Maritime trade and security

A common argument in favour of spending billions on a navy is that we depend on maritime trade for sustaining our wealth.
Well, actually much more of German exports and imports happen by air cargo than maritime shipping (measured in value, not mass, of course). Much of our trade by land came from or ends up at foreign ports such as Rotterdam, though.
It's also noteworthy that our trades would take a hit in the event of war regardless of whether and how well maritime trade was protected. Even the financial markets cramps of 2008/2009 greatly reduced trade globally.

But that's mere background noise to the central point I want to make: 
Maritime trade simply doesn't work the way it did up to the Second World War.

Back in 1930 a German-flagged ship would take in crates in an Asian port and the steam towards Hamburg with but a few stops to take new coals onboard (there were diesel-driven ships as well, of course). A naval blockade and a high seas submarine war against German trade were easily possible, even thousands of nautical miles away from Hamburg.
Today, a Panamanian-flagged container freighter would be loaded with containers in some Asian port, maybe have some unloaded and others taken in at some Arabian port, pass the Suez Canal, have containers unloaded and new ones loaded in some Mediterranean port, cruise to Le Havre, have containers unloaded and loaded at Le Havre, cruise to Rotterdam to have many containers unloaded and loaded and then keep going on.

Equivalently, in 1930 a German-flagged tanker may have depart from some Black Sea port after loading Caspian Sea crude oil, would cruise to Hamburg and unload. There was no really global oil trade. Nationally-anchored oil companies and even trade deals between governments ensured that but a small fraction of the global supply was really traded on markets. Much of the oil trade was rigged, locked up.

Nowadays a Barbados-flagged tanker might load crude oil in the Persian Gulf and set to cruise to Rotterdam, but while en route some new trade deal between brokers was finalised and the captain gets orders to change course to Marseille instead, and unloads 200,000 tons of crude oil there. There are traditional trade links in the oil business, but a huge share of the global oil trade is traded on a global crude oil commodity market.
The 'simple' trade schemes of 1930 are also representative of 1913, and they were still intricate and difficult enough that naval warfare in a mostly European war became the final straw (and excuse) for the United States to foolishly and pointlessly join the first World War.

The global trade logistics of today are incredibly much more complicated. It would be fairly possible to create a close blockade within maybe 1,000, or at most 1,500 nautical miles distance from European harbours, but even that would greatly infuriate many neutral nations.
To attempt a naval trade war against Europe in the Indian Ocean would guarantee that just about every major power world-wide that's still neutral would be infuriated. Even your allies may be infuriated by hit on their maritime trade.
A container ship in the Indian Ocean may have loaded 80% containers meant for Europe, but you cannot really frisk it, or it turns pointless once government-supported efforts conceal the origin and destination (even content) of containers. To sink that container ship would still sink 20% "wrong" containers, with exporter and importer infuriated.

It's similar with crude oil trade; you might intercept a ship that's meant for Europe, but unless you take it over as a prize that oil will be lost. That's like a reduction in global crude oil 'production', and would increase the prices because a global market is like a system of connected pipes. Still, a 'Barbadian' tanker captured in the Indian Ocean might officially be destined for Odessa, Ukraine and be re-routed to Rotterdam once in safe Mediterranean waters.

So how exactly would for example China wage global naval warfare against Europe? And if not China, who else? India? Same problems. Russia? All its European ports would be taken out b air strikes. Warships -submerged or not- would hardly be able to embark on a second war patrol, and the damage done on their first one would be tolerable.

- - - - -

My stance is that we need no warships to secure trade in the Red Sea. That's the job of the regional powers; Egypt and Saudi-Arabia. We don't need warships to secure trade in the Strait of Malacca. That's the job of the regional powers; Indonesia and Malaysia.

Frankly, a mere four ASW frigates and four AAW frigates aren't going to make a dent in any naval warfare plans for any at least semi-reasonable scenario. 
Even the ridiculously oversized U.S.Navy may boast that it protects world-wide trade, but if actually challenged it simply couldn't. Almost all its combat ships are needed to protect its supercarriers anyway. There's a reason why thousands of escorts were created in both World Wars; peacetime navies simply do not include enough escorts to protect oceanic trade.



