Who’s Watching the Store?

In the past few weeks, the Egyptian government was overthrown, Iranian warships have been given permission to transit through the Suez Canal for the first time in 30 years, and Somali pirates attacked and killed American citizens aboard a private yacht near the Persian Gulf.

As one of the most heavily navigated waterways in the world and an integral link between the Middle East oil fields and the oil reliant Western Hemisphere, the Suez Canal is critically important for economic and political security.  While each one of these events would be enough to raise concerns about the stability of the canal, taken together they are a sign of destabilization that could have an immediate and widespread economic impact as well as the potential for long-term political repercussions.  With the continued social unrest in Egypt and the surrounding area including Bahrain, which serves as the home port to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, should the United Nations or the U.S. take temporary control of the waterway until a stabilized Egyptian government is in place?

2 comments

  1. What an interesting (and little discussed in the newspapers) perspective on the destabilization! I don’t think the U.S. has the resources, means, or support to intervene, and in so doing would only create more feelings of resentment within the population. The U.N. will not intervene until and unless the situation becomes one of critical need, and even then, I suspect, they would want support from the Chairman (as this has been nationalized). I think that the effect of the destabilization on shipping oil will decide to course of events here, and could induce a crisis similar to those of the past. This could provoke the United States or the United Nations to take a more proactive role.

  2. While the current climate in the Middle East and Northern Africa, taken together, are a “sign of destabilization,” the Suez Canal is a strategically important waterway for the U.S. and many other countries for trade and security purposes; it is the most direct water route from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Ocean.

    It may behoove the U.S. to take a more proactive role in the Suez. On March 2, 2011, two American warships entered the Suez Canal and were en route to the Mediterranean. While these ships are claimed to be for humanitarian relief and potential emergency evacuation purposes, given the current situation in Libya, these ships are called “small deck ships” and helicopters and small aircrafts are capable to take off from and land on the vessels. It is apparent that keeping the Suez open and relatively conflict free is important for reasons including security, the potential for needing to supply humanitarian relief, and emergency relief and evacuation given the present situation in Libya.

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