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close this bookConflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (UNU, 1990, 256 pages)
close this folder4. International conflict over marine resources in South-East Asia: trends in politicization and militarization
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document4.1 Present and future conflict over marine resources
View the document4.2 Common threads in the pattern of conflict
View the document4.3 Conflict
View the document4.4 New directions for co-operation
View the document4.5 Progressive management concepts
View the documentReferences

4.3 Conflict

Environmental protection can be used as a rationale for siting or resiting of sea lanes. For example, Malaysia explained its denial of overflight of the Malacca Strait to the British Airways Concorde as a desire to prevent the sonic boom from disturbing spawning fish (Jaafar and Valencia, 1985). Where vulnerable and valuable marine resources coincide with pollution or the threat of pollution, specially protected areas might be established and sea lanes consequently diverted or substituted, to the consternation of maritime powers. In the Philippines, such areas could include the Palawan Passage route, which passes through islands containing pristine mangrove forests, major sea turtle nesting areas, endangered crocodile species and dugong, and the Sibitu Passage, which cuts directly through one the world's major sea turtle nesting areas as well as mangrove forests, coral reefs, and two marine reserves.

In Indonesia, each of the major normal routes for tankers passes near valuable and vulnerable resources; for example, the Malacca Singapore straits route passes by areas of high (>1.000 kg/sq. km) fisheries catch, extensive mangroves, and marine reserves; the Karimata Strait route passes by coral reefs and sea turtle nesting sites on Belitung and extensive mangrove forests on Kalimantan; and the Java Sea portion passes through areas of high fishing intensity.

Economic Aspects

The concentration of commodity production and the long distances between the user and the sources make many of the Asia-Pacific sea lines of communication (SLOCs) vital to the region's economies. Traffic through strategic straits in South-East Asia could be interrupted by mines or obstacles to navigation placed within them. Sea lanes in South-East Asia are especially important because they serve as potential choke points for a significant share of world trade in this region. For example, much of Indonesian oil production from Sumatra is fed into refineries and tanker ports on the Malacca Strait. If the Strait were interdicted, much of Indonesia's export earnings would be lost, and Japan would lose 16 per cent of its oil supply and a significant share of its LNG imports. The cutoff of oil to Japan would have a secondary economic impact on its major trading partners, including Indonesia and the United States. Singapore's economy would be virtually shut down. Singapore, with its oil refineries and tanker ports, serves as an outlet for some Malaysian oil exports, and thus interdiction of the Malacca Strait would severely impact Malaysia's economy as well. As for secondary effects (Table 4 5). interdiction of sea oil movements between Indonesia
and Singapore and other ports world-wide could reduce Australia's GDP by 8.1 per cent in the third year and Japan's GDP by about 5 per cent in the first two years with severe secondary impact for Australia (Fabric, 1983).

TABLE 4.5 - Effects of Sea-lane Blockage1,2

To San Francisco via Malacca/ Singapore Strait Outside 200-nmi Regime Difference
Per Barrel Cost (US$) 1.13 1.48 0.35
Total Annual Costs3 (US$ million) 206 270 64
Non-discounted Costs 1976-2000 (US$ million) 5,510 6,750 1,240

From South-East Asia to Japan, the United States, and Europe
(For Oil from Indonesia/Singapore to the Rest of the World)4

Trading Partners

Percentage Drop in Real GDP

Secondary Impacts on Other Major Trading Partners
1983 1984 1985
United States 0.4 (0.6) 0.8 (1.1) 1.0 (0.3) Minimal
Japan 1.6 (4.9) 6.5 (4.9) 7.1 (2.4) Varying-severe to minimal
Belgium 1 6 (0.7) 2.5 (1.4) 2.5 (1.3) Minimal

1Assuming all trips are made in 250,000-d.w.t. tankers at 1973 charter hire rates and bunker fuel is priced at US$70/ton.
2From D. B. Johnson and D. E. Logue (1976), 'U.S. Economic Interests in Law of the Sea Issues', in R. C. Amachen and R.J. Sweeney (eds.), The Law of the Sea: U.S. Interests and Alternatives, Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
3Assuming 2.0 million bbl/day to Atlantic and 0.5 million bbl/day to the Pacific coast.
4From R. C. Fabrie (1983), 'SLOC Security-Economic Impact', paper presented at the 1983 Pacific Symposium, Washington, DC, National Defense University.

Even the re-routeing of maritime traffic, particularly oil tankers, can be expensive. For example, the diversion from the Malacca to the Lombok Strait of all tankers on the Middle East-Japan route could cost importers over US$100 million per year (Das, 18 March 1977: 82-3). In addition, such diversions could affect the location of ship repair, refining, and finance industries, and could, in this specific example, seriously adversely affect Singapore's economy and possibly benefit that of other countries bordering the new route. An alternative to re-routeing might be the up-grading of tankers, which is equally expensive.

