pass through several chokepoints all of which are dominated by USA and its allies.
The many arguments presented in the three essays were design¬ed to convince US administra¬tion to step up its military presence in the Indian Ocean region by strengthening the Diego Garcia, Mombasa (Kenya), Berbera (Somalia) Oman and Masirah (Sultanate of Oman) bases and to acquire facilities at Gwadar (Pakistan). The last was being negotiated for by the Carter regime. Pakistan turned down the offer of $. 400 million aid as ‘peanuts’. The present study suggested (in 1980/81) that US ought to enter into a long-term agreement with Pakistan for providing military aid ($1.5 billion was mentioned). The supply of latest technology weapons to Pakistan was recommended, which also has been implemented. The authors also remark significantly, that ‘the United States cannot permit India to exercise a veto power’ over US arms policies to Pakistan’. India never attempted this but only tried to draw USA’s attention to the instabilities that heavy inductions of arms into the sub-continent could cause.
A word about the background to the three learned essays in this book will not be out of place. In April 1980 a con¬ference on ‘Sea Power and Strategy in the Indian Ocean’ was held under the auspices of the Maritime Policies Studies Directorate of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies of Georgetown Univer¬sity. As is customary in USA in such Institutions, scholars as well as serving and retired diplomats and military men participate in the conference and help crystallize ideas for adoption by Pentagon/State Department. This was one such study and the ideas con¬cerning military aid to Paki¬stan, acquiring base facilities in the Indian Ocean littoral and strengthening them appear to have been accepted by the Reagan Administration in toto. US strategy in the region is clearly pre-emptive i.e., occupy the bases in strength so that the enemy (the Soviet Union) is kept off.
For littoral states, especially for non-aligned India, the worry is that USA as hereto¬fore is likely to proceed on the basis that non-alignment means being in the Soviet camp and hence may discrimi¬nate against India in every situation. A more serious worry is that a strongly armed Pakistan taking USA’s support for granted could initiate yet another war of aggression against India, especially as US Administration has tacitly permitted it to go ahead with its strong nuclear weapon programme.
Col. R. Rama Rao (Retd) formerly of the Indian Army, a specialist in defence studies and author of several research studies. At present with the Birla Institute of Research.