Role of Indian Navy in Maintaining Peace in Indian Ocean Region

Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral D K Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, NM, VSM, ADC
March 5, 2013

1. Admiral PS Das, Dr Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA, senior serving and retired officers, members from the strategic community, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.

2. It is indeed a privilege to be addressing such a distinguished audience, on a topic of immediate significance. At the outset, let me thank the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses for providing me this opportunity. Since inception, IDSA has performed yeoman service as one of India’s premier think tanks, influencing the country’s strategic thought for over four decades. It goes without saying that the Armed Forces too benefit immensely from IDSA’s endeavours.

3. To discuss challenges to peace and stability, an examination of the historical and contemporary significance of the Indian Ocean would be in order.

4. The Indian Ocean has probably affected humanity more profoundly than any other ocean. Through the continuum of history, this region has been significant in geo-politics and in the evolution of mankind.

5. Some of the world’s oldest civilizations germinated here and for several millennia, flourished in the region’s abundant natural wealth. Major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam etc. originated here and fanned out to rest of the world, mostly through sea routes, making the IOR a melting pot of myriad societies. Hindered by natural barriers on the continental landmass, the interaction between cultures took place over the sea, predominantly through benign expeditions and trade.

6. The region’s economic potential thus attracted extra-regional players. Initial ventures, driven by pure mercantile interests, then gave way to colonisation of most of the region. The Industrial Revolution further escalated the region’s significance with the colonies doubling up as sources for raw materials, cheap labour and as captive markets for imperial Europe’s industrial output. The colonial period also influenced geo-strategy of the region in an unprecedented manner. The IOR, thus, became an arena for military competition, with European blue water navies vying for control of its waters. This, in a way, led to evolution of IOR as a common geo-strategic entity.

7. Although imperialism ended after World War II, extra-regional interest in the region continued to grow, due to competition for resources, most notably hydrocarbons, and for domination of vast markets. Through the Cold War, extra-regional powers competed to expand their influence in the IOR, leading to many proxy wars.

8. The end of the Cold War was a watershed in geo-politics, with a paradigm shift in how nations view peace, security and national power. Concepts such as comprehensive security have displaced a hitherto narrow military-centric approach.

9. ‘Peace’, in a comprehensive security framework, goes beyond the mere absence of conflict, and encompasses military, economic, societal, energy and environmental security among other factors. For instance, the National Security Index, envisages a combination of many diverse, yet inter-related factors, centred on economic prosperity, which in turn provides the wherewithal for all national endeavours.

10. The Indian Ocean Region, comprising the ocean and its littorals, is India’s regional or immediate geo-strategic environment. It exists on the fringes of our boundaries and has a on the internal state of affairs. Addressing the Combined Commanders’ Conference recently, the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had stated and I QUOTE, “Our immediate geo-strategic environment comes with its own conventional, strategic and non-conventional security challenges. India’s strategic calculus has long encompassed the waters from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca.” UNQUOTE.

11. The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s statement has a distinct nautical flavour. In a way, it defines the Indian Navy’s primary Area of Maritime Interest, where we seek to address the challenges having a bearing on national security and the nation’s overall socio-economic development.

12. Sustained growth has positioned our country on the path to economic eminence. We are already the 3rd largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity terms. Our ability to fulfil the stated socio-economic aspirations squarely rests on unhindered prosperity. With substantial economic activity, including 90% trade by volume and bulk of our energy imports, happening over the sea, maritime security is central to overall development of our nation. Concurrently, India cannot hope to develop and grow peacefully with an unstable and turbulent neighbourhood. Prevalence of peace in the Indian Ocean Region is therefore a key national security imperative. We achieve this through a combination of diplomatic, economic and military means all of which have a maritime connect.

13. Security challenges ranging from pandemics to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from piracy to terrorism, and from climate change to money laundering confront all nation-states. This has engendered a cooperative approach to security, especially in the maritime domain, where majority of global economic interests get intertwined and to which a majority of the challenges to security are associated.

14. Riding on the benefits of globalisation, littorals of the IOR are now re-emerging to achieve their original potential. The emergence of many regional countries, as economic powerhouses, reflects this reality. Consequently, several regional economic groupings such as ASEAN, BIMSTEC, SAARC, IOR-ARC, GCC and few others have evolved over time in the IOR to harness the advantages of economic integration.