Strategic Considerations

A major ASEAN initiative for peace, freedom, and neutrality may be in the works, incidentally affecting the use of the strategic straits and sea lanes for nuclear-armed submarines and aircraft (Valencia, 1985b). In 1976 ASEAN declared its intention to make the region a zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality (ZOPFAN). As a start for ZOPFAN, an ASEAN standing committee endorsed a nuclear weaponfree zone in the area controlled by ASEAN's six members (Far Eastern Economic Review, 27 September 1984: 13).

A nuclear-free zone in South-East Asia could in theory ban nuclear weapon-bearing US and Soviet surface vessels, submarines, and aircraft from the strategic straits in the region. This possibility places ZOPFAN and policies on sea-lane siting and strait access at the top of the real politic agenda. Even advance notice or monitoring of such traffic would erode the strength of the US nuclear deterrent. Much to the dismay of the United States, Indonesia temporarily closed the Sunda and Lombok straits in late September 1988 for what it said was live firing exercises.

Nuclear-armed and -powered submarines, aircraft carrying nuclear bombs, and nuclear missiles comprise the triad of US and USSR nuclear strike capability. In order to attack or defend against a nuclear submarine, its location must of course be known. Indeed, the United States maintains that the vulnerability of its nuclear missile-armed submarines (the Poseidon/Trident fleet) and hence their indispensable role in a second-strike depends on their ability to pass through straits and sea lanes submerged, unannounced, undetected. Four of 16 strategic straits in the world which are important to the mobility of the US fleet to reach target areas are in South-East Asia-Malacca, Lombok, Sunda, and Ombai-Wetar. But only the Indonesian straits of Ombai-Wetar and Lombok are physically and politically usable by submerged submarines.

The United States currently has an advantage because the important straits states are friendly to the United States, and because most Soviet submarines leaving port must pass through the Straits of Japan or between Iceland alla Norway where they are detected and targeted. Effective denial of military overflight over key straits and sea lanes would seriously impair the utility of the US strategic bombing force as a deterrent. Also, in a war between the Soviet Union and China, the Soviet Union would have to resupply its Far Eastern front by sea through the South East Asian region on a time-critical basis. Extension of jurisdiction over straits thus gives a small group of straits states considerable strategic significance and the opportunity to exercise enhanced political leverage (Valencia and Marsh, 1985: 543).

However, US deployment of naval and air forces in ocean space will not ultimately depend on the agreed or claimed territorial sea boundaries of coastal states or on the national positions and international laws and treaties governing passage through or over international straits. The imposition of restrictions on straits by littoral states is apt to be a far more important impediment to surface naval mobility and the shipping of oil and other resources than to the US underwater strategic nuclear force.

Superpower Militarization in the Marine Region

During the post-Vietnam era, the United States withdrew from the Asian land mass and consolidated its defence positions offshore on the Pacific rim. The US forward deployment network now stretches from Japan to Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Station in the Philippines, to Diego Gareia, and thence to East Africa and the Middle East. The US Pacific Fleets (the Third and Seventh) have 87 warships, 6 carriers, 44 attack submarines, and 10 strategic missile submarines. There has been a corresponding build-up of Soviet military power in the Pacific and Indian oceans: the Soviet Pacific Fleet has 87 warships, 1 carrier, 80 attack submarines, and 30 strategic missile submarines. In each of 1981 and 1982 an average of three Soviet warships, including nuclear-powered submarines, passed through the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. Only one US submarine used the strait in the same period, but an average of 7 to 8 US warships per month did so, for a total of 87 (including 11 carriers) compared to 42 for the USSR.

Vietnam provides the Soviet Union with a strong defence outpost to support Soviet naval operations in the Indian Ocean. Being a forward base, Cam Ranh Bay's value to the Soviet navy lies primarily in its proximity to several economic and political-military centres of consequence-China, Subic Bay, the ASEAN states, the Indian Ocean, and the Malacca and Indonesian straits (Martin da Cunha, 1986). The Soviets have taken to showing the flag in the region for political effect. A four-ship flotilla appeared in the Gulf of Thailand in November 1980, and a lone cruiser appeared off the Singapore waterfront in February 1983. The Soviet naval presence exhibits its solidarity with Vietnam and challenges ASEAN (Martin da Cunha, 1986). This increases the importance of military alliances to the United States, because the US Seventh Fleet is effective between Japan and the Persian Gulf only through its network of defence treaties and alliances in the region. Yet, the physical surveillance and protection of the sea lanes are beyond the present capability of regional states. The United States is pressuring Japan to shoulder responsibility for defending shipping lanes up to 1,000 nmi from Tokyo so that the United States can focus its attention on other areas. Although ASEAN countries have increased their defence allocations, this only allows limited local patrolling. For these reasons, the United States has been strengthening its military co-operation with the ASEAN nations, and attempting to organize a de facto combined fleet so that the annual pan-Pacific combined exercise by the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia will gradually expand US military strength in the area. For example, the loss of Subic and Clark bases in the Philippines would greatly increase the strategic value of the SouthEast Asian straits for projection of US military power into the Gulf. China is also expanding its naval activities in the South China Sea and beyond, and has undertaken a 'passing exercise' there with the US Navy (Intelligence, Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 January 1986).

