Briefing Paper

Charles Emmerson and Paul Stevens
  • The global energy transport system is vulnerable to disruption at key maritime choke points such as the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, Bab Al-Mandab, the Suez Canal, the Turkish Straits and the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The impact of a disruption on energy supply, prices and markets depends on its extent and duration. Perceptions and the interaction of 'wet barrel' and 'paper barrel' markets play a major role in determining price level and volatility.
  • Measures closing international straits are generally illegal in peacetime, and international law requires maintaining rights of transit passage during war.
  • Establishing and maintaining legal and political norms around the security of maritime choke points – involving user states, consumer states and international bodies – are essential.
  • Cooperative mechanisms between coastal states can enhance confidence, while the likelihood of deliberate disruptions would be reduced by industry and government measures to mitigate their effects.
  • The security of maritime choke points ultimately rests on the observance of international law, and on the willingness and capacity of interested members of the international community to enforce it if necessary.