War and Oil - The Pipeline Politics
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Issue Vol 24.2 Apr-Jun2009 | Date : 16 Feb , 2012

Choke Points

In case India goes in for sea routes of transit, then it must also factor in the Choke Points, en route. Choke points are narrow channels along widely used global routes. They are a critical part of global energy security due to the high volume of oil traded through their narrow straits.

  • Strait of Hormuz. Connects Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Is the worlds most important oil choke point due to its daily outflow of 16.5–17 million barrels, roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil.
  • Strait of Malacca. Located between Indonesia–Malaysia and Singapore, links the India Ocean to the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean. Is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf supplies to China, Japan, Indonesian and South Korea. Is the key chokepoint in Asia with an estimated 15 million bbl/ day flow.

The Way Forward

Analysts have proposed that Indian strategic petroleum reserve should also encompass a regional facility in cooperation with Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This would not only tie the economies of these smaller countries with India but also confirm Indian centrality in South Asia. However, in the present context with the levels of suspicion, between these countries, this is unlikely to happen. Again on Apr 06, the US had put forth the proposal for an electricity grid stretching from Central to South Asia. This power grid was to be fed by gas and oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and hydropower from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to supply Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Such a move would expand India’s influence in Central Asia.

India has also proposed the formulation of an Asian Gas Grid, which would expand the IPI gas pipeline to southern China. Such a move reduces US’s geopolitical influence in the region. This can also be seen in the light of the proposal to include China in IPI and TAPI pipelines, with or without Indian participation. Another strong proposal for consideration is to extend the Siberia–China gas pipeline to India. India could look at swap alternatives that would allow China to access India’s oil and gas in Sakhalin in eastern Russia in exchange for gas deposits at Xinjiang in to western China.

Though longer and more expensive, the Baku–Ceyhan pipeline free of geopolitical tensions, maybe a good option. The other reasonable option could be CAR–Afghan (Zaranj)–Chabahar (Iran) pipeline, under the present circumstances. However, it could run into jeopardy due to adverse changes in Afghanistan. The Indo-US Nuclear deal will be able to provide assured supply of Uranium for India’s nuclear power plants, but can also be seen as a step to wean away India from growing Russian influence through energy. The straits of Hormuz and Malacca are the strategic choke points to ensure smooth supplies of oil and gas to India. India’s maritime capability needs to be geared to meet this challenge.


In its critical phase of economic consolidation, India will have to depend on oil, notwithstanding the advantage accruing out of the recently concluded Nuclear energy deal with the US. Keeping the geopolitical dynamics in mind, India will have to seriously consider the sea transit route either or both through the Persian Gulf and Red sea for its oil pipelines. It will need to work on Myanmar and Bangladesh, and Russia and China, to allow pipelines through these corridors, as well. For the land routes through Pakistan, it may have to adopt a wait and watch policy for relations to stabilize. But with China pressurizing Iran and Pakistan, to expedite the pipeline with or without India, it may be a case of missed opportunity.

Needless to say, if India goes in for the sea routes for its pipelines, the importance of a modern blue water Navy cannot be underscored, especially in light of the recent forays by Chinese warships in the Arabian Sea. The ‘Great Energy Game’ must form a key strategic driving force in the decades to come. However, the growing competition over scarce energy resources is not necessarily destabilizing. A disruption of supplies anywhere would translate into higher prices everywhere. Therefore, every consuming state is equally vulnerable to the effect of such shocks. As such, all states have a stake in avoiding conflict.

Competition over energy resources can actually be beneficial by developing new markets and providing advanced new exploration and exploitation techniques, which ultimately contribute to increased energy supplies. Revolution in energy technologies (super conductivity, solar energy and electric energies), may profoundly change the dynamics of global energy security. Alternative energy may reduce demand on hydro–carbon fuels and minimize the risks of confrontation on this issue, considerably. The Central Asian Region has emerged as the new frontier for oil and gas exploration. China is moving aggressively to spread its influence in the region. The recent moves by the US to connect Central Asia to SE Asia through gas and electricity grids would benefit India by opening up new sources of energy and also increasing Indian influence in the region.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rohit Singh

Rohit Singh is a Research Assistant at the Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)

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