The Military Role of Marine Scientific Research

Submerged-launch ballistic missile (SLBM) submarines are of extreme strategic importance in the Soviet-US arms race, and thus control of the deep waters through seabed detection and possibly attack devices could become the crucial factor in a great-power conflict. This control will be achieved through marine scientific research. The information gathered by research vessels in coastal states' EEZs may be used to their detriment, or the research activity may be a subterfuge to mask the acquisition of military or resource information.

According to UNCLOS, marine scientific research is supposed to be conducted exclusively for peaceful purposes (UN, 1982: Article 240) and, in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, only with the consent of the coastal state (UN, 1982: Article 246). Although in normal circumstances, coastal states are supposed to grant their consent for marine scientific research projects by other states or competent international organizations in their EEZ or on their continental shelf, they can withhold their consent if that project is of direct significance to the exploration and exploitation of living or nonliving natural resources or if it is for non-peaceful purposes.

Western and Soviet efforts have dominated oceanographic research in South-East Asia (Valencia and Evering, 1983). Notwithstanding the consent regime, it is likely that Western efforts will continue to dominate marine science exploration in South East Asia, although now under the guise of international institutions and 'cooperation' with or 'assistance' to indigenous institutions. This subterfuge is assisted by the fact that the numerous international organizations with marine science interests operating in the region are not indigenously derived, developed, funded, or directed and comprise both extra-ASEAN and extra-South China Sea states. These organizations include the Indo-Pacific Fisheries Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization; the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC); the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM); the UNDP Project on Regional Offshore Prospecting in East Asia; and a new Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (lOC)-sponsored body, the Programme Group for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC), which includes the South China Sea within its geographical terms of reference. In addition, several specialized

UN agencies whose terms of reference include marine scientific problems have offices in the region-for example, the UNESCO Regional Office for Science and Technology for Southeast Asia in Jakarta, the UN Environment Programme Regional Office in Bangkok, and the relevant divisions of ESEAP (e.g. Natural Resources).

Regional Militarization of Ocean Space

Extended jurisdiction and expectations of resources and territory to be protected arouses among these newly independent countries emotions of nationalism, which, in combination with alliances with superpowers, leads to militarization. Figure 4.9 schematically summarizes the areas of enforcement concern, geographically and by activity (Olson and Morgan, 1985). Prime fishing areas requiring protection are found in Philippine, Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian waters. 'Smuggling' is significant in the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea, the Natuna area, Sabah waters, the Celebes and Sulu seas, western Philippine waters, the Bashi channel, and the Arafura Sea. The Strait of Malacca has high pollution potential from shipping. Major oil exploration and production areas requiring protection are found off North-west Palawan; off Sabah, Brunei, and Sarawak; in the Natuna area; off the east coast of the Malay Peninsula; and in the Gulf of Thailand. Refugees fleeing Vietnam are also an enforcement concern for littoral states. Piracy is endemic in the region and has been undergoing a resurgence in the Malacca and Singapore straits, the Bangka Strait, and in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas. Some pirates view their booty as tolls (Asiaweek, 27 May 1988: 26-9). These enforcement functions are additional to the classic naval missions of protecting national territory against enemies and keeping critical sea lanes open and, in South-East Asia, controlling piracy, smuggling, and rebellion.

Table 4.6 summarizes the capabilities of the South-East Asian navies and the fleets of China and Taiwan (Morgan, 1983). China's navy is the world's largest if measured in terms of the number of ships, but it is mostly composed of small vessels. Chinese naval strategy is primarily defensive, designed to protect the mainland from attack by an aggressor. The Taiwanese forces have as their primary mission protection of the island against attack from the Chinese mainland.

Brunei's small but powerful fleet protects its ports and oil resources. Burma has a fleet designed primarily to protect its fisheries. Indonesia's present navy could prevent enemy ships from interfering with its trade routes; moreover, the country's aerial marine reconnaissance capability is considerable and growing.

Figure 4.9 South-East Asia: Areas of Concern in Enforcement.

Source: Boeing Commercial Airplane Company (1982), EEZ Management and Control, November, Seattle, ASEAN Regional Application.