  1. One question: Do you think that if Germany was at war, you can still ship artillery shells from South Africa (Rheinmetall Denel Munition (Pty) Ltd) to say Hamburg without escort, if needed?

    1. To block this trade one would either need to have a close blockade of Germany or South Africa or a thousands of km wide blockade in the Atlantic.

      A close blockade of Germany would be very dangerous in face of land-based assets.
      A navy that could maintain a blockade between Brazil and Guinea (with less than 50% of its ships patrolling that area) would be so large and powerful that 8 frigates and 4 submarines wouldn't matter against it. At most they could attrit this force and make the blockade a bit more leaky for a while.
      Capetown-Lissabon is a rather more relevant route, but the same applies.

      Fuzes from Denel could be imported by air freight.

  2. Ships are insured and are reported so since the Punic Wars. If hostilities are threatened, insurance goes up for certain destinations. That selects the composition of cargoes of ships and selects ships according to different rules, creating viable targets and non-targets. The partial transport of goods for neutrals and smuggling were always part of seaborne trade. Search and frisk would work at sea, even if it only catches a fraction, the insurance is affected.
    If two parties fight another tanker war, threatening their own supply drives up insurance and helps with a settlement. Naval warfare was historically connected with business intelligence. Driving up and down insurance rates and availability and prices of goods would be the game.
    The dimension of information exchange via sea cables and their economic value is not covered.
    How do space communication and air transport compare to sea transport and communication?
    Could air transport as a limited means work if it depends on fuel transport via sea?

    1. You ignored practically every thing I wrote here, so I won't bother repeating.

    2. I didn't ignore the content of the post, but I think the post ignored the insurance aspect of sea transport and sea transport as a critical components transport.
      The sea is the oldest network for information and goods. There are different modes to interact with this network. Tradionally, Germany was not very good at this network and is now part of an alliance that dominates the network, which has been expanded to different fields. Space is yet only useful for information. Air transport is useful for materials. Information travels via sea cables and materials via ships or pipelines. I consider fuel transport still the basic for everything that moves, so none would pose a challenge in the network without a secured own fuel supply.
      Germany doesn't make a dent now, but could if this turned a necessary investment, even if it was just about maintaining freedom of passage for neutrals. I consider a blue water navy challenge between new powers or new and old powers a likely way to settle disputes sometime. Under such circumstances, can the safety of the current supply situation in Germany be secured?

    3. Oh yes, you did ignore. A tanker that's in unsafe waters transports oil whose ultimate destination isn't determined yet. The ultimate destination is set once it's in safe waters. Insurance issues are irrelevant in this case.

      Containers can have their content info and destination faked for passage through unsafe waters where hostile naval raiders can be expected.
      Neither the captain nor the insurance will know the content or ultimate destination/actual origin for sure. 10% of the thousands of stacked containers are such covert ones, and even looking into the container would not necessarily reveal much. Hostile raiders would need to force the ship into port and search every container to properly search it. This angers other powers less, but still to some degree because it disrupts and slows down trade. Again, no reason to care about insurances.

      What you wrote about insurances was relevant for old style naval conflicts, hardly for naval conflicts in the modern context.

      A replay of the Persian Gulf tanker war would affect Europe, America and China almost equally, this doesn't necessitate European naval power either.
      BTW, it would have been better to allow Iran to defeat the aggressor Iraq this way. It would have been a political fast forward to 2010 in the 80's for Iraq. To help an aggressor survive the successful war strategy of his victim was a terrible decision.

  3. "A replay of the Persian Gulf tanker war would affect Europe, America and China almost equally, this doesn't necessitate European naval power either.
    BTW, it would have been better to allow Iran to defeat the aggressor Iraq this way. It would have been a political fast forward to 2010 in the 80's for Iraq. To help an aggressor survive the successful war strategy of his victim was a terrible decision."

