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May 6, 2014 | 19:03 GMT

5 mins read

Conversation: Oman's Geopolitical Importance

David Judson: Hi, I am David Judson, Editor-in-Chief of Stratfor, with me today is Stratfor's Chief Geopolitical Analyst Robert Kaplan. Robert, the topic that we wanted to talk about today, Oman, I think needs some introduction. It is not a place that is on the mainstream media map.

Robert Kaplan: No, Oman is not on the mainstream media map, David. But what Stratfor has traditionally done for years now is identify countries that we think are very important geopolitically but which the media has tended to obscure. For years already, we have been talking about Poland as the most important country in Europe after France and Germany and I think events are proving us right. We have been talking for years of Azerbaijan as a geopolitical hinge and with the crisis in Ukraine, Azerbaijan — as a chief energy center for oil and natural gas, located in the strategic Caucasus — is coming into focus as a main lever of conflict, of competition, between the West and Russia. And now what we are focusing on is Oman, the Sultanate of Oman, which dominates the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, equidistant between the emerging and enlarging middle classes of both India and East Africa, lying just outside the Gulf with major ports, so that its ports can continue to operate, even if there was some conflagration in the Gulf. These and other factors make Oman in the Middle East as important as Poland and Azerbaijan in greater Europe.

David: Well, Oman is an outlier. It is very stable place in an unstable region. It has got a face leaning toward Africa as well as toward the Middle East. It is a small country in terms of population, but its geopolitics are complex. What explains historically the uniqueness of what we are looking at?

Robert: Oman is much more important than its 3.6 million people would allow one to believe. It has dominated East Africa for parts of its history, it has a special Ibadi form of Islam, which makes it separate from the Arabian Gulf but at the same time separate from the Shiites in Iran and it has emerged as a diplomatic go-between — between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Iran and the United States. Oman has been very influential behind the scenes in facilitating the attempted rapprochement between the United States and Iran. It is also very stable, it is well run with strong institutions, it is quietly provided very strong backing to the United States military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade. It is an essential country.

David: In your 2010 book, "Monsoon," you focused a great deal on Oman and its relationship to the broader Monsoon region, if we can call it that. More recently in your column you have written about the port of Duqm, which is emerging with the potential to really change the geopolitical equation in the region.

Robert: Yes, I recently made a visit to the ports of Duqm, Sohar and Muscat in Oman and I have to disclose it was at the invitation of the Omani government who supported the trip, so I was there as their guest essentially. Nevertheless, I can tell you that Duqm was a blank space on the map a few decades, a few years, ago now several billion dollars has been poured into it. It has got dry docks, a long breakwater, it has got all of these industrial facilities, it has got two hotels. It is building a light industrial zone, a tourist zone. It is really like an invented geopolitical logistical supply chain city where billions more are going to be poured in for one reason alone: geography. It has got the perfect geography. It is halfway between India and East Africa, it is close to the Gulf, yet it is outside the Gulf, so it is not trapped and endangered like the ports inside the Gulf. It is a place where the United States Navy in the future can have rest and repair facilities, while being close enough to the Gulf to take military action inside the Gulf but yet being outside of it.

David: So, analogous to famous canals that have bypassed other areas — Suez, Panama — in terms of it being outside of the Strait of Hormuz, enabling new kinds of communication and transportation links up to the Gulf is that the idea?

Robert: Yes, look if you would call Aden in Yemen a great place name in the 19th century, because of its importance to the British Empire and if you would consider Singapore a great place name in the last third of the 20th century and the early 21st century as a center for the United States Navy, for business interests throughout East Asia. It might be — I emphasize the word "might"— it might be that Duqm could be a great place name in, say, the middle part of the 21st century. If a decade or two or three decades from now, you have more U.S. warships there, more building, you have a little city emerge there that is on par with a Singapore, or Hong Kong even.

David: Thanks for that fascinating bit of insight on an emerging city, one that the world does not know a lot about today but that they will tomorrow. Thank you for joining us here today at Stratfor. Please visit us at stratfor.com.

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