15. The region’s natural bounties and maritime trade carried over its sea lanes drive the global economy. The fact that two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments, one-third of its bulk cargo and half of the container traffic transit over its sea lanes, and through its choke points, a large part of which is meant for countries outside the region, underscores the Indian Ocean’s importance for the world at large.

16. The IOR at the same time is also marred by historic faultlines, in some cases, due to ambiguous colonial boundary delineations and inequalities that breed instability. The centrality of the ‘ocean’ in the region’s affairs is further underscored by the fact that problems on land invariably find a reflection at sea. I shall now touch upon some key maritime challenges that endanger peace and stability in IOR.

17. The foremost challenge obviously emerges from inter-state armed conflicts. Most of the armed conflicts in the post World War II era occurred in the IOR, underscoring the region’s geo-political fragility. West Asian conflicts, South-Asian conflicts, Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, the list is long.

18. While economic interests may initiate extra-regional military presence in these waters, at times, the presence itself may escalate contest and competition. Armed conflicts impinge upon regional peace in decisive ways, given the region’s delicate socio-economic structure. Peace ultimately returns, but not without costs in terms of widespread destruction, human suffering, financial losses and consequential regional instability. It dents the conducive external environment necessary for a nation-state to develop and grow peacefully.

19. More than armed conflicts, currently what complicates security dynamics is the array of non-conventional threats perpetuated by non-state or even, state-sponsored actors. There are several reasons for this security conundrum.

20. Firstly, these threats are omni-present. Weak governance or the absence of governance in some littorals has allowed the state to lose its ‘monopoly on the use of legitimate force’. The resultant anarchy on land manifests itself as lawlessness and non-conventional threats at sea. The flourishing piracy off Somalia and the terror attacks on USS Cole and MV Limburg are few such examples.

21. Secondly, these threats are amorphous, with an uncanny ability to evolve, thus challenging established security structures. Maritime piracy, which, until a few years ago, was mainly limited to armed robbery at sea, has now evolved into criminal acts, orchestrated by well organised global crime syndicates. Pirates today are well armed and capable of striking over 1000 miles from coast. Hijacking of ships for ransom, amounting to millions of dollars, is also a relatively new practice. Besides the economic and humanitarian dimensions of piracy, its evolving links with terrorism, and states supporting terror outfits, compounds the problem.

22. Then there is the legal aspect. Evolving threats such as piracy, highjacking of merchantmen, suicidal terror attacks, proliferation of WMD-related material et al, expose the inadequacy of current national and international laws and conventions to deter them or deal with them effectively.

23. While maritime piracy and maritime terrorism are more obvious, there are other non-conventional challenges, such as illegal arms trade, drug and human trafficking, poaching etc, which continue to engage our attention and resources on a regular basis.

24. As stated earlier, economic security is central to the comprehensive approach to security. In this globalised world, the Indian economy is integrated with, and consequently interdependent on other world economies. The prospect of disruption of trade at critical chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz or Malacca, can be catastrophic for the global economy. The downstream effects of such economic upheaval are certainly disastrous for regional peace. Maintaining unimpeded flow of energy and other commodities over the sea is therefore a prime concern for all nations, including ours.

25. Growing economies need additional space to exploit resources. With the resources on land already under pressure, exploration would perforce have to expand into the maritime domain. Thus far, the Exclusive Economic Zones have mainly been exploited by coastal states for shallow water extraction of hydrocarbons and seafood. The focus is now shifting to the vast mineral resources from deeper waters. Besides the technological challenges involved in seabed mining, the need for long term protection of such resources and associated infrastructure becomes another security consideration. Blocks allocated to India and some other countries in South Indian Ocean for deep sea bed mining become factors for consideration, in this regard.

26. Human security holds special relevance in the maritime domain. More than half of humanity lives within 200 km of the coast, which accounts for only 10% of the available landmass. It is also this thin slice of land that bears the brunt of maritime natural disasters such as tsunamis, cyclones and floods. The IOR alone is the locus of nearly 70% of the world’s natural disasters, the consequences of which are further aggravated by high population densities and the lack of capacity to react effectively in their aftermath.

27. There is an intricate link between the oceans and the atmosphere, as they regulate the planet’s climatic conditions – something so central to sustenance of all forms of life, including human. The effects of climate change, therefore pose significant challenges to human security in our region. Geographically, the Arctic may seem a remote place for us in the IOR, but the accelerating environmental changes there would have profound implications, globally. Of those, rising sea levels, directly threaten the IOR’s low-lying coastal states and island nations such as parts of Bangladesh and Maldives.