    Because of hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. itself wouldn`t need Middle Eastern oil at least for one or two decades. Obama`s policy already reflect this in extreme way. If tanker war in Persian Gulf replays, don`t count on Americans.

    From the point of view of regional balance of forces, Iran`s victory in eightees would mean still the same problem as we see right now - there isn`t any balance, Iran wants to conquer "Shiite Crescent", change the demographic realities there (expell Sunnites from Iraq and at least from Southern Syria too), "liberate" Jerusalem, have a bomb. Somebody have to stop its expansion, somewhere. And diplomatic deals don`t work.

    1. American oil companies would charge higher prices for their fracked oil when the world market price for crude oil goes up due to a reduction of global supply or increases insecurity of global supply.
      The profits of such a price increase would stay in the U.S., but the rest of the economy would suffer from the ripple effects of more expensive oil.

      The price hike would thus affect the U.S. almost the same way as oil importing developing countries, hence my "almost equally".
      The worst-affected countries would be developing countries, which might even suffer huge losses of agricultural output in the medium term.

      I disagree about Iran. Its championship for Shiites abroad is reminiscent of Russian Imperial pan-slavism, but there's no indication that they consider conventional invasion as a relevant option. They sure have no track record of it; they didn't invade another country in many generations.

      It takes a good dose of belief in partisan rhetoric/propaganda to consider the multinational nuclear deal with Iran as anything but a huge success.

  4. There are now 30 000 - 60 000 Iranian soldiers and mercenaries in Syria only. Without them Assad would be dead or exiled already. Revolutionary Guards prouds itself with another at least 100 000 troops in foreign countries in region. Partisan rhetorics?

    Iran dosn`t intend to deliver, the whole JCPOA is for Teheran only the strategic equivalent of holding attack - and Teheran is leading flanking attacks everywhere already (Syria, Yemen).

    JCPOA helps make general Soleimani next "reformist" Iranian president, by the way.

    Not all what Obama`s critics from GOP said is necessary incorrect. German BND informed about Iranian nuclear misbehaving. As far as I know, BND still isn`t part of GOP.

    On the other side, Obama`s Rhodes produced almost Goebbelsian propaganda effort to push JCPOA against any critique. It was in fact "JCPOA or ground invasion of Iran" mantra.

    1. Iranians are in Syria to assist the Syrian government. That's no invasion and no aggression. It's what Westerners do habitually.

      It's impossible to correctly deny that the nuclear deal pushes Iran away from being able to create a nuke in months on their own.

      That deal was the maximum that could be hoped for when the sanctions began. Those who wanted sanctions to bully, not to compel, and would prefer a war of aggression against Iran launched fierce partisan rhetoric against the deal without having anything rational to complain about.
      That deal was the biggest success that great power gaming scored in the last 10-20 years.

  5. Iranians are in Syria not to help, but to rule there. See Russian complains that there is in fact nobody in the whole Syrian Arab Army to ally with and that they in fact have to leave the country until the end of the year.

    There is sectarian cleansing programme in place (expell Syrian Sunnites, bring in Iranian-paid Hazaras from Afghanistan and other Shiite colonists) in much the same way as in Iraq. But in Syria this is war against majority of nation.

    It takes one plane from DPRK or several years of effort to built Iranian nuclear bomb and nobody can do anything about it. It really dosn`t matter much if Iran has bomb tomorrow or in 2020.

    But you should let Putin and Assad kill Sunnites by thousands for years - because otherwise Teheran can stop JCPOA cooperation and Obama`s legacy will be in the gutter.

    1. You're making this up.
      Shi'ite factions (Hezbollah, Iran) are supporting Assad because Assad's regime (which is resting on the non-Sunni factions mostly) is preferable for the Shi'ites in Syria over rule by (partially extremist) Sunni rebels.

      Now stop making shit up in the comments here or your comment will be blocked. The very minimum is to back up such claims with supporting evidence.