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Indian Ocean Maritime Security Cooperation: Will India Lead?

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  • April 11, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: R Adm (Retd) K Rajamenon
    External Discussants: Professor Baladas Ghoshal, Dr. Vijay Sakhuja
    Internal Discussant: Cmd SS Parmar

    The paper focusses on the prospects of Maritime Security Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and India’s role in it. Maritime security has become a central issue for regional and extra-regional actors. Emerging traditional and non-traditional security challenges largely converge at sea as they impact economic, environmental, energy, human, food and national security. There are compelling drivers for enhancing maritime security cooperation in the IOR and considerable obstacles to be overcome.

    The author argues that as the major regional power and an emerging Asian great power India’s willingness and capacity to provide strategic leadership is critical. However, in view of the alleged civil-military dissonance and the demonstrable lack of political will for reform raises questions about India’s strategic competence and influences perceptions of India’s prospects as a regional leader. Moreover, India’s strategic policy ambiguity undermines regional trust and confidence.

    Notwithstanding India’s reluctance, the paper argues that regional actors will increasingly look to India to provide strong, proactive and coherent leadership; to engender a spirit of cooperation and shared destiny. The paper concludes that India’s strategic leadership presents a key regional security risk, and an opportunity.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • The presence of a large no. of actors espousing different cultural values and strategic attitudes makes the leadership position very challenging and difficult to sustain. Lack of regional cooperation in the IOR is not as much the result of lack of political will as it is the result of lack of material capabilities and consensus. India is trying to evolve that eluding consensus. MILAN is an effort in that direction.
    • It was argued that currently the priority of foreign policy of India is to maximise economic gains to internally stabilise and power-projection therefore, has been put on the backburner.
    • To aspire for great power status without developing matching capabilities to fulfil the obligations that come along this status would fail us. India’ reluctance to engage in expeditionary activities or in security architectures can be partly explained thus.
    • One reason for India’s reluctance to look beyond its borders is its troubled neighbourhood. Leadership role has to begin with neighbours and it was pointed out by discussants that India’s neighbours are not conducive to India playing an important role at the regional and global level. India is accused of nursing big brotherly attitude towards its neighbours. The China factor is also very important in India’s foreign policy and its quest for leadership role. China is both a determinant and constraint on India’s foreign policy.
    • Significantly, it was brought up during the discussion that India has to play an important role I the IOR as abdicating its responsibility will allow China to take control of the situation to the detriment of India.
    • The domestic compulsions of India also inhibits India’s leadership role. India’s Israel policy or West Asia policy has largely been hostage to the minority politics. Similarly, in recent times politics of federalism has acted as a constraint on our foreign policy particularly the neighbourhood policy.
    • The absence of track II in IOR was lamented. It was argued that track I lacks the guidance and inputs of track II and it hampers cooperation among the IOR members.
    • India does not have a written strategic doctrine and this does not instil confidence in the other countries. In the absence of a well-articulated strategic doctrine ulterior motives can be attributed.
    • The issue of Civil-military relations was discussed in detail. It was agreed that contrary to the western writings on CMR, which portray as the situation has reached a dead end; the civil-military relations in India is not actually the problem between the civilian leadership and military establishment, rather it can be described best in terms of higher defence management.
    • It was suggested to the author that an empathetic appreciation of the problems that constrain India’s foreign policy would present a more balanced view of the so called reluctant power. For instance, one of the primary reasons for this reluctance on part of India stems from its historical experience of the NAM days when India’s idea of Asia was not taken forward.
    • On the question of CMR the author would benefit if he explores the reasons for its overarching presence in the system. One reason could be the role it played in the nation-building in the transitional phase of Indian democracy.
    • India’s view of IOR should be dealt with in the paper in order to understand its position on the leadership issue. Moreover, who all support India’s leadership and who not should be listed out.
    • The paper would enrich if it prepares two separate list of problems that India face; one under the heading internal problem and the other external problems.
    • It was brought up during the discussion that multi polarity is the key in the region. In view of this the paper should bring forth India’s role as one of the key players in the region and not hegemon or dominant power.

    Report prepared by Amit Kumar, Research Assistant, IDSA