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Competition for offshore resources: A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy

Posted Nov 13 2011 1:02am
email Competition for offshore resources: A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy
IT may seem strange in an era of cyberwarfare and  drone attacks , but t where the drive to tap rich offshore  oil  and gas reserves has set off

13gunboat img popup Competition for offshore resources: A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy The Obama administration first waded into the treacherous waters of the South China Sea last year when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared, at a tense meeting of Asian countries in Hanoi, that the United States would join Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in resisting Beijing’s efforts to dominate the sea. China, predictably, was enraged by what it viewed as American meddling.

For all its echoes of the 1800s, not to mention the cold war, the showdown in the South China Sea augurs a new type of maritime conflict one that is playing out from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean,

China is not alone in its maritime ambitions. Several powers, including where melting polar ice is opening up new shipping routes and the tantalizing possibility of vast oil and gas deposits beneath.

“This hunt for resources is going to consume large bodies of water around the world for at least the next couple of decades,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview, describing a global competition that sounds like a watery Great Game.

Such tensions are sure to shadow  President Obama  this week, as he meets with leaders from China and other Asian countries in Honolulu and on the Indonesian island of Bali. Administration officials said , though that won’t mask the coming conflicts.

“Underlying all of this is the recognition that an increasing share of oil resources is offshore,” said Daniel Yergin, an energy expert and author of a new book, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.” “When you have energy resources on land,” he said, “you know where things stand. When they’re offshore,

Mr. Yergin said, a share that will rise steadily.  plus 54 billion yet to be discovered, while with possibly twice that in undiscovered sources.

As countries race to erect drilling rigs and send oil exploration vessels to comb the seabed, . It is no coincidence that the countries with the fastest-growing navies are those with stakes in these energy zones.

China expanded from 2 Soviet-era destroyers in 1990 to 13 modern destroyers in 2010, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. In its drive for a blue-water navy, one that operates in the deep waters of open oceans, it is also building an aircraft carrier. And the

“Countries want to make sure they have the ability to develop resources and to make sure their trading routes are protected,” said David L. Goldwyn, a former special envoy for international energy affairs at the State Department.

This competition is also behind calls for the United States even at a time of budget cuts. Mitt Romney, considered by many the Republican front-runner in the presidential race, declared recently he would “reverse the hollowing of our Navy and announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15.” With anemic building rates and tighter maintenance budgets, analysts say, the Navy has been forced to cope with an aging fleet that some say is not up to its challenges.Even so, a term that refers to achieving foreign-policy objectives through vivid displays of naval might. Last fall, Mr. Obama sent the aircraft carrier George Washington to the Yellow Sea for joint exercises with South Korea, sending a message to both North Korea and its key backer, China. The move echoed the Clinton administration’s decision in 1996 to send the Seventh Fleet to warn China against attacking Taiwan.

when But these days, the Chinese are fashioning an Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine to press their imperial ambitions.

FOR Mr. Obama, whose roots in Hawaii and Indonesia have imbued him with a strong Pacific worldview, the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan gives him a good pretext to turn his gaze eastward. , like Japan and South Korea, as well as new giants like India. The goal, though administration officials are loath to say it publicly, is

On a recent tour of Asia, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta pledged not to retreat from the region. “If anything,” he said, “we’re going to strengthen our presence in the Pacific.” This week,

On land, the race for energy supplies is not new, of course. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the United States maneuvered to keep Russia out of oil-rich Iran. Today, China is busy cutting deals in energy-rich Africa. But

“At root, it’s a question of you will have these conflicts,” said James B. Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state with experience in all three regions. “Will countries see these as win-win opportunities, or will they see them as zero-sum competitions?”

For China, the South China Sea has long been crucial as a supply route for oil and other raw materials to fuel its economy. embracing most the sea and two disputed island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys.

Quarrels over these hunks of volcanic rock wouldn’t matter much, except that Last spring, in two separate incidents, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of deliberately cutting the seismic survey cables of an oil exploration ship. A former American official said his nightmare scenario would be a Chinese warship’s firing on an Exxon oil-drilling ship.

There, claims to have raised tensions with Turkey, which occupies half of Cyprus, as well as with Israel. Cyprus and Israel are drilling for gas, angering Turkey. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, in Lebanon, has threatened to attack Israeli gas rigs.

Further complicating this is the bitter rift between Turkey and Israel after the deadly Israeli commando interception of a Turkish flotilla trying to transport aid to  Palestinians  in Gaza last year.

“The Turks are saying, ‘The Israelis humiliated us; what can we do in return?’” said Charles K. Ebinger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Part of it is just the greater assertiveness of Turkey’s foreign policy everywhere.”

Perhaps partly because experts believe that But even countries with no Arctic coastline, like China and South Korea, are sending icebreakers there to explore weather patterns and fish migration.

Ironically, The United States views the passage as an international waterway, giving American ships unlimited access. The Canadian government insists it is an inland waterway, meaning that foreign ships can use it only with Ottawa’s approval.

Canada and the United States are highly unlikely to go to war, of course, though the wrangling could keep maritime lawyers busy for years. As temperatures climb, officials warn, tempers may follow. “It’s a serious legal dispute,” Mr. Steinberg said. “When it is ice-free, there will be some real issues.”

Via NYT: A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy

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