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Maritime power shapes the world order – and is undergoing a sea change

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Recent attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea have rekindled concerns about maritime security. 

Centuries of Western dominance at sea facilitated global power projection and secured vital trade routes. However, emerging powers and insurgent groups now challenge this supremacy.

The Houthi assaults have disrupted global maritime trade, raising insurance premiums and forcing ships to reroute, leading to delays and cost escalations. The US and UK's airstrikes on Houthi positions underscore their commitment to preserving freedom of navigation, crucial for the global economy. The potential impact of similar tactics in the Strait of Hormuz looms large, highlighting the fragility of maritime security.

In another theater, Russia's attempt to blockade Ukraine via the Black Sea was thwarted by Turkey invoking the Montreux Convention, showcasing the importance of international agreements in maintaining maritime stability. Additionally, Russia's threats to undersea infrastructure pose risks to energy security.

Western dominance has historically relied on projecting military power at sea. However, the Ukraine conflict demonstrates the vulnerability of surface warships to modern weaponry, challenging their effectiveness in contested areas like the Taiwan Strait. China's rise introduces new dynamics, as it aims to lead the maritime order while expanding its naval capabilities and leveraging civilian assets for strategic gains.

Sir Walter Raleigh's assertion that control of the sea equates to control of global trade remains relevant. As maritime dominance shifts, there's a risk of a new world order, potentially led by China. However, given China's reliance on maritime trade, it's likely to prioritize stability at sea, shaping the future of global governance.

Metis Insights: Taiwan Strait


Source: The Conversation