• BCSS Staff

How influential is a nation’s geography in the development of their Maritime Strategy?

We will begin by highlighting the importance of geography from an academic perspective and outline other factors that need to be addressed that can aid a nation in drafting maritime strategy that is relevant to its overall grand strategy. The examples that will be briefly discussed are Egypt’s 1956 Suez Canal Crisis and Iran’s 2011 blocking of the Hurmuz strait. The relationship of geography to the maritime strategy will be illustrated to portray the level of influence geography has had on critical decision makers. From these case studies, one observes that sea control has a direct influence not only on regional nations that are physically connected to a given geography but also on nations on the other side of the world. Geography plays a key part in the development of a nation’s maritime strategy. It also expands to influence other parts of policy such as defence, politics and economics. Geography is physical is and not abstract in nature. Therefore, understanding the good and bad influence it can have on strategy vital when it comes to developing strategy that is relevant to the world we live in today.

Firstly, before exploring our examples in detail, it is acknowledged that some strategies “such as defence, maritime, economic and political” can be interconnected. Geography is a very influential factor but is limited by the factors that were mentioned previously. For example, Iran’s exercise of blocking off the Hormuz strait is a classical example of deterrence based strategy by denying the opponent access to its waters. [1]

Hurmuz Strait, SOURCE: Googlemaps

It is a defence strategy that has a directly negative impact the commerce of other nations as the blockade will cut-off oil supply to the nations who rely on Iran to source this vital commodity the most. These factors combine together to influence Iran’s political stance in the region. [2]

Secondly, the example looked at how Iran’s has exploited geography to its own leverage but it is also wise to note that geography alone is not the only determining factor of a nation’s maritime strategy. For example, the physical choke-point of the Hormuz strait has no inherent value. However, the understanding of this geography and having the right strategies in place to help in effectively blocking off the straight is the act that can benefit or harm a nation.[3]

In summary, we can state that geography is quite influential on maritime strategy but its effectiveness is also tied in with a wider range of strategies and policies.

The Suez Canal has strategically influenced maritime strategy due to its direct influence on trade and defence. This 160km stretch of water is of great significant to the Egyptian nation and the global community. European nations and even the Americas see it as a vital trade route. In essence, it is the the shortest sea route to the Indian Ocean. In the past, traders would have had to go all the way around the African continent before embarking on their long journey to the east. The Suez Canal eliminates this problem by granting access through the Red Sea via the Mediterranean. This ultimately reduces both the cost and length of the journey for a given vessel.[4] It is also important to note that the Suez Canal leads to the Red Sea which is also connect to the strategic choke-point of Bab- Elmandab which is another key point of interest.

Suez Canal, SOURCES: &

Since its commissioning in the 1880s France and Britain had significant stakeholder ownership of the canal. In order to loosen the grip on these strategic waters, the world powers at the time including Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Ottoman and Russian Empires all signed the Convention of Constantinople in 1888. According to Article 1, the treaty guaranteed passage to all ships during times of war and peace. [5]

The influence of this geography on maritime strategy and policy was also evident when former Egyptian President, Jamal Abdunnasir took steps to nationalize the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 was an attempt by Israel, France and Britain to take control of the Canal and oust the Egyptian President. The American involvement later on not only did prevent the conflict from escalating, it proved that states do have vested interests in the region that needed to be protected. This act of restoring peace to canal ultimately helped boost the Egyptian President’s image in the Middle East.[6]

The waters of the Persian Gulf have a very significant impact on global trade and security and have been very influential on Iran’s defence and maritime strategies. This was clearly demonstrated during the 2011-2012 tensions in the Hormuz Strait. An international reaction took place when Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi threatened to close of the straight in retaliation to the sanctions that were put forward on its Nuclear program.

To bring context to this incident, the US and its allies have placed sanctions on Iran for deciding pursuing its Nuclear program. Iran argues that it has the right to pursue what it has labelled as a peaceful program. [7] Rear-Admiral Scott Sanders illustrates the impact that this has to a group of students attending his lecture at Arizona University by highlighting the importance of sea control to the American Navy. He goes on to explain that the defence drills in the Strait of Hormuz have a direct impact on America’s economy. If the strait were to be closed off, it will not only stop the attacking navy from moving into the region but also precious oil reserves from being pumped out to the global market. [8]

It is important to note that for the US, the Freedom of the Seas is a vital part of its maritime strategy. It is clear that the attempt of Iran in blocking off the strait is at conflict with this strategy. [9] It also explains the some of the underlying reasons behind the US involvement in the Suez Canal Crises which was previously mentioned in the essay.

The key point to note is that this strait is a vital life-line for the global economy as 40% of the world’s crude oil passes through the strategic point of the Strait of Hormuz. [10]

Oil Map, SOURCE:

It would be hard to argue that this critical part of geography had very little influence on Iran’s maritime strategy as it provided them leverage in the maritime, economic and defence domain.

It is not surprising to see that recently this year; Iran took part in successful negotiations that lifted the sanctions that were imposed on it as well as enforcing its policy of pursuing nuclear energy. Ex-CIA director during the Clinton Era, James Woolsey states that Iran won these negotiations and that, “They [Iran] will assert themselves even more than they are now all over the region because they think, and they have a point, that they won these negotiations hands down.” [11]

In conclusion, geography is very significant to maritime strategy. However, it is important to note that geography alone does not solely guarantee a nation maritime superiority. Understanding geographical influence in combination with other policies can help the nation exploit its benefits on a much larger scale. Geography has a direct impact on global trade and security as well as global and regional politics. The case of the Hormuz Strait and the Suez Canal demonstrated that clearly geography is not only important to a nation’s strategy, but also to other nations that might not share the same geography with the region interest. The examples illustrate how controlling the sea is of strategic value. It can ultimately expands a nations are of control beyond its physical borders. Defence blockades are not only important to defending a nation’s maritime borders, they can also impact regional and global commerce. Therefore, geography will continue to influence maritime strategy for years to come.

[1] Menon, Rear Admiral K. Raja. Maritime Strategy and Continental Wars. [electronic resource]. n.p.; Hoboken ; Taylor and Francis, 2013,2013.

[2] “Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part1: A Strategy of Deterrence.” Stratfor Analysis (October 5,2009):1.

[3] Germond, Basil. 2015. “The geopolitical dimension of maritime security.” Marine Policy 54, 137-142. ScienceDirect.

[4] “Rear Admiral Sanders: Maritime Strategy,” YouTube video, 1:01:29, posted by "University of Advancing Technology (UAT) April 2012, 2012,

[5] Moore, John Norton, Tommy T.B. Koh and Myron H. Nordquist. Freedom of Seas. Passage Rights and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

[6] “Oil Exporting Alternatives in the Persian Gulf,” YouTube video, 4:11, posted by STRATFOR video June 2012,

[7] “World Oil Transit Chokepoints,” last modified 2014,

[8] “Ex-CIA Chief: ‘Iran Won the Negotiations’,” last modified 2015,

[9] Love, Kennett. 1969. Suez: the twice-fought war, a history. N.p,: New York, McGraw-Hill [1969], 1969.

[10] “World Oil Transit Chokepoints,” last modified 2014,

[11] “Iran Threatens to block Strait of Hormuz oil route,” last modified 2011,

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