28. Having dwelled on a broad range of maritime challenges, I shall now outline the Navy’s vision and endeavours in meeting them.

29. Famous maritime historian KM Pannikar, in one of his seminal works had stated and I QUOTE, “The vital feature which differentiates the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic or the Pacific is the subcontinent of India, which juts out far into the sea for a thousand miles. It is the geographical position of India that changes the character of the Indian Ocean.” UNQUOTE

30. India’s geo-strategic location positions us right at the confluence of major arteries of world trade. The Indian Navy is therefore viewed by some of the littorals as a suitable agency to facilitate regional maritime security in the IOR as a net security provider. India’s standing as a benign power provides credence to this perception, making us a preferred partner for regional security.

31. The first means of maintaining peace is, of course, the prevention of armed conflict. Our own experience during Operation Vijay (Kargil Operations) bears testimony to the utility of strong maritime forces in dissuasion and control of escalation. You would be aware that the Indian Navy’s posture in the North Arabian Sea, contributed significantly to the early achievement of India’s operational goals and, more importantly, in limiting the scope of the conflict.

32. Our perspective plans are centred on building not just our force structure, but capabilities to meet the identified and emerging challenges. However, neither do we intend, nor is there a need to match numbers with any other country. Instead, we are focused on creating capabilities and leveraging our strategic geography to assert and defend our sovereign interests in the maritime domain. With modern aircraft carriers, along with potent surface, sub-surface and air platforms, we have a balanced force capable of undertaking a range of operations, from the brown to the blue waters, and also contribute to regional security.

33. Military intervention, in support of friendly nations, at their request, or under the aegis of United Nations, is also an option for conflict prevention and crisis resolution. When mercenaries attacked and took control of Male in Nov 1988, our prompt politico-military response, as part of Op Cactus, remains etched as one of India’s most successful operations in support of regional stability. The Indian Navy has also made significant contributions during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and UN operations in Somalia.

34. Another dimension to promoting peace is through cooperative security. The Navy discharges this responsibility through a broad spectrum of cooperative and inclusive endeavours. These encompass coordinated operations, bilateral exercises, security assistance and military-to-military dialogue.

35. Preserving good order at sea and ensuring security of International Shipping Lanes in the IOR is another duty of the Navy in the interest of the global commons.

36. The MV Alondra Rainbow incident of Nov 1999, culminating in the capture of the hijacked vessel, along with pirates, was the first major anti-piracy operation undertaken by the Navy. We also undertook anti-piracy patrols in the Strait of Malacca when piracy was thriving there a decade ago.

37. In the East, we undertake bilateral coordinated patrols, or simply CORPAT, with Thailand and Indonesia, which address a range of maritime security issues. Plans exist to include Myanmar in this endeavour. India is also a party to ReCAAP or Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, a government-to-government agreement on anti-piracy cooperation and information sharing. The fact that the menace of piracy has largely been controlled in South-east Asia bears testimony to the strength of a cooperative approach.

38. In more recent times, the Indian Navy has been at the forefront of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, since Oct 2008. Our ships and aircraft have seen sustained prolonged deployments, escorting Indian, as well as, foreign flagged ships. Our robust actions, such as sinking of four pirate mother ships in 2011, have deterred piracy, close to the Indian coast. The dealings clearly signalled India’s resolve to curb this menace. Since then, no successful pirate attack has been reported within 450 nm of our coast. Similarly, in the Gulf of Aden, no ship under our escort has been pirated during the last four years. Over 2400 ships have been escorted by Indian Naval Ships, 40 piracy attempts foiled by us and more than 120 pirates arrested.

39. While we deploy forces independently in the Gulf of Aden, our actions are nevertheless underlined by a cooperative approach. We coordinate our operations with other navies and regularly exchange information through participation in cooperative mechanisms such as SHADE. I must also highlight that the 13th Plenary Session of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) was held at the UN Headquarters in New York, in December last year, under India’s chairmanship.

40. Of late, there have been many encouraging signs. Thanks to concerted international efforts, there has been a declining trend in pirate activity since 2011. It merits reiteration that piracy is a manifestation of larger problems ashore. Therefore, as long as poor governance continues in coastal states, lawlessness and piracy will prevail at sea and engage much of our efforts.

