Economic systems have a number of vulnerabilities that can cause catastrophic failures. Many of these vulnerable chokepoints are not on US soil. The US and its allies rely on trade routes across the world to maintian a complex specialized economy.
4th Generation Warfare excels as disrupting systems. Many terrorists try to disrupt values and political systems, which is more difficult. The more pragmatic militants hit the economic systems to cripple advanced nation states. Go for the Jugular.
There are two vulnerable chokepoints today: The Strait of Hormuz and the Straights of Malacca and Singapore.
The Straight of Hormuz is 34 miles across at its narrowest point. Up to 17 million barrels of oil, representing one-fifth of the world’s consumption, is shipped through the strait every day from Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Bahrain.
Iran may close the Straits of Hormuz. Iran could mine the straights and attack passing commercial ships. Any temporary shutdown of the straights would cause worldwide damage to the economy. The United States Navy and its Arab allies struggle to create the means to defend the chokepoint.
The Straights of Malacca and Singapore are another vital naval chokepoint. Roughly one quarter of sea trade flows through the Straights of Malacca, passing by poorly governed islands of Indonesia.
The financial crisis that crippled many of the “Asian Tigers” in 1997-8 afflicted Indonesia as well, with many unemployed men looking for money in the illegal sector. Piracy, drug smuggling, kidnapping and ransoming escalated, threatening not just Indonesia’s immediate neighbors, but the entire Pacific economy.
By the late 1990s, there were more than 100 pirate attacks per year, reaching a high of nearly 225 in 2000. Indonesia’s pitiful navy consisted of 20 ocean-worthy ships, supplemented by coastal patrol vessels. Due to its financial and political stress, the Indonesian government was incapable of creating a sufficient navy to secure thousands of islands. Indonesia’s status as a near-failing state allows criminals and rebellions to form unchecked, such as the Free Aceh movement. Ungoverned regions provide amble harbors for pirates to operate safely.
Quite seriously, any economic accord between developed nations, such as the US, Japan, China, and India, requires dealing with Indonesia. If the state fails completely, it can drag down advanced nation-states with it.
These two chokepoints will always be threatened by states like Iran and non-state actors. Arabian oil shipped to Japan, China and Australia would be particularly vulnerable in the narrow passageways. A few large terrorist attacks, or increased amounts of piracy could partially close these chokepoints. Alternative routes are not attractive either. The Proposed canal and land bridges in Thailand run through a province with an active Islamist rebellion. Overland oil pipelines would cross through the failed and weak states of Central Asia, which unsurprisingly, face numerous Islamist rebellions themselves.
The point is, at some time during the trade, advanced nation-states encounter failed states and attacks by non-state actors. The well-trained and inspired non-state actors will attack economic junctions and hubs that can ruin the way of life in the West and East Asia. We would be unable to sustain a complex specialized economy if our supply of overseas natural resources is severed.
The only way to defend these chokepoints is to go on land to secure the regions and destroy non-state militants before they strike. This we cannot do if some only insist on defending home territory – which is the least vulnerable point.