Key Note Address by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, IDSA at Indian Ocean Global Forum 2012
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  • September 25, 2012

    Plenary Session 2: Indian Ocean Rim Potential for Partnerships

    The geo-strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, which links the Atlantic with the Pacific Oceans, cannot be overestimated. Nearly half of the global seaborne trade, 70% of which is energy trade, passes through Indian Ocean. Nearly 100 thousand ships transit the Indian Ocean every year. About 40% of the oil trade passes through this route and almost 11 million barrels of oil pass through the Malacca straits. The Indian Ocean also carries a vast amount of internet traffic through the undersea cables. According to some estimates, the under sea cables landing in India carrying 99 per cent of transcontinental financial transactions and data. The Indian Ocean is thus critical for global economic prosperity.

    By forging durable partnerships amongst themselves, the Indian Ocean Rim countries can undoubtedly enhance their prosperity even further. There is immense potential for cooperation amongst Indian Ocean countries in the area of trade and investment, tourism, fisheries and maritime resources, shipping, preservation of bio-diversity, and maritime security. The Ocean can supplement the resources taken out from the land and thus mitigate resource scarcity.

    The joint communiqué issued at Bangaluru after the 11th meeting of the Council of Ministers of IOR-ARC recognized the potential of cooperation amongst Rim countries. It also expressed concern over the maritime security in the Indian Ocean. However, the exact details of how this cooperation is to be achieved has been left out.

    There are several security challenges which cannot be ignored if these partnerships are to be developed further. The security environment in the Indian Ocean is at present fragile. Weak governance and instability in some of the literals is compounded by the rising threats in the maritime domain. Piracy off the coast of Somalia has emerged as a major global security issue. The protection of the sea lanes of communication has assumed great salience.

    The freedom of navigation through the Indian ocean is a matter of great importance. India’s Defence Minister, speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue earlier this year, stated categorically, “Unlike in previous centuries, maritime freedom cannot be the exclusive prerogative of the few. Large part of the common seas cannot be declared exclusive to one country or group….. There may be different perspectives in maritime freedom in the history but for us in the 21st century, it is important to re-affirm the importance of maritime security and freedom of navigation for all, in accordance with the relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.” He also called for a balance between the rights of nations and the freedom of the navigation in the maritime domain.”

    IOR-ARC has focused on certain key areas for cooperation. However, the forum will need to deliberate over difficult political security issues, which can challenge the development of meaningful partnerships. Therefore, it is necessary that the forthcoming ministerial meeting of the IOR-ARC countries dwells upon the emerging challenges in the Indian Ocean Region and how these should be met. The ministers should also deliberate on the efficacy of the IOR-ARC structures in dealing with these challenges. While the potential for cooperation is undoubtedly there, its realization cannot be assumed unless there is a clear headed and cogent thinking to the handling of the numerous security issues - traditional and non-traditional - which can impede the potential for cooperative partnerships. Cooperative security in the Indian Ocean would be necessary to realize the potential for developmental partnerships.

    The Indian Minister for External Affairs spoke of the “Widespread importance” for IOR-ARC to move from discussion to action. Time has come for bold thinking.