41. Maritime terrorism is another grave challenge. The events of 26/11 brought to fore the porosity of our long coastline and its resultant vulnerability to terror attacks perpetrated from the sea. Moreover, the prospect of terror attacks on off-shore infrastructure and sea-borne traffic, close to the coast, puts a premium on ensuring coastal security. Consequent to government directives, the Navy is now responsible for overall maritime security of the country, including the coast. A comprehensive coastal security framework, involving a number of organisational and materiel measures, has been created. The setting up of Joint Operation Centres, raising a dedicated force for Coastal Security (Sagar Prahari Bal), creating a network of coastal radars and AIS chains, are all meant to enhance our Maritime Domain Awareness, close to the coast.

42. On request, we also deploy assets to undertake EEZ surveillance and anti-piracy patrols for some of our neighbours. We are cooperating with several IOR nations in the installation of coastal radars and AIS chains to enhance domain awareness. In addition, our continuing assistance in terms of hydrographic surveys, technical assistance and product support are of great value to our maritime neighbours. Our foreign cooperation initiatives are aimed at their capacity building and capability enhancement. Several IOR nations are currently the focus our cooperative policies. As I speak, the Navy’s sail training ship Sudarshini is on the last lap of her six-month long MEA-sponsored voyage to South East Asian nations under a joint India-ASEAN venture to celebrate the 20th anniversary of India’s diplomatic relations with ASEAN.

43. For many years now, training initiatives have constituted the cornerstone of the Navy’s interaction with friendly navies. Besides offering training opportunities at our professional institutes, we also depute our training teams abroad. Furthermore, bilateral operational exercises constitute important avenues for maritime diplomacy as well as capacity building. The Indian Navy regularly exercises with regional and extra-regional navies on a range of military, constabulary and benign functions, including counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief etc.

44. As regards human security, the Indian Navy already has rich experience in HADR. It may be recalled that in 2004, within hours of being hit by the tsunami, we had dispatched several ships and aircraft, across the Indian Ocean, to provide assistance to our neighbours, while coping with the disaster ourselves. This vividly demonstrated our operational capability and commitment to the region. The Navy continues to remain ever-prepared to respond swiftly in any similar unfortunate eventuality in the future.

45. In addition to operations and exercises, dialogue forms a key avenue for strengthening military-to-military relations. When nations cooperate militarily against common threats and challenges, it enhances mutual trust, thus reducing avenues of conflict. As on today, we engage 15 navies in institutional naval staff talks and prospects exist for adding more.

46. The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an inclusive forum, comprising the Indian Ocean navies, is one such landmark initiative, which we are proud to have pioneered. Since its inception in 2008, IONS has grown from strength to strength and today it has 35 member navies from across the region. This endeavour has led to establishing and promoting consultations and cooperation amongst various participants and is also facilitating evolution of a common set of strategies to enhance regional maritime security. The Indian Navy continues to make seminal contributions to this initiative. We have taken the lead in establishing the IONS website last year; and this year, we would be conducting a workshop at Mumbai, on the topic, “Role and expectations of emerging Navies in cooperative engagement for peace and stability in IOR”. This, in a way, captures the very essence of my talk today and also the Navy’s strategy for maritime diplomacy and security cooperation in the region.

47. Similarly, MILAN, a biennial gathering of select regional navies at Port Blair, is another path breaking initiative of the Indian Navy. Beginning with just five members in 1995, we hosted 14 navies in 2012 for this biennial event. This indeed has been a very successful endeavour in fostering goodwill among participating navies through professional and social interaction of naval personnel.

48. During my talk, I have outlined only the major maritime challenges and some of our important endeavours. There are many more. For a planet with more than two-thirds covered by the water, the destiny of humanity is inextricably linked to the sea, more so, in a globalised world. Conversely, the surrounding human activities in the littoral also influence the maritime environment in myriad ways.

49. In conclusion, maintenance of a peaceful maritime environment is an imperative, for our nation and the region, to sustain our growth trajectories and to achieve our national aspirations. The oceans are vast, challenges too many, and resources limited, for any individual state to assure security of the global commons. This, therefore, calls for a cooperative approach. By virtue of India’s geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean and her maritime capabilities, the Indian Navy is deemed by many to be the net security provider in the IOR.

50. A cooperative and supportive approach is central to our endeavours. Mindful of the region’s strategic importance for India, and the world, we are marshalling our capabilities and efforts to promote regional security, in concert with other stake holders. At the same time, being aware that cooperation co-exists with competition, we also remain watchful and committed to prevent the IOR from becoming an arena for another round of extra-regional military contestation.

51. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. Jai hind.