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‘If You Can Dominate the World’s Oceans, It Gives You Extraordinary Influence’: Bruce Jones

In this special episode, we sat down with Bruce Jones, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of “To Rule the Waves: How Control of the World’s Oceans Shapes the Fate of the Superpowers.” He sheds light on how, in history, naval power translated to world power, how that’s playing out now between the United States and China, and how the cold reaches of the Arctic are becoming the next geopolitical flash point.

Jones said: “It’s very striking when you look back at the history of empires in the modern period. And what you see is that for most of the last several hundred years, the state or empire or nation that was able to most successfully dominate world affairs was the state or nation or empire that had the largest and most effective navy in the world. For a brief period, that was the Portuguese. For a long period, it was the British. Over the last 100 years or so, it’s been the United States. And it matters because so much of world trade moves by the oceans. So much of how we live our lives is shaped by commerce across and underneath the oceans. Just think about digital communications, which is central to everything we do now—modern finance, modern social media, everything else. Ninety-three percent of all data in the world moves on undersea cables. About 85 percent of world trade moves by ocean-going containership and bulk carrier. So if you can dominate the world’s oceans, it really gives you an extraordinary influence on global affairs.”

As for the Arctic, Jones pointed out there’s a lot at stake: “Now, if you think about it from a trade perspective, the distance between Shanghai and New York, if you can sail the Arctic route, is about half the distance if you have to go through the Suez Canal, across the Mediterranean, and then across the Atlantic Ocean. So it has the potential to dramatically cut trade times with dramatic savings. It was similar in nature to what the Suez Canal did to trade between Asia and Europe when it was first established. So it has the potential to be a major change in global commercial routes. That’s one. Two, with warming waters, it’s more easy to access the energy reserves that are underneath the Arctic Sea, on the continental shelf off the coast of Russia, which are huge. The largest gas find in the world recently was in those waters, in Russian waters, in the Arctic Sea and the Barents Sea. So there are huge commercial stakes. There are huge energy stakes, there are huge fishing stakes. And of course, there are strategic stakes. This is where Russia now has the largest concentration of its naval power.”

“The United States has begun to return nuclear submarines to the Arctic for the first time since the end of the Cold War. China is deploying repeated scientific missions, which are, you know, frequently dual use. And so this is really becoming a zone of tense military buildup,” he added.

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