The future of choke points
A choke point is defined as a point of congestion or blockage. We all encounter such disruptions going about our daily business – be that on the roads, in busy shopping malls or queueing in a coffee shop for our morning latte. But it is in the geopolitical context that they present a far more complex conundrum for governments and states.
As The National reported yesterday, a Chatham House report identifies 14 major choke points, the shipping lanes through which commerce courses, around the world. The London think-tank’s report also finds that only one of these choke points – the Strait of Gibraltar – has not seen a major disruption in the past 15 years, although the occasionally simmering row between UK and Spain over Gibraltar may one day upend that statistic.
It is, perhaps, this region’s misfortune (or good fortune) to be home to a number of critical points: the Suez Canal, a source of billions of dollars of revenue each year for the Egyptian government, is still, when it comes down to it, just a thin ribbon of water that remains vulnerable to terrorism. Bab Al Mandeb Strait between Yemen and Djibouti has regularly been preyed upon by pirates. Closer to home, Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 million barrels of oil are transited every day, is a keenly watched space. Over the years, governments have been able to mitigate some of the risks posed by choke points through policy and programmes. The UAE built an oil pipeline to Fujairah to reduce the number of oil shipments through the Strait.
But governments and states need to start thinking about choke points beyond the realms of sea and land as this week’s cyberattack on western Europe and last month’s WannaCry ransomware outbreak underscore. The choke points of the future are more likely to be identified as wherever clusters of sophisticated hackers reside or work. This week those places were Ukraine and Russia; last month the hack emanated from Asia. Previous hacks began in North Korea. The problem for policymakers is that digital choke points keep shifting. To keep track, policy must too.