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Intensified Pressure: Why Are There Increased Military Threats to International Maritime Navigation?

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Russia’s Caspian Flotilla has been dominant in the inland sea for so long that many have ignored the fact that, over the past several years, it has ceased to be the only national navy that matters.

The field of maritime navigation is considered one of the fields most exposed to various threats, given that it is not bound by geographical borders or is affiliated with specific entities or countries. Perhaps the recent military threats targeting safe navigation in some regions were the most severe in recent decades, especially since this was somehow linked to common motives for the countries that implement those threats, especially by Russia, Iran, and China, such as exerting pressure by threatening global trade and the economy, and confronting sanctions. By putting pressure on freedom of maritime navigation, in addition to trying to promote alternative routes to traditional maritime trade lanes, is of concern to all countries of the world occupied by food and energy flows.

The recent period witnessed military operations targeting international maritime navigation, and the implementation of these operations coincided at close times and in distant geographical areas to reflect the deliberate targeting of that vital area, especially since the focus came on some straits and marine areas that are witnessing momentum in the transit of world trade, which is evidenced by this:

Deliberate Targeting

 1- The Strait of Hormuz: Iranian moves targeting ships passing through the strait increased during the past period, whether through detention or shooting at them, which led to the United States strengthening its military presence in that region on August 7, 2023. However, some parties warned against navigation In that area, such as the British Maritime Security Agency warning on August 12 of the presence of a growing threat in the vicinity of the Strait.

2-  The Black Sea: After Russia announced the suspension of the Black Sea Grain Agreement on July 17, 2023, Moscow targeted Ukrainian ports through 7 drone and missile attacks within a month (according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky). On the other hand, Kiev tried to target ships of the Black Sea Fleet that perform the tasks of controlling navigation in the southwestern part of the sea, while the Russian Navy stopped ships heading for Ukrainian ports for inspection, noting that the Russian Ministry of Defense had announced, on July 19 of the same year, that all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be considered as carrying weapons and military equipment for Kiev.

3- The Taiwan Strait : China has intensified the conduct of many military maneuvers and exercises in and near the strait over the past months following the escalation of the dispute with Taiwan, the last of which was on August 19, 2023, as the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense stated on August 20 that 27 that fighters of the Chinese Air Force crossed the line middle of the Taiwan Strait.


Threat Motives

The threat to maritime navigation militarily during the recent period has been associated with different objectives of the countries that make that threats, but at the same time they reflect common patterns and dimensions, the most important of which can be highlighted as follows:

1- Exerting pressure by threatening the global economy: The deteriorating state of the global economy at the present time increases the sensitivity and intensity of influence from any threat to international trade transported by sea. Therefore, it is seen that Iran, Russia, and China are highlighting their influence on the global economy through the possibility of disrupting global navigation and trade, especially since this harms basic supplies that will have a negative impact on the global economy, such as oil and food. For example, between 20 and 30% of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz, while about 21% of global trade passes through the Taiwan Strait (according to a report by Maritime Executive the Magazine issued in September 2022), while the Black Sea Agreement resulted in the export of more than 32 million tons of food commodities from 3 Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea to 45 countries in a year.

Military threats to maritime navigation have a negative impact on the cost of transporting goods, due to the high cost of insurance in dangerous areas as well as increased waiting times in the event of tensions, and may in some cases lead to preventing transit in some areas such as the announcement of the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration. Preventing crossing into the waters of the East China Sea near Taiwan during the period from 12 to 14 August 2023 to conduct military maneuvers reflects the possibility of controlling the course of global trade. The grounding of the Ever Given ship in the Suez Canal in March 2021 and Turkey’s delay in the passage of Russian oil at the entrance to the Turkish Bosphorus Strait towards the Mediterranean in February 2022 led to its accumulation. It revealed the extent of the impact of maritime navigation on trade and the economies of many countries at that time.

