You are here

Colombo Security Conclave: Prospects for India as ‘Preferred Security Partner’

Dr R. Vignesh is Research Analyst at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • March 30, 2022

    On 21 February 2022, the Hon’ble President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind during his address at the Presidential Fleet Review underscored the Indian Navy’s capability to conduct prompt and effective deployment in times of crisis as the cornerstone for India’s vision to become the Preferred Security Partner (PSP) and First Responder in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).1 This was also reiterated by the Chief of Indian Navy Admiral R. Hari Kumar during MILAN 2022 exercise where he stated that the Indian Navy seeks to become the PSP for all smaller nations in the IOR on the basis of its ability to swiftly respond due to its geographical proximity and military capability.2 The recently concluded Fifth National Security Advisor (NSA) level meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) held in Maldives has provided a broad overview of India’s roadmap towards becoming the PSP in the IOR. India shares this forum with other IOR nations like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius, which is the newest member to join the grouping. In his opening remarks during the meeting, India’s NSA Mr Ajit Doval said that CSC is moving towards greater institutionalisation and expansion through developing a concrete roadmap and a defined charter of objectives.3 Seychelles and Bangladesh, currently observers, are likely to be included as members in the future iterations of CSC. This maritime security oriented sub-regional grouping has the scope for becoming an important platform for India to demonstrate its commitment and credibility for becoming the PSP for the smaller nations in the IOR.

    Net Security Provider vs Preferred Security Partner

    India’s vision for becoming PSP, as brought out by the Hon’ble President of India and the Indian Navy Chief, is an indicator of a major reorientation in the outlook for India’s collective security approach towards the IOR which was earlier denoted as ‘Net Security Provider’ (NSP). It is important to comprehend the rationale behind India now favouring the term PSP over NSP. In 2013, the former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh had asserted that India as a ‘Net Security Provider’ of the IOR shapes its strategic role in the region.4 Since then, the term NSP has been predominantly used in the Indian security discourse including in India’s maritime security document to denote India’s role and responsibilities towards the security of the IOR.

    The term NSP can be applied to a nation that is in possession of credible military power and is willing to employ its military assets for addressing the common security concerns at a regional or global level.5 India staking claim as the NSP of the IOR is substantiated by the historic track record of its proactive role in contributing to the security and stability of the region. India has successfully extended its military capability for preventing political instability in Maldives, Seychelles and most notably in Sri Lanka with the deployment of Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) during the 1980s. The Indian Armed Forces have carried out large-scale relief operations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2005 Pakistan Earthquake and the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. India has time and again demonstrated its ability to be the first responder to a crisis in the region. In 2014 after the desalination plant in the Maldivian capital of Male was damaged by fire, the Indian Air Force airlifted over 200 tons of drinking water illustrating India’s swift response capabilities.6 Apart from this, India has been robustly involved in building its smaller maritime neighbours' maritime and coastal security capacity through the supply of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), Fast Patrol Vessels (FPV), Surveillance Aircrafts and Helicopters, and establishment of Coastal Surveillance Radar System (CSRS) for enhancing the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in IOR. Military interoperability is being facilitated through regular joint military exercises and training of officers and personnel has been taking place regularly across the Indian Military Institutions.

    Despite these multifaceted efforts undertaken by India towards the security of the region, a few misperceptions are being spread by certain political sections with vested interests. Ambassador Achal Malhotra has pointed out that unjustified and erroneous perceptions about India’s ‘Big Brother Attitude’ are floating around in the region, and that these views are being propagated by political actors with vested interests and lobbies who view their anti-India political stand as synonymous with nationalism.7 Realising the potential of such misperceptions creating a trust deficit between India and its neighbours, deliberate efforts have been made by some antagonistic regional actors to propagate such notions without any valid justification. This has become more evident from the recently released Pakistan’s National Security Policy which makes a veiled reference to this by stating that the self-professed role of any one nation as the NSP in the wider IOR will have a detrimental influence on the region’s security and economy.8 Though factors like geographical proximity, historical track record, social, political and cultural affinity weigh in favour of India as the NSP of the region, the growing geostrategic significance of the IOR has attracted various extra-regional powers into the foray of the power struggle that has been taking shape across the greater Indo-Pacific region. These powers view security and economic partnership with the island nations of IOR as crucial to consolidate their strategic foothold in the region. Attributing to this, the Indian Navy in the recent years has acknowledged that any voids or shortcomings on the part of India in terms of security of the region can be filled in by extra-regional powers. It is in this context that the Indian Navy has favoured using the term PSP over NSP to denote its commitment towards the collective maritime security challenges in IOR.

