Ever since Marco Polo made the first ‘modern’ trading route to the Orient, there have been those who wanted faster, safer, and cheaper ways to get goods to and from Asian markets.
When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, this created the first enormous leap forward, shortening the trip from Asia to Europe by over 4,000 miles.
And now the Russians and Chinese have shown interest into a year-round northern sea route, one that could cut an additional 12 days of travel off of the current Suez Canal route.
Not Just Economic Costs at Issue
A northern sea route would be under direct Russian foreign policy oversight for most of its route. This has serious advantages over the Suez Canal route.
Piracy in both Indonesia and off the Horn of Africa has been serious threats to all shipping in the region. While only affecting half of one-percent of the total ships passing through the Suez Canal route, it still represents huge losses economically, politically, and socially.
The Chinese Navy has been active since 2008 in combating the piracy off the Horn of Africa, making itself a major player in piracy interdiction in the region.
A northern sea route eliminates this need, though leaving Mother Nature as the most significant ‘enemy’ to deal with.
But this also eliminates having to send precious cargo through current and potential ‘political powder-kegs,’ forcing both the Russians and Chinese to be entangled in protecting their trading routes.
In particular, India is a significant wildcard politically. As India continues to grow in power, no one really knows how it will align in the region — and its control over shipping in the Indian Ocean could become significant.
From the Russian perspective, any boost in northern trade would help their eastern warm-water ports, as well as increase the importance of the northern sea ports in Murmansk.
A Political and Economic Ace Against U.S. Trading
This northern route, presumably a Russian and Chinese-only pact, represents a significant attempt at breaking the trading power of the United States by opening up a new exclusive trading route.
But it also strengthens both Moscow’s and Beijing’s ability to negotiate at the P5+1 framework — if Europe increasingly benefits from the cheaper trade with China and Russia.
This is statesmanship at its finest, increasing global political power without bullying.
What has America Done to Hold Its Place in the World
Unfortunately, one of the worst ways to define a nation’s might is by how many bombs it can drop–and even at that, the U.S. is running out of its stockpile.
We are quickly losing our bargaining power at the P5+1, most notably in recent Iran negotiations on lifting sanctions.
While we need military strength, we also need to develop trading partnerships, encouraging cooperation with our allies and finding new friends on the world stage.
Our next president will have to deal with these realities. Billion-dollar carriers and bombs will not be the most significant answer — will the next president actually be able to make true political advances without being the neighborhood bully?