The damaged tanker Kokuka Courageous is seen behind a U.S. sailor, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

The damaged tanker Kokuka Courageous is seen behind a U.S. sailor, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. AP Photo/Fay Abuelgasim

The US Protects the Global Commons. Others Can Police Its Choke Points

Trump's not wrong when he says European, Mideast, and Asian nations should do more to protect Gulf shipping.

When two tankers, one from Japan and the other from Norway, were sabotaged in the Gulf of Oman in June, President Trump tweeted, “China gets 91 percent of its Oil from the [Strait], Japan 62 percent, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation.” The commander-in-chief has a point.

The attacks, along with four others in less than two months, should serve as a notice to European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries that rely on Persian Gulf choke points to conduct their international commerce. Those who benefit from global shipping lanes ought to help protect them. The current tensions in the Persian Gulf are a result of faulty U.S. policies, but nonetheless, an opportunity exists for the Trump administration to promote one of its most consistent foreign policy goals: preventing our allies (and our adversaries) from free-riding on the United States.

Incentivizing other countries to take more responsibility on their shoulders is as applicable in the Strait of Hormuz as it is for the NATO alliance. In a world with limited resources and finite bandwidth, the United States should prioritize America’s vital interests over global benefits and share the larger security burden with other wealthy, capable nations.

Related: America’s Free-Rider Problem in the Strait of Hormuz

Related: We Don’t Need Airstrikes to Restore Deterrence in the Strait of Hormuz

Related: US Arms Sales to the Gulf Have Failed

Predictable outcries from the establishment aside, the president has a case when he points out that China, Japan, and Europe are more directly affected by short-term disturbances in the Persian Gulf than the United States. Any disruptions to supply in the Persian Gulf will no doubt have an effect on the price Americans pay at the pump. But with a growing supply of its own, the United States is less tied to Persian Gulf commerce than European and Asian states rich enough to pitch on its protection.

The United States is far less dependent on Middle East crude oil for its energy supplies than it was at the turn of the century. The numbers don’t lie: In April 2008, the United States imported 2.3 million barrels of crude per day from the region; in April 2018, the figure was around 938,000 barrels per day, a decline of about 60 percent. With the shale-oil boom, the United States is producing more of its own oil every year, which decreases our dependence on foreign suppliers in the Gulf—and which in turn reduces the economic and security imperatives for the U.S. military to serve as the coast guard of the Persian Gulf.

Other countries aren’t as fortunate. Between January and April of this year, China imported 44 percent of its crude oil supplies from the Middle East. India relied on the Middle East for two-thirds of its imported crude during the last financial year. Japan is in even worse shape in terms of dependency, with 80 percent of its imports sourced from the region. While the United States is now an energy supplier, many Asian nations, including South Korea, remain  dependent on foreign sources for their energy needs. South Korea, one of the biggest energy consumers, tapped the Middle East for 82 percent of its crude imports in 2017. In short, the black stuff from the region is incredibly important for these economies—far more important than it is for the U.S. economy, which in addition to producing crude is also blessed with two energy-wealthy and benevolent neighbors to its north and south.

Despite this important strategic difference, Washington remains a security guarantor of the maritime coastlines in the region, not just the commons. The permanent presence of the U.S. Navy in the waters of the Gulf provides energy consumers like China and India with a degree of comfort that their supplies will be protected. The United States in effect, is de-facto protecting Chinese oil shipments, a curious arrangement given the heightened competition between the two economic giants. U.S. command of the global commons—the skies and open seas—is key to its military power and worth preserving. But accepting the assistance of other countries to help police against sabotage and mines near coastlines would not sacrifice that advantage.

The Trump administration’s ongoing effort to create an international coalition to monitor—and if necessary—protect tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz is therefore a reasonable request. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Mike Esper have already had conversations with Arab, Asian, and European leaders about creating such a mechanism—one that will reportedly include escorts for vessels transiting the waters and surveillance in the air to ensure any additional breaches are documented. This is sensible burden sharing, enlisting the assistance of nations that have an even larger incentive to prevent the types of attacks the world witnessed in the Gulf of Oman and off the UAE coastline.

As it continues to seek support for this program, the Trump administration can credibly claim this effort is in no way meant to be an offensive action against Iran or a prelude to an armed conflict, but rather a prudent step designed to protect commerce in the area. Other nations being involved will in fact make the protection less threatening to Iran than the presence of more capable U.S. ships would. And with more countries involved in the effort, the deterrent to future sabotage would be enhanced. Once the situation improves and ships are able to sail without the recent increased risk, the initiative will no longer be required.

Trump would also be wise to supplement the maritime program with a formal offer to establish a senior-level communications channel with Tehran to explore ways to deescalate the current crisis. While a comprehensive negotiation with Tehran is highly unlikely in the present atmosphere, responsible moves to reduce tensions before they grow into something permanently malignant is in the U.S. national security interest.

The tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran need not result in war. If the administration plays its cards correctly, it can actually use it to further its noble objective of pushing our partners to contribute their fair share to the defense of shipping lanes rather than expecting U.S. taxpayers and service members to be their permanent guardian angel.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.