Spring 2008 Course Description

Policy Research Project

Section Title: The Strait of Hormuz: Political-Military Analysis of Threats to Oil Flows
Instructor(s): Eugene Gholz
Course: P A 682B - Policy Research Project
Unique Number: 64180
Day & Time: Thursdays, 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Room: SRH 3.108
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information

This course fulfills requirements for the following specialization(s):

Description: The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow sea passage between Oman and Iran, is the most sensitive chokepoint in global commerce. About 90% of the oil exports from the Persian Gulf transit through the Strait of Hormuz each day ? generally more than 15 million barrels or more than 18% of daily worldwide oil demand. Unfortunately, few alternate routes are available to transport oil from the Persian Gulf to world markets, and the Strait is in a neighborhood rife with political conflict. Many experts fear that an accident, terrorist attack, or military effort to close the straits, even if it only temporarily interrupted oil tanker traffic, could threaten the global economy.

This policy research project will evaluate the severity of that threat. How hard would it be to close the strait? How would the oil market adapt? What political and military steps could powerful countries take to remedy the situation? What is the role for unique American military capabilities in various disruption scenarios?

Given the focus on the U.S.-Iran relationship in contemporary policy discussions and the explicit threats from Iran to respond to U.S. military pressure with attacks on oil flows, the project's core effort will be directed to analysis of a possible Iranian effort to close the strait. Such an effort would presumably capitalize on Iranian geographic and military advantages: Iranian access to the strait from its coastline and from nearby islands occupied and fortified by Iranian troops and the Iranian arsenal of anti-ship cruise missiles, mines, diesel submarines, small boats suited to swarming attacks on shipping, and other military assets. The project will conduct a military campaign analysis of Iranians capability to use these various tools to disrupt oil flows. The military analysis will also include various responses to a supply interruption. And the project will also consider one other conjectural scenario: what are American capabilities to close the Strait of Hormuz as a tool to coerce Iran?

This project will require three core research areas: 1) understanding the flow of oil through the strait ? how many tankers, the characteristics of each tanker, the various markets that affect flow rates (e.g., insurance markets, responsiveness of flows to changes in the pattern of demand, etc.), and the geographic confines of the strait; 2) understanding relevant military capabilities ? for example, what sea mines and cruise missiles are available for use in the strait and how many of them do the various players have in their arsenals, how hard is it to increase or replenish an arsenal, especially surreptitiously or during a crisis, etc.; 3) understanding the political environment in which forces might be employed in the strait ? what are the constraints on military action and, given the political reactions likely to disruptions to oil traffic, how might those constraints shift in various scenarios?

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