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  • A Neo-Nixon Doctrine for the Indian Ocean: Helping States Help Themselves

    In recent years the Indian Ocean has received significant attention from the defence-intellectual community in the United States. However, the actual strategic importance of the region to US interests is less clear. In an environment of fiscal austerity, if commitments abroad are not firmly linked to interests, any significant involvement in a region of secondary concern could contribute to ‘imperial overstretch’.

    May 2012

    A European Perspective on Maritime Security Challenges in the Indian Ocean Region

    The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), ranging from the Suez Canal in the west to the Strait of Malacca in the east, is of crucial importance for Europe. However, Europe's interest in the region's maritime space and its security challenges is limited.

    May 2012

    Indian Ocean Naval Symposium: Uniting the Maritime Indian Ocean Region

    The Indian Ocean, the third largest oceanic expanse in the world, is the birthplace of maritime civilisation and has always been an ‘active’ ocean. It is now perceived to be the world's centre of gravity in strategic terms, proving the prophetic words that are often attributed to A.T. Mahan: ‘Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia … the destiny of the world would be decided on its waters’.

    May 2012

    Vibha asked: What is the influence of China's growth on north-east India and the Indian Ocean region?

    Namrata Goswami replies: The influence of China’s growth on northeast India can be two-folds. The first is one in which the people of the northeast could get inspired by the Chinese economic growth model, especially in its south western province of Yunnan, and emulate such a globalising model. Already, the chief ministers of the region are ardent supporters of the “Look East” policy which aims to create land and rail connectivity between India’s northeast, Myanmar, and Yunnan in China. This could foster economic connectivity and bring in prosperity to the northeast. The other influence is more security related. China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and its water diversion plans on the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet are creating a public perception in the northeast that China is a threat to India. Hence, while China’s influence with regard to economic connectivity could be positive, its territorial claim and water diversion plans are negative influences.

    Similar is the case with the Indian Ocean. China views the Indian Ocean, especially the Malacca Strait, as the lifeline for its energy supplies and exports, which is critical to maintaining its internal growth. It wants to collaborate with other Indian Ocean countries to ensure the safety of these lanes. However, China is an authoritarian regime with a closed political system. Hence, its military modernisation, acquisition of an aircraft carrier and assertive claims on the South China Sea is creating an atmosphere of militarisation of international waters. The Chinese influence is thus highly securitised.

    Sandya asked: What is the role of Indian Navy in identifying, assessing and controlling non-traditional threats in the Indian Ocean?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The Indian Navy has a prominent role to play in addressing non-traditional threats. This task is done in tandem with other agencies like the Indian Coast Guard, maritime wing of police, governments of states with coastlines and intelligence agencies to name a few. Non-traditional threats can be broadly divided into two areas – those like maritime terrorism and piracy that require to be addressed by kinetic means, and those like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), search and rescue (SAR), pollution control, etc., that require to be addressed by benign means. Although pollution control is under the ambit of the Coast Guard, the Indian Navy provides the required assistance that is sought.

    The Indian Navy has mechanisms in place to assess, indentify and address these issues. These include identifying strong points and strengthening weak points so as to better manage situations both developing and developed. This involves deploying assets that would aid in combating the threats that arise from such non-traditional threats.

    Issues like terrorism and piracy that require application of force are addressed by patrolling areas identified as the most vulnerable with suitable assets in tandem with other agencies. For example, along the coast the Indian Navy has identified suitable places and established detachments that work with other agencies to assess the situation and patrol designated areas. Ships and aircraft also patrol the maritime zones of friendly nations on their request to combat terrorism and piracy. In addition, ships with embarked armed helicopters have been deployed in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to combat piracy as part of the ongoing international effort.

    The benign role is assumed and assets deployed so that assistance is rendered both internally and externally in a fast and humane manner. The deployment of assets during the 2004 tsunami is a classic case in which relief was provided within 24 hours to the states on the east coast of India and Sri Lanka and within 72 hours to affected nations like Indonesia and Maldives. Unlike the threats emanating from terrorism and piracy that could be assessed based on intelligence inputs, disasters do not come with any warning and therefore the Indian Navy is always ready at short notice to deploy its assets as and when ordered.

    Buddhika asked: Can India alone deal with the non-traditional threats coming from the Indian Ocean?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean and has an area of 73,556,000 sq km including the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. This vast area is home to many littorals and Island nations. Therefore, any activity in this ocean is subject to a plethora of issues stretching from strategic interests both intra and extra regional, national jurisdiction of maritime zones, varying national laws dictated by types of governance and economics, to capabilities and capacities of nations to address both traditional and non traditional threats that affect the existing security scenario.

    Non-traditional threats, such as piracy, terrorism, drugs and arms trade, and natural disasters, are trans- border issues that affect most of the nations that are either located in the region, or use the Indian Ocean as transit for their maritime trade, or have a presence for their strategic interests.

