The race for the seas and straits in the world’s top 7 hotspots

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Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal is the founder editor of Bhraman (a Digital Travelogue). As an independent journalist, he is passionate for investigating and reporting on complex subjects. He has an extensive background in both print and digital media, with a focus on Travel and Defence reporting. *Views are personal

Disputed sovereignty and imperfect competition in straits, seas and oceans have been left without proper regulation due to the crisis that stands in the international sea laws.

Similar to any other fact, the increase in several conflict points present on the land and at sea is due to the erosion of the global security system and the destruction of the world order.

The Sea of Japan

Tensions in the Sea of Japan are somehow driven by the antagonism between the DPRK and the US. The presence of the US military in Japan and South Korea is considered a threat by Pyongyang. Regular missile testing, including those capable of carrying nuclear warheads, well contributed to it.

Communication with Pyongyang is considered as the periphery of foreign policy by the Biden administration, while in its turn, the Sea of Japan is predetermined as one of the most explosive regions in the world by the global crisis of the security system and economic relations along with the global change in the geopolitical landscape from 2020.

The Sea of Japan is demonstrated to become a possible arena of confrontation between four nuclear powers simultaneously, which is complemented by the recent passage of Russian and Chinese warships during joint exercises through the Tsugaru Strait that had caused a nervous reaction in Tokyo.

The South China Sea

To conclude the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, it was stated by the Chinese Premier of the State Council of the PRC that consultations on the same should speed up by China and the ASEAN countries. South China Sea proves to be one of the main stumbling blocks regarding the relationship between the PRC and the ASEAN countries and between the PRC and the US. 

As cited above, China is accused of militarising the South China sea by the US, who also says that artificial islands have also been erected by China in the region, thereby increasing Beijing’s military capabilities, which have reduced the combat potential of American aircraft carrier groups in the region.

The Persian Gulf

Several factors have contributed to the high conflict potential of the Persian Gulf, right from substantial hydrocarbon deposits to the historically tense relations between the Middle Eastern states to the military presence of outer states. Concerning GDP globally, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fall under the category of those Gulf nations which spend the most on military needs. Also, an arms race can be seen going on in the region.

The region is at the same time characterised by the presence of the extensive US military. Bahrain is the main base of the US 5th Fleet and is responsible for the region.

The Red Sea

The water areas of the Red Sea region are determined as relatively calm compared to the Persian Gulf by Nations including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have come closer together in recent years. As a part of a bridge project crossing between Sinai and the Arabian Peninsula, the islands of Tiran and Sanafir were handed over to Saudi Arabia by Egypt a few years ago. That said, the relations between Egypt and Israel now seem to be improving steadily.

With regards to destabilising factors present in the Red Sea, there are possibly two of them. Firstly the presence of lingering terrorists underground is present in the Sinai Peninsula. The Islamic State took responsibility for the Missile attack on the Israeli resort of Eilat in early 2017. This situation stands far from the complete eradication of risks even after Egypt has used massive military and police forces in order to suppress terrorist activities in the peninsula.

The second factor probably is Sudan itself which has been regularly shaken by the military coups in recent years. The nation has become an Arena of confrontation between France, Russia, China and the United States. Deploying a Naval base and possibly gaining a foothold in Sudan is a dream of many powers, but the permanent internal instability of Sudan prevents the implementation of such an idea.

The Eastern Mediterranean

Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have been increased by the Arab Spring, resulting in the wars in Syria and Libya. An additional factor in increasing the reasons for conflict potential is possibly the discovery of large gas fields and controlling them, which might be subject in the upcoming decade. On the other hand, the geopolitical ambitions have been expanded over the past ten years by Turkey, which consistently promotes its interests in the Middle East and North Africa while the nation is opposed by Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, and France, but they cannot curb Turkish expansion in the region at the moment.

One of the uncertainties for the Eastern Mediterranean region also includes the migration flows from Africa and the Middle East. This factor is being tried to be used as an instrument of pressure for obtaining additional financial resources by some states of the region, pursuing their narrow corporate interests.

The Strait of Gibraltar

Proven as pivotal to the Global sea trade, many contradictions exist in the strait of Gibraltar, which can turn into local armed confrontations.

In relation to Morocco’s challenge, Madrid sovereignty over Ceuta, which is a semi-exclave located on the northern coast of Africa and directly opposite Gibraltar, the contradictions between Spain and Morocco should also be pointed out. 

The Trump administration had recognised Moroccan rights over the disputed territory, while due to the norms of international law, the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara stands as an ambiguous question. However, the reaction of the Foreign Ministry of Spain followed immediately and one cannot but recall the situation and 2002 when the Moroccan police and the candidates of the naval school from the tiny island of Perihil were ousted by Spain using its force which is also the subject of a dispute between Rabat and Madrid.

The Gulf of Guinea

The centre of pirate activity has recently shifted to the Gulf of Guinea, while the coast of North East Africa was considered the most pirate-dangerous region in the world for the last 10-15 years. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 30 to 50% of the incidents that involved pirates have occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. The main target of robberies involved the kidnapping of ship crew members for ransom, oil tankers and containers.

The former colonial powers, the UK and France, have projected the greatest influence on the Gulf of Guinea basin countries. On the other hand, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Russia and the US have shown a keen interest in the region. For the right to become a donor of security for the area and ensure unhindered maritime navigation, a rivalry between the above states is possible.


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