The Dutch Parliament voted last week to boost its military contribution to the NATO force fighting piracy in Somali. The country will spend $16.5 million to provide extra personnel, two Cougar helicopters and an unmanned aerial vehicle to join NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield. Also part of the new deployment will be an additional submarine to join the mission in the second half of 2012.
This week the Dutch frigate HNLMS Van Amstel set to return to the Netherlands after anti-piracy service in the western Indian Ocean. It is being replaced by HNLMS Evertsen up until September.
Unrelated, the Indonesian Navy has agreed to buy a guided missile destroyer from the Dutch shipyard Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding for a total contract of $220 million.
Military activity by foreign powers have been stepped up in the western Indian Ocean in the last decade. The immediate reason is the occurrence of Somali based pirates off the coast of East Africa. On a more strategic level the growing Asian powers are looking to take position in the waters that are vital to global shipping lanes.
The traditional maritime powers in the region, the US, Britain and France have seen the Chinese taking up the hunt for pirates, but also an agreement and plans to set up a naval base in the Seychelles. It is believed that China is also negotiating with other countries in the region for further naval bases e.g. Gwadar Port in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
India is upgrading its own navy to include nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to get supremacy over the ocean it regards as its backyard. India is clearly annoyed with Chinese activity in the Seychelles and on the island of Mauritius, which India considers part of its sphere of influence.
Japan has opened a naval base in Djibouti in order to support its anti-pirate operations in the Gulf of Aden. This has further prompted China to seek a land base in the region.
Even Brazil has stepped up its involvement in the region although mostly using economical and soft power. The activities have mostly involved increased trade and investments with fellow partner countries in the organisation Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP), an organisation comprising Portuguese-speaking countries. Projects include investments in Mozambique e.g. the Nacala Airport in the north and the construction of a coal terminal in the port city of Beira
Where does this leave the traditional powers? One of the most important strategic military bases to the US, the island of Diego Garcia which it leases from the UK, is kept busy as a staging base for B-2 bomber raids over Afghanistan. France is also clinging on to its bases in the region namely Réunion, Mayotte, Djibouti and the newly established base in United Arab Emirates. Together these form what the French calls quadrilatère français in order to secure France’s interests in the all important region.
Given China’s massive investments in Africa – with the increasing clout this brings with African governments – it would not be surprising to see China trying to create a permanent land base on continental East Africa which would include naval and air support.