THE ROLE OF SEA POWER IN OMAN’S SECURITY AND ECONOMY
Reviewed by: Simon Bellamy
The long-established security relationship between the UK and Oman will be familiar to many NR members, perhaps from military history or from their own experience, on loan service, on exercises or through involvement in today’s Combined Maritime Forces in the Gulf.
In this concise, well-researched and highly readable book, a senior officer from the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) explains the role of sea power in his country’s past, present and future. The result is an absorbing read, offering much not only on a geopolitically critical part of the world, but also on how an important regional power can use the sea as part of national strategy. Thanks to the author’s scholarship and wide-ranging analysis, the book will be of interest far beyond the waters surrounding the Sultanate.
Indeed, Dr Al-Jabri is well qualified for the task. Currently the RNO’s Director of Operations and Plans in the rank of commodore, his international experience has seen him graduate from BRNC Dartmouth and the UK’s Advanced Command and Staff Course, in addition to the Higher Command Course in the US and a PhD from Exeter. However, it seems that the author’s early service closer to home, as a junior watchkeeper at sea, provided the catalyst for the book. In his introduction, he describes how witnessing the “tanker wars” of the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 1980s demonstrated to him the importance of security and stability in the region, stretching beyond Oman’s territorial waters.
He goes on to provide a historical perspective, claiming that the greatest moments in the country’s history have come when Oman has exercised sea power with effect. The author emphasises that his focus is on sea, rather than simply naval, power, with trade, resource exploitation and industrial potential being vital to success. Informed readers will no doubt agree with his proposition that the exercise of sea power involves not only capable naval forces but also a wider maritime strategy, including elements such as port infrastructure and a viable merchant marine.
To put Oman’s position into context, the author explains theories of doctrine and strategy, succinctly summarising the work of, among others, Corbett, Mahan and Gorshkov. His commentary on the components of sea power, and their relationship with policy and strategy, is a model of clarity and reflects his staff training and experience.
The narrative goes beyond these important general principles to explore the particular situation of Oman. We learn about the Sultanate’s defence and security organisation, including forces other than the RNO, such as the Coast Guard. The importance of Maritime Security Operations (MSO) is made clear. Regional threats include smuggling, piracy, localised conflict and resource competition. If any further evidence were needed of the country’s security priorities, the author mentions its maritime border with Yemen and underlines the importance of maintaining Freedom of Navigation (FON) in the Strait of Hormuz. MSO and FON operations are important for many navies, but there can be few more challenging and complex environments than that around Oman. The book is also enlightening on other regional issues, such as the role of powers including Iran, the US, China and Russia.
In his conclusions, the author argues why maritime security matters to Oman and what needs to be done to promote it. British officers at all levels will learn something from this book about the culture, strategic priorities and operations of a key player in an important area of the world. However, there are also wider lessons about how a regional power can develop and implement a coherent maritime strategy in pursuit of its security and economic interests.