Global trade is at risk: half of the 8 most important maritime “choke points” are in crisis

The dominion over the oceans goes through the control of 8 points of the Planet. There are 8 obligatory maritime passages called choke pointare watched by United States and allow the full functioning of the global tradewhich for the80-90% takes place right by sea, thanks to approximately 100,000 large cargo ships.

This balance, however, is increasingly precarious. For different reasons, in fact, the naval traffic through half of these points is in crisis: in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal due to conflicts in the Middle East, in the Panama Canal due to lack of water and in the Black Sea due to the Russian-Ukrainian war.

This risks causing the collapse globalization and to revolutionize geopolitical balances and world trade, also causing a price increase of all the goods we purchase every day.

The main 8 choke point world through which trade passes

Since ancient times, human beings have exploited the sea to trade and develop their civilizations and, even today, 80-90% of trade – if we consider the weight of goods – takes place via sea. The routes to move from one sea to another, however, are neither infinite nor free: they pass through some obligatory stretches and points called in English choke pointMeaning what “choking points”which in Italian we could call “bottlenecks”.

The 8s choke point most important for global trade routes are the Suez passagewhich connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, the Panama Canalwhich cuts Central America in two, lo Strait of Malaccain Southeast Asia, lo Strait of Hormuzbetween the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, lo Strait of Gibraltarpassing between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the pair Bosphorus And Dardanelleswhich allows the connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, lo Strait of Bab-el-Mandebbetween the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern tip of Africa. Then there are numerous choke point secondaries, including lo Strait of Sicilyfundamental for the Italian geopolitical strategy in the Mediterranean.

Choke points map

The dominion of the United States over choke point

From the eighteenth to the twentieth century it was theBritish Empire to dominate the seas and oceans of the world. More than a century ago, however, the United States of America they realized that they had all it takes to replace the United Kingdom. The USA, in fact, has one optimal position: they are located in the middle of Asia and Europe and overlook the largest oceans on the planet. During the first half of the twentieth century they increasingly extended their area of ​​influence and after the end of the Second World War they became a world power, also thanks to their ability to dominate seas and oceans and the decline of the British Empire.

Since then the USA has made sure that the sea routes are as short as possible safe and secure, primarily for their own interest. Directly or indirectly, they thus monitor the choke pointallowing the free navigation and the free trade and, therefore, allowing the process that we call “globalization”, that is, the economic, social and cultural integration between the various areas of the world. To do this, at or around all 8 major ones choke pointthe United States or its allies, including for example Italy, have some military bases support and a fleet or in any case reference boats.

Map of states with US bases in the world

Choke point in crisis, the current situation

The one just painted is it macro scenario, told in a concise manner. Macro scenario which, however, now it’s up for debate. In recent years, in fact, the natural and geopolitical balances of our planet are increasingly in crisis and, not surprisingly, this is having a strong impact on the normal functioning of at least half of the 8 choke pointwith knock-on effects that are still difficult to imagine.

Bab el-Mandeb and Suez and the Houthi attacks

The last pair of choking points to enter into crisis in chronological order is that constituted by the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal.

The conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas in October 2023 has expanded in various forms across the Middle East (fortunately not yet intensively), involving other countries in the region, such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. In particular, the Houthisa political and military group that controls the bulk of the Yementhe north-western and western one, which overlooks the Red Sea, started fromOctober 2023 to attack various ships directed to the Mediterranean and, in particular, to Israel.

Houthis

He did this, in simple terms, to support the Palestinian population and Hamas, calling for a ceasefire, to show himself as a valid and active geopolitical actor at an international level and to divert the attention of the local population from internal socio-economic problems. By carrying out these attacks, however, the Houthis damaged commercial naval traffic passing through the Red Sea – equal to 10% of global trade – sending two into crisis choke point.

In fact, many ships, even those not connected in any way to Israel, have changed course to avoid the danger of being hit. They then began to circumnavigate Africa, thus extending the trip by two weeks, with a significant increase in costs. This is producing a price growth of many of the goods we buy every day and damages Italian portswhich increasingly risk being left out of the most important trade routes.

Naval routes Asia Europe circumnavigation Africa

The United States they haven’t been watching. Together with others 8 countries they intervened and they are bombing Houthi military positions, both in support of Israel and above all to allow global trade to resume its normal course. Not only that, Italy and other European countries are also preparing a defense mission in the area. The Houthis, however, continue to reiterate that this will not stop them.

Bosphorus and Dardanelles and the Russian-Ukrainian war

At the same time, now since 2021another great war not far away, the conflict between Russia and Ukrainehas modified the normal naval traffic through the Straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. These two passages connect the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, they are controlled by the Türkiye, a member of NATO, and the passage within them is regulated by specific agreements. The Black Seahowever, at the moment, at least part of it, is the scene of clashes and is a disputed area, and this has significantly changed trade, for example that of wheat of Ukrainian origin.

Russia-Ukraine wheat agreement

Panama and the water crisis

Finally, thousands of kilometers away, even the Panama Canal has been in crisis for a few months. The artificial passage bisects Central America, connects the Atlantic and Pacific and sees the transit of approximately 5% of global trade. In this case, however, the cause of the crisis is not a war, but i climate changes and, in particular, a long period of record drought.

In a nutshell, in fact, the Canal is not entirely at sea level, but provides a system of gradients and locks which uses the pumping and release of fresh water to function. There water shortagehowever, is leading the Panamanian government to have to stop more and more boats that want to transit through the passage, leading many ships to change route, also in this case lengthening travel times and producing a significant increase in costs and final prices of goods.

Panama Canal map