Asia’s Dire Straits


The Malacca Strait is one of the most important sea lanes in the world. It is also the most dangerous. More than 50 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through this waterway and more than 50,000 cargo ships travel these waters each year. With its 600 miles of waterway littered with countless coves, tributaries and dense thickets, the strait is extremely difficult to police. Little security is provided to protect vessels. Opportunities abound for terrorists and pirates to attack and destroy important cargo ships—a more foreboding threat since Sept. 11, 2001. Leading regional powers such as Japan and China are vulnerable if cargo and oil transportation through this strait is hindered.

This patch of ocean, which connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is also critical to America’s strategic, military, trade and economic interests. Terrorist groups know this. Earlier this year, aware of the potential for disaster, the U.S. indicated it would deploy American forces to provide security in the waterway. This option was quickly rejected by the largely Muslim nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. Malaysia’s defense minister stated that American troops or assets must not be allowed “to set foot” in the waterway. Washington responded by calling on the nations bordering the strait (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) to increase their own security and policing of the sea lane.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore held a ceremony in July marking the beginning of their coordinated efforts to police the strait. Although the U.S. will provide consultation and strategy, the tangible contribution of ships, troops and hardware will be provided by Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. This plan received support from other Asian nations.

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will all receive benefits from their efforts to secure this critical sea lane. Each country has the opportunity to increase its funds devoted to military spending. They all will be granted access to important U.S. intelligence concerning the region. Opportunities will arise for the respective nations’ militaries to be trained and educated in American security and policing practices. Also, because virtually every other Asian nation has a vested interest in the strait, the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore will receive support from fellow Asian countries. Leading nations in the region, such as China and Japan, will continue to monitor the policing of the strait and could likely provide financial, political and even military assistance if required.

Although the U.S. will continue to be involved with the security of the Malacca Strait, its influence in this region of the world has been consistently diminishing for some time now. While this is happening, smaller Asian nations are growing in influence and are drawing increasingly closer to the larger Asian countries. Asia is uniting, and the policing of the Malacca Strait is further proof of this trend.