An Indian Surprise for the US

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The Mideast and India’s Growing Power

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

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The Bush Administration’s serial blunders in the Mideast have not only seriously undermined American influence over the region, they have opened the way for new, emerging superpowers to vie for its energy resources.

Energy security has become the primary and most immediate strategic concern of Asia’s two rising giants, India and China. The Middle East will soon feel the full force of this growing competition.

China’s and India’s blazing 9% plus economic growth rate has pushed them well beyond their original estimates of energy needs, and is even causing tightening supplies in certain sectors. As a result, alarm bells are ringing in Delhi and Beijing and an urgent, often unseemly scramble for new sources of oil is under way.

Last fall, I attended the Chinese-African summit in Beijing, the culmination of a masterful campaign by China to lock up a large chunk of Africa’s energy and mineral resources. China, which efficiently integrated its energy and military policies, used financial and military aid, and a lot of flattering personal diplomacy, to secure oil concessions in Africa and Asia.

Indian officials in Delhi and the business community here in Bombay/Mumbai are deeply worried China may soon have secured all available remaining oil supplies not already controlled by the United States. They are clamoring for action to secure energy supplies for India to assure its continued economic growth and expanding military power.

India’s modest domestic oil production has been waning, forcing it to import 70% of its oil. India’s imports account for 3.2% of world oil imports; China’s 7.6%; the US 25%; and Europe 26%.

India, quite clearly, is being left way behind in the stampede to secure energy supplies. Its oil imports will need to double by 2030 from the current 2.4 million bbls daily to sustain growth. By that year, China’s imports will also double and reach 12 million bbls daily.

Since most of this oil will originate from the Gulf or Indonesia, both Asian superpowers are rushing to deploy deep-water naval forces to protect their oil lifelines, just as the US has done since World War II.

China is building a fleet of modern attack submarines, some of them nuclear-powered, adding missile-armed surface combatants, and extending the range of its land-based naval aviation. The People’s Navy has gone from being a weak u201Cbrown wateru201D coastal force to a true u201Cblue-wateru201D navy that could even challenge the US 7th Fleet in a clash over Taiwan.

But China is unable to project naval power westward through the Strait of Malacca into the vast Indian Ocean and to the Gulf due to its lack of bases and air cover. Here, India holds a major advantage.

India’s modern aircraft carrier, long-ranged shore-based aviation, and modern, Russian-supplied attack submarines and frigates armed with deadly cruise missiles will give India maritime dominance over the entire Indian Ocean from the coast of East Africa to Australia. Only the US Navy could challenge India’s sway over the Indian Ocean.

But China’s securing of port rights in Burma, warm relations with East African states, and expanding influence in energy-rich Central Asia, worries India. At the same time, India’s surging naval power has deeply alarmed Pakistan, whose oil lifeline through the port of Karachi could be quickly severed by an Indian naval blockade.

Having come late to the Monopoly-like game of grabbing as many key oil properties as possible, India is now racing to make up for lost time. Being a democracy prone to debilitating party politics and infighting, India cannot operate with the ruthless strategic efficiency and speed of Communist China, but it knows time is running short.

What this means is that some time soon, India’s strategic energy and political interests are going to start actively competing, if not openly colliding, in the Mideast with those of the region’s hegemon, the United States. In fact, it is surprising that India has been so slow to recognize that its national security will demand a deeper involvement in the Gulf and greater Mideast. While India’s strategists are well aware of this fact, its politicians have been slow to understand just how dependant their growing economy will become on imported oil.

India’s surging economy and military will need access to Arab and Iranian oil which, after all, is almost next-door. Thanks to Washington’s self-destructive Mideast policies, this door is now open to India.

The five-way contest between the US, India, Japan, Europe, and China for Asia and Africa’s energy resources promises to be fascinating. Welcome to the new Great Game.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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