2- Confronting sanctions by putting pressure on freedom of maritime navigation: The maritime transport sector, like any other sector, has many loopholes that allow it to operate illegally, as some countries (such as China, Iran, and Russia) use methods that prevent knowledge of the movements of their ships. This is to circumvent the penalties imposed on them, such as tampering with the ship’s GPS tracking system, transferring products from one ship to another to make it difficult to track the final destination, registering companies outside the exporting country, as well as forging shipping documents and the flag placed on the ship. However, these methods have become practiced. They were monitored more closely, which led to restrictions on the exports of some countries, Iran in particular, which deprived it of freedom of movement through the maritime transport sector.

To respond to this matter, it is seen that Iran and Russia are targeting freedom of maritime navigation as a retaliatory measure for being targeted through sanctions, which has a negative impact on the maritime shipping sector as a whole, and by extension global trade, especially with regard to supply chains that have witnessed several shocks since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. Therefore, the move of the three countries may be aimed at pushing Western countries to ease their blockades, especially since the damage is direct and rapid to the countries imposing sanctions in any region around the world, as the threat to maritime transport of some products and raw materials has become a new means of political and economic pressure because of its negative repercussions on the economies of many importing countries.

3- Attempting to promote alternative routes to traditional trade corridors: Russia, Iran and China’s obstruction of maritime traffic in areas under their control reflects a desire or aim to promote alternative trade routes to those currently being taken, as follows:

Russia: Obstructing navigation in the Black Sea sheds light on other alternative routes, the most important of which is the “North-South International Transport Corridor,” which is being completed, which starts from Russia to the South Caucasus, then Iran, all the way to India, and there are several countries involved. In that corridor, such as Turkey, the Sultanate of Oman, Syria, and some Central Asian countries. This corridor avoids passing through the Black Sea in exchange for land and sea corridors that depend on the Caspian Sea, and the corridor extends to the West Asia region.

China: Beijing seeks to activate paths linking the East and West by land, through its “Belt and Road” initiative, as this will reduce travel time and cost compared to sea lanes, taking into account that its plan has strategic dimensions that will be in its favor during the coming decades, especially since it It will increase communication and connectivity with many countries, which will increase the volume of trade with them.

Iran: Iran's interests intersect with both Russia and China with regard to alternative trade corridors, especially as it is an important element in those corridors, given that it is a major transit area for the Arab Gulf states by sea, and the rest of West Asia by land through Iraq and Syria to reach Turkey and Europe by land and sea, which makes it An authentic party in the flow of global trade between the target regions. It is noteworthy that there are many Iranian linkage schemes with the east being worked on (such as the Five Nations Railway Corridor project), as well as proposed corridors for linking with Europe, including passage through Iraq and Syria through a land or rail corridor “Tehran-Mediterranean Corridor.” And from there by sea to the European countries located on the Mediterranean.

The importance of these passages is increasing with the presence of bottlenecks in many shipping lanes as a result of the increasing threats in general and not just military ones. Perhaps some specialized agencies have recently tended to classify the Black Sea region off the Ukrainian coast as being among the highly dangerous areas for navigation (see Figure 5), which is A region within 3 highly dangerous regions around the world, which distracts the mind of international shipping companies to think of other paths to avoid these threats. Likewise, it is not excluded that the worsening security situation in the Persian Gulf towards the Strait of Hormuz will lead to the inclusion of the region in the classification of highly dangerous regions.

In conclusion, the countries located on vital shipping lanes demonstrating their influence on global trade, and using military force to highlight that influence, have become associated with many risks that threaten regional and global security, especially since the sphere of influence has begun to extend to humanitarian dimensions and not just economic ones, which pushes Due to the need to overcome political differences to confront human security threats, taking into account that the current hotbeds of tension have become closely linked to food security and energy security, which raises the need to develop a new vision to preserve the freedom of safe maritime navigation even with the exacerbation of conflicts between countries.

Source: Arab Wall