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Talk by Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha on Naval Dimensions of Security in the Indo-Pacific

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  • September 23, 2022
    1430 hrs

    A talk on “Naval Dimensions of Security in the Indo-Pacific” was given by MP-IDSA Executive Council Member, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (Retd.) on 23 September 2022. It was attended by the Director-General MP-IDSA, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, the Deputy Director-General MP-IDSA, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi, and MP-IDSA scholars.

    Executive Summary

    The Indo-Pacific is an emerging construct characterised by a dynamic geopolitical environment. India has laid stress on the maritime domain for its foreign policy to be more suited to the evolving balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. Three factors that shape India’s security are ability to exercise influence beyond its shores, sustaining maritime influence, and integrating the Indian economy with economies of the neighbourhood. New Delhi may carefully observe the fast-changing environment in the region and develop its defences accordingly. The development of domestic industry, especially in defence, will be important for India to sustain its influence in the region, and also keep increasing external influence at bay.

    Detailed Report

    The Director General, Ambasssador Sujan R. Chinoy introduced the Speaker by remarking on his illustrious career within the armed forces, which led to developing an in-depth understanding of India’s security affairs. He observed that the Indo-Pacific is a new, emerging, and more representative conceptual framework that reflects new realities. It encompasses a vast region where countries interact closely on areas like trade, technology, human resources etc. Vice Admiral Sinha commenced his remarks by pointing out the composition of the Indo-Pacific, such as the colonial past of its nations, diverse social and political systems, varying levels of economic development, uneven distribution of natural resources, and close-knit geography. The region facilitates large amount of trade and some of the most important global choke points are also present in the Indo-Pacific.

    He highlighted the traditional security threats in the region such as territorial conflict among nations, and non-traditional security threats like natural disasters and climate change. Terrorism, religious extremism, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and trade in narcotics are also some formidable challenges faced by Indo-Pacific nations. The small island states in the region are more vulnerable due to rising sea levels and limited capacities to tackle such challenges. These threats are transnational, affecting multiple nations and necessitate a cooperative arrangement to fight collectively. While mentioning three factors that shape India’s security, Vice Admiral Sinha said that Indian influence may go beyond its own shores. Secondly, New Delhi shall be able to sustain the maritime influence in the region to avoid becoming a lesser power in its own neighbourhood, and thirdly, regional integration of economies in South Asia will be extremely vital for regional security. India is already the preferred security partner for countries in South Asia, and thus stands to be affected by instability in the region. In the Indian Ocean as well, India shall continue to build close relationships in vital areas, such as security and economy, to encourage greater regional integration and goodwill.   

    The role of Quad in sustaining a rules-based order and freedom of the seas in Indo-Pacific was discussed. Quad’s new maritime transparency initiative will be crucial in identifying the position of suspicious vessels in the sea and enhance security coordination among the Indo-Pacific partners. Other minilaterals like AUKUS are expected to only strengthen the security architecture of the region. It was agreed that China’s foray into the Pacific Islands was alarming, particularly for the US and allies. Given its close relationship with its Quad partners, disturbances in the Pacific will also affect India. For better cooperation with South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, India can capitalise on its renowned Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief capacities and operations.

    On a query about India’s acquisition of latest weapons, Vice Admiral Sinha opined that while updating to the latest warfare technology is essential, India needs to address its indigenous defence manufacturing issues to sustain a large security ecosystem domestically and regionally. China’s cooperation with Pakistan was seen as a considerable threat to India’s security, and therefore appropriate defences may be developed in that regard. Other powers in the continental theatre may be partnering amongst themselves but since India maintains good relations with most of its neighbours, it has less reasons to worry. However, all developments may be carefully assessed. He also commented on India’s position vis-à-vis the AUKUS partnership. Although it had evoked much surprise at the time of announcement, AUKUS may be seen as congruent to India’s interests. Australia and the US have a strong working relationship in the defence and security sector. India stands to benefit from this relationship even by being associated with them under the Quad platform. Greater synergy will allow sufficient trust and credibility for technology transfer and even collaboration in advanced military technologies.

    The session was concluded and was in agreement of strengthening India’s partnership with like-minded nations, such as fellow Quad members, to ensure a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. India has a favourable geography as it is centrally located in the Indian Ocean. The significance of maritime security for India’s foreign policy and defence was underscored in the discussion. The Director General delivered closing remarks and thanked the Speaker for his insights.

    The report was prepared by Mr. Akash Sahu, Research Analyst, Centre for Southeast Asia and Oceania, MP-DSA.