Choke point

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The Strait of Gibraltar is an important naval choke point, as entry to the Mediterranean Sea can be blocked there by a small number of vessels. STS059-238-074 Strait of Gibraltar.jpg
The Strait of Gibraltar is an important naval choke point, as entry to the Mediterranean Sea can be blocked there by a small number of vessels.

In military strategy, a choke point (or chokepoint) is a geographical feature on land such as a valley, defile or bridge, or maritime passage through a critical waterway such as a strait, which an armed force is forced to pass through in order to reach its objective, sometimes on a substantially narrowed front and therefore greatly decreasing its combat effectiveness by making it harder to bring superior numbers to bear. A choke point can allow a numerically inferior defending force to use the terrain as a force multiplier to thwart or ambush a much larger opponent, as the attacker cannot advance any further without first securing passage through the choke point.


Historical examples

Some historical examples of the tactical use of choke points are King Leonidas I's defense of the Pass of Thermopylae during an invasion led by Xerxes I of Persia; the Battle of Stamford Bridge in which Harold Godwinson defeated Harald Hardrada; William Wallace's victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (Wallace had around 2,300 men against the English army of about 9,000 to 12,000 men and the bridge collapsed during the battle); and the Battle of Agincourt in which Henry V of England decisively defeated the French using a small army (consisting mainly of lightly equipped longbowmen) when the much larger force of French heavy cavalry were forced to charge at the Englishmen through a narrow muddy gap in the Azincourt Woods.

It was the suitability of the Caribbean as a maritime choke point that attracted pirates and buccaneers during the height of their activities the 17th and early 18th century. The Spanish treasure fleets leaving the Americas would have to pass through those waters to pick up the strong, prevailing westerly winds that would take them back to Spain across the North Atlantic.

Some choke points, with important locations in parentheses:

The Fulda Gap was seen as one of the potentially decisive bottleneck battlegrounds of the Cold War in Germany.

Royal Navy choke points

From the 18th to the early 20th centuries, the sheer size of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy meant it had control over much of the world's oceans and seas. Choke points were of huge importance to the British Empire, which often used them to control trade in British colonies and, to a lesser extent, for defense. Choke points have also been a source of tension, notably during the Suez Crisis. The Royal Navy still deems its choke points as strategically vital. Indeed, the importance of choke points was first recognised by British Admiral John Fisher. [1]

The English Channel, a choke point south of England and north of France English Channel.jpg
The English Channel, a choke point south of England and north of France

These are major British choke points today:

The choke points still have significant strategic importance for the Royal Navy. The GIUK gap is particularly important to the Royal Navy, as any attempt by northern European forces to break into the open Atlantic would have to do so through the heavily defended English Channel, which is also the world's busiest shipping lane, or through one of the exits on either side of Iceland. Considering British control over the strategic fortress of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Spain (northern coast), France (Atlantic coast) and Portugal are the only mainland European nations that have direct access to the Atlantic Ocean in a way that cannot be easily blocked at a choke point by the Royal Navy. The GIUK gap was also a strategically important part of the Cold War, as the Royal Navy were given the responsibility of keeping an eye on Soviet submarines trying to break into the open Atlantic.


Choke points remain a prominent issue today in the global economy and shipments of goods, particularly oil: 20% of the world's oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. In 2018, 20.7 million barrels were transported through the Strait of Hormuz. [2] The choke point has undergone continuous unrest since the 1980s. This includes, the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by an American surface-to-air missile in 1988, the collision between nuclear submarine USS Newport News and crude tanker Mogamigawa in 2007, U.S.–Iranian naval dispute in 2008 and 2011-2012, seizure of MV Maersk Tigris in 2015 and threats of a strait closure in 2018 and 2019 made by the Islamic Republic of Iran. [3] Most recently, in April 2020, statements from Iran's military shows its readiness to defend its territorial integrity. [4] [5] [6]

The Suez Canal and the Sumed pipeline carry 4.5 million barrels (190,000,000 US gal; 720,000 m3) a day, and the canal carried a total of 7.5% of world trade in 2011. [7] The canal was closed for eight years after the Six-Day War in 1967. In many instances, alternate routes are nonexistent or impractical. For example, an alternate to the Suez/Sumed route required an additional 6,000 miles (9,700 km) around Cape of Good Hope. [8] The Royal Navy also still deems its choke points to the Atlantic as strategically important.

Threats to the Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, is one of the world's most strategically important maritime choke points. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the largest security threats in the Strait of Hormuz and remain an essential factor in global energy security, due to the high volume of oil and natural gas passing through the narrow openings on a daily basis. The sovereignty of The Islamic Republic of Iran extends, beyond its land territory, internal waters and its islands in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Oman Sea. [9] Iran has used its sovereignty to threaten to close down the Strait of Hormuz multiple times, due to sanctions imposed on the country. [10] [11] This poses serious threats to the global oil market, with the Strait of Hormuz as a key location. Iran's capabilities are found in the country's anti-access/area-denial capabilities including small attack craft equipped with machine guns, multiple-launch rockets, anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. [12] [13] [14] Naval mining has also been used as a strategy to threaten the security of the Strait of Hormuz. [15] [16] Lastly, the many naval exercises and unconventional methods used by the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, is a display of capability and shows readiness to take action in the choke point. [17] [18] [19] The strategic value of maritime choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz means that the threats to the choke point influence sharp rises in oil prices. [20] The several attacks which have occurred over the last decade against oil facilities and tankers in or near the Strait of Hormuz, has had a large impact on the oil industry. From the perspective of security studies, Iran is an important player in the international oil economy.