    The vast expanse of the area, number of nations involved, the magnitude of laws and the capacities and capabilities of nations make it a difficult task for one nation to deal with non-traditional threats. This is the reason why nations engage each other via bilateral and multilateral dialogues and understandings. India, on its part, engages nations in the Indian Ocean so that a comprehensive framework, optimally utilising national assets to counter the non-traditional threats, can be established.

    Sandya asked: What is India’s perception regarding maritime security in the Indian Ocean?

    S. S. Parmar replies: India’s perception of maritime security stems from the “Freedom to use the Seas”. This is an important aspect that is the focus of any maritime nation’s outlook. There are some issues that require to be viewed and assessed when correlating maritime security to the Indian Ocean Region as they form the basis of India’s perception.

    • The IOR is a region of diverse economies and systems of governance. One third of the world’s populace resides here in a quarter of the world’s land mass. It consists of 56 littoral and landbound nations.
    • It accounts for 65% of strategic raw material reserves, 31% gas and more than half of the world's oil exports.
    • The region is the largest producer of rubber, tea, spices, and jute. Some other important minerals found are manganese, cobalt, tungsten, coal and iron ore.
    • This region has seen the maximum number of conflicts post the cold war and is considered the hub of global terrorism.
    • Piracy, gun running, human and drug trafficking are issues that are also affecting the maritime security environment.
    • Around 70% of the worlds natural disasters occur in the IOR.
    • The region has the presence of extra regional powers.

    Therefore the perception of India vis-à-vis the IOR is based on ensuring a safe and stable maritime environment that will firstly ensure security of India’s national integrity and sovereignty; secondly, protection of our national interests; thirdly, ensure safe passage of maritime trade both national and international; fourthly, ensure cooperation amongst nations to combat and reduce the impact of non-traditional threats like terrorism, piracy and natural disasters.

    These aspects require certain mechanisms that exist in the form of engagement with India’s maritime neighbours. India also engages the extra regional maritime players who have a stake in the IOR. This has led to bilateral and multilateral understandings at the diplomatic, economic and military levels that cover the issues highlighted above.

    M.Vivek asked: Is China's aggressive buildup at borders / Indian ocean a tact to provoke India into doing the same, thereby bankrupting itself?

    R. N. Das replies: China’s buildup at the border and in the Indian Ocean region is certainly a matter of concern for India, which has been articulated at the highest level. In recent past there has been a perceptible infrastructural development across the border in China and also China’s engagement in the Indian Ocean, particularly in Sri Lanka where China is building a port at Hambantota, ostensibly for civilian purposes which however can have strategic implications on India’s security. It is only appropriate, on part of India to take measures to beef up its defence preparedness so as to meet eventualities, if any. There are, however, a slew of confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two countries to defuse tension, and maintain and tranquility in the border, but going by India’s past experience of 1962 war, it would be imprudent to neglect defence preparedness . There can not be any room for complacency in matters of national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty. No doubt India spends a better part of its budgetary allocation for defence of the country, which is to increase further, but it would be presumptuous to say that it can lead to sort of bankruptcy. Ours is a resilient economy which has withstood many a crises in the past including the oil crisis and more recently the word financial crisis.

    Faud asked: Can you explain the growing numbers of foreign forces in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean?

    Ruchita Beri replies: The escalation in the number of piracy attacks in recent years has increased the presence of foreign navies in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean Region. In 2008, recognising the growing danger posed to international shipping by pirates, the UN Security Council passed several resolutions to allow countries to send warships to the region. Several countries, including the United States, members of the European Union, Japan, China, Russia, Iran, United Kingdom and India have deployed warships in the region to secure the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). Collective efforts include deployments by the European Union and the multinational coalition task force, Combined Task Force (CTF 151) and the CTF -150. CTF 151 was established in January 2009 with a special mandate to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. While the CTF 150, established in 2001 at the beginning of US launched War on Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), has a wider mandate and conducts maritime security operations not just in the Gulf of Aden but also the in Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy, deployed in the Gulf of Aden since 2008, has recently crossed the milestone of escorting 1000 ships through piracy infested waters.

    Ankur asked: How are we going to deal with a rising PLAN in the Indian ocean?

    Pankaj Kumar Jha replies: If we analyse the modernisation trends of PLAN in the last five years, it is clear that the stress is more on smart frigates, anti-ship missiles, nuclear submarines and nuclear submarines with ballistic missile launch capability. These acquisitions are meant for sea denial and creating deterrence.

    The Indian plan of action is two pronged. Firstly, India is trying to strengthen multilateral forums like Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) to create common consensus on maritime issues, thereby creating a cooperative security framework. At the same time it is also engaging important players through biennial liaison meetings like MILAN, in which more than 16 navies participated last year. Secondly, India is trying to enhance its maritime capabilities through induction of stealth frigates, a new aircraft carrier and the naval version of Brahmos. Lately, India successfully test-fired Brahmos on a moving vessel.

    India’s Maritime Strategy Doctrine of 2009 has listed the nine sea lanes of communication as vital maritime interests and areas of influence. Also, naval cooperation with countries like Oman, South Africa, Maldives and Indonesia, as well as exercises in South China Sea show that India has a strategic plan of action in place.

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