The Middle East may soon feel India’s growing power

THE Bush Administration’s serial blunders in the Middle East 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.

By Eric Margolis

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Published: Sun 11 Mar 2007, 8:07 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:19 AM

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 nine per cent 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 clamouring 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 per cent of its oil. India’s imports account for 3.2 per cent of world oil imports; China’s 7.6 per cent; the US 25 per cent; and Europe 26 per cent.

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 ‘brown water’ coastal force to a true ‘blue-water’ 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 as 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 Middle East with those of the region’s hegemon, the United States. In fact, it is surprising that India has been so slow to recognise that its national security will demand a deeper involvement in the Gulf and greater Middle East. 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 Middle East 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 S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun

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