TABLE 4.6 South-East Asian Navy Fleets

  SSN SS CVL DD FF/PF Escorts Fast Attack Patrol Craft Mine Craft Landing
M G T P L C R L S(O) S(C) Ships Craft
Brunei           3         3 3          
Burma       1 4       30 3 6 41          
China1 2 102 12 16   207 372 255 28 21 7 110   23 80 40 469
Indonesia   4   10   4   2 1 5 8       4 1 14 62
Kampuchea                     15 25          
Malaysia       2   8 6     25         2 3  
Philippines       7 10         I 5 59         31 71
Singapore           6 6               2 6  
Taiwan   2   23 10 3 2   9   10       14 4 22
Thailand         6   6     21 21 40     14 28 22
Vietnam2         6 2 8   9 6 6 3   1   7  

Source: J.E. Moore, ed., Janes' Fighting Ships (1982-3 edition), New York: Janes' Publishing Co.
Legend: FF = fast frigate. PF = patrol frigate. M = missile. G = gun. T = torpedo. P = patrol. L = large. C = coastal. R = river. S(O) = minesweeper (ocean). S(C) = minesweeper (coastal). SSN = nuclear submarine. SS = diesel submarine. CVL = light aircraft carrier. DD = destroyer.
1Figures represent entire Chinese fleet. Many units do not operate in the South China Sea, but the South Sea Fleet has about 300 ships, the East Sea Fleet (Taiwan Strait) about 600 ships.
2Figures are for operational units only. Vietnam is estimated to have 866 additional non-operational craft, 560 of which are small river patrol boats captured from the former South Vietnamese navy and US forces.

Kampuchea's navy consists of 40 patrol craft, all of small to moderate size and limited capabilities; most are not operational. The Malaysian navy must maintain lines of communication between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah/Sarawak, prevent a foreign power from closing the Malacca Strait or interfering with shipping through it, and protect offshore oil terminals like Pulai and its claimed and occupied islands, e.g. Terumbu Layang-Layang, in the South China Sea.

The age of its fleet, its disrepair, and the small size and light armament of most of the vessels make the Philippine navy the least effective of the ASEAN member navies. However, the United States, with its important naval base at Subic Bay and air base at Clark, has an equal need to keep sea lanes in the archipelago open; thus some Philippine navy functions are being carried out by the United States. The Singapore fleet is small but powerful for its size and capable of keeping the sea lanes in its vicinity open.

Thailand has coastlines and claimed waters in both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, and therefore needs a large patrol force to maintain adequate surveillance. Although the navy is designed primarily for patrol duties, the fleet is numerically inadequate for its tasks. Vietnam's present active navy numbers 48 ships, but since the country has a long coastline and claims an EEZ second only in size to Indonesia's and the Philippines', the size of the Vietnamese navy appears inadequate to patrol its marine area effectively, let alone conduct any offensive operations against other countries in the region. However, it is being improved with assistance from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union maintains a naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, and Kompong Som, Kampuchea, and air bases at Da Nang, Vietnam, and Xieng Khoung, Laos.

Figure 4.10 shows the locations of naval and air bases in the region. Most bases are occupied by the forces of the host nation. Most of the Indonesian navy is based at Surabaya, with additional bases at Belawan. Medan, Renai, Tanjungpinang, and Ambon. Except for the small base at Ambon, all of eastern Indonesia is without support facilities for its naval fleet. Similarly, the Philippines bases most of its naval units at Langley Point, and only Zamboanga is used to support ships operating in the southern islands. Burma, with its small fleet, has naval bases at Sittwe, Bassein, Moulmein, and Mergui, spaced roughly evenly along the long coastline. Thailand's bases at Bangkok and Songkhla and the partially operational Andaman Sea base at Ban Thap Lamu are poorly equipped to support the fleet. Malaysia needs additional base facilities, since the two naval bases at Pasir Gudang and Labuan are widely separated. China, with six bases on the South China Sea coast, has good facilities to support the hundreds of small ships in its navy. Bases at Tsoying, Kaohsinng, and in the Peseadores are likewise adequate for the naval units of Taiwan.

Figure 4.10 South-East Asia: Naval and Air Bases.

Source: J. R. Morgan (1983), Defence', in Morgan and Valencia, eds., Atlas for Marine Policy in Southeast Asian Seas, P 54.

There has been an impressive array of bilateral defence exercises among ASEAN members, and although ASEAN members have never considered the organization to be a defence alliance, there have been intermittent pressures to turn ASEAN into a military pact. In addition to, or perhaps in response to US preferences, Singapore has called for greater ASEAN military co-operation to meet the threat of the Soviet Union in the region (Far Eastern Economic Review, 6 September 1984: Il) and the United Kingdom has called for increased military co-operation with ASEAN. Further, Singapore has recently offered military facilities to the United States.