See also

Related Research Articles

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The Gulf of Oman or Sea of Oman is a gulf that connects the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz, which then runs to the Persian Gulf. It borders Iran and Pakistan on the north, Oman on the south, and the United Arab Emirates on the west And in some countries it is known as Makran Sea.

Mediterranean Sea Sea between Europe, Africa and Asia, connected to the Atlantic Ocean

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Western and Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant. Although the sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually referred to as a separate body of water. Geological evidence indicates that around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years during the Messinian salinity crisis before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.

Persian Gulf Arm of the Indian Ocean in western Asia

The Persian Gulf is a mediterranean sea in Western Asia. The body of water is an extension of the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz and lies between Iran to the northeast and the Arabian Peninsula to the southwest. The Shatt al-Arab river delta forms the northwest shoreline.

Strait of Hormuz Strait between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf

The Strait of Hormuz is a strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world's most strategically important choke points. On the north coast lies Iran, and on the south coast the United Arab Emirates and Musandam, an exclave of Oman. The strait is about 90 nautical miles (167 km) long, with a width varying from about 52 nautical miles (96 km) to 21 nautical miles (39 km).

Strait of Malacca Strait between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra

The Strait of Malacca or Straits of Malacca is a narrow stretch of water, 580 mi (930 km) in length, between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. It is named after the Malacca Sultanate that ruled over the archipelago between 1400 and 1511, the center of administration of which was located in the modern-day state of Malacca, Malaysia.

Gulf of Suez Gulf of the Red Sea separating African Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula

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GIUK gap The passages between the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea

The GIUK gap is an area in the northern Atlantic Ocean that forms a naval choke point. Its name is an acronym for Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom, the gap being the open ocean between these three landmasses. The term is typically used in relation to military topics. The area has been considered strategically important since the beginning of the 20th century.

United States Fifth Fleet Ocean-going component of the United States Navy

The Fifth Fleet is a numbered fleet of the United States Navy. It has been responsible for naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean since 1995 after a 48-year hiatus. It shares a commander and headquarters with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in Bahrain. As of 19 August 2020, the commander of the 5th Fleet is Vice Admiral Samuel J. Paparo Jr. Fifth Fleet/NAVCENT is a component command of, and reports to, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

Standing Royal Navy deployments

Standing Royal Navy deployments is a list of operations and commitments undertaken by the United Kingdom's Royal Navy on a worldwide basis. The following list details these commitments and deployments sorted by region and in alphabetical order. Routine deployments made by the Navy's nuclear-powered submarines and their location of operations is classified.

USS <i>Aubrey Fitch</i>

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Islamic Republic of Iran Navy maritime warfare branch of Irans regular military

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, officially abbreviated NEDAJA, is the naval warfare service branch of Iran's regular military, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army (Artesh).

United States Marine Forces Central Command

The United States Marine Corps Forces Central Command is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. The Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command (COMUSMARCENT), is designated as the Marine Corps service component commander for Commander, U.S. Central Command (COMUSCENTCOM). MARCENT is responsible for all Marine Corps Forces in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR), except for those assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and Special Operations Command, Central Command (SOCCENT).

United States Naval Forces Central Command

United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) is the United States Navy element of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM). Its area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea. It consists of the United States Fifth Fleet and several other subordinate task forces, including Combined Task Force 150, Combined Task Force 158 and others.

The String of Pearls is a geopolitical theory on potential Chinese government intentions in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa. The sea lines run through several major maritime choke points such as the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia.

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The Ottoman expeditions in the Indian Ocean were a series of Ottoman amphibious operations in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century. There were four expeditions between 1538 and 1554, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.

2011–12 Strait of Hormuz dispute

The Strait of Hormuz dispute is an ongoing dispute between a coalition of countries and Iran. The dispute arose on 27 December 2011, when Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. In late April 2019 Iran said that it will block any shipping if it was barred from using the strategic waterway and in face of US sanctions

Port of Fujairah, also called Fujairah Port, is a deep port located in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. It is the largest port on the eastern seaboard of the United Arab Emirates and the world second largest bunkering hub.

2019–2021 Persian Gulf crisis Period of military tensions between the US and Iran

The 2019–2021 Persian Gulf crisis is an intensification of military tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and their allies and the United States of America and their allies in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. began a buildup of its military presence in the region to deter an alleged planned campaign by Iran and its non-state allies to attack American forces and interests in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. This followed a rise in political tensions between the two countries during the Trump administration, which included the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the imposition of new sanctions against Iran, and the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. In response, Iran designated the United States Central Command as a terrorist organization.

International Maritime Security Construct Consortium

The International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) is a consortium of countries officially tasked with maintaining order and security in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and Southern Red Sea, particularly regarding maritime security of global oil supply routes. It was formed on 16 September 2019 in Bahrain, by the United Kingdom, Australia, Albania, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lithuania, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. The operational arm of the IMSC is Coalition Task Force SENTINEL.

Iran's anti-access/ area denial (A2/AD) strategy in the Strait of Hormuz mixes advanced technology with guerilla tactics to deny, deter or delay foreign forces access and maritime freedom of maneuver. The regular attempt by adversaries to deny one another freedom of movement on the battlefield can be observed throughout history. What makes anti-access/area-denial nowadays different from the past is the rapid improvement in military and communication technology in recent decades and new ways of implementing these strategies that such technology creates. Most scholarly attention seems to have gone to Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, most likely because modern military technology is required to uphold A2/AD, it is almost always exclusively practiced by advanced regional powers like China. The A2/AD portfolio leverages diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) activities. The focus of the Iranian A2/AD threat in the Strait of Hormuz is limited to the military dimension.


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