    Although both NSP and PSP functionally denote credible military capacity capable of addressing the collective security challenges of the region, the subtle distinction between them can be inferred on the basis of how they might be perceived by other nations of the region. The term PSP indicates a more proactive yet inclusive and collaborative approach towards undertaking the core security responsibilities of the region. As stated by Admiral R. Hari Kumar, the status of PSP is centered on the high levels of trust with friendly neighbours.9   Such levels of trust can be achieved on the basis of the following factors:

    • Possession of Military Capability that can swiftly respond to an emerging security situation.
    • Unequivocal assurance of security assistance. 
    • Accepting and accommodating the varied security priorities of security partners.
    • Favourable track record of successful security collaboration in the past.

    Taking these factors into consideration, CSC is emerging as a promising platform through which India can reorient its image from being perceived as the NSP to that of a PSP for regional challenges.

    Significance of Colombo Security Conclave for India

    Established in 2011 as a trilateral grouping consisting of India, Sri Lanka and Maldives for collaborating on collective maritime security issues, the CSC is moving towards expansion and greater institutionalisation.10 This has been evident from the most recent iteration of the grouping where Mauritius was welcomed as the fourth member and key areas of security cooperation were described in the joint statement as the five pillars of CSC—maritime security, counter-terrorism, combating transnational crime, cyber security and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).11 As the CSC is further projected to expand with the inclusion of Seychelles and Bangladesh in its future iterations, India’s capacity and commitment to collaborate with these nations across these five pillars will be a crucial determinant for shaping India’s image as the PSP in the IOR. India’s geography in the Indian Ocean is the most significant strategic advantage that enables India to project itself as the PSP in the region as opposed to the other contenders. This is a fact that the representatives from the Indian Navy highlighted in the recently convened parliamentary standing committee on defence.12 Geographical proximity combined with human, military and economic resources put India in a position of strength to assume a leadership role in the key areas of security cooperation laid out in the recent CSC meeting.

    On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that sustaining an effective and robust regional mechanism for economic and security cooperation has been an enduring challenge for South Asia. The bilateral issues between India and Pakistan with the latter’s support to terrorism and insurgency induced instability in Jammu & Kashmir have rendered regional cooperation through the South Asia Association for Region Cooperation (SAARC) a non-starter.13 Inferring from the SAARC example, India along with the other members must note that success of security cooperation through the CSC will depend on certain prerequisites which are as follows:

    • Averting Bilateral Issues: Ensuring that issues between two members are resolved through appropriate bilateral forums is the collective responsibility of all CSC members. Such issues may endanger the multilateral consensus required to sustain multilateral security forums such as CSC.
    • Avoiding superimposition of any particular Security Concern: In the recent NSA level meeting of CSC, the Maldivian Minister of Defence Ms Mariya Didi in her opening remarks stated that it is important to acknowledge that no country’s security predicament can be the exact reflection of any other country.14 This statement underscores that member states must take cognizance of the fact that the core focus of CSC must be centered on collective security issues.
    • Countering false narratives: The members other than India in CSC must ensure that baseless political narratives such as India’s ‘Big Brother Attitude’ being promoted in some corners of their political spectrum must be addressed. Such narratives can prove to be counterproductive for the collective resolve of the CSC.


    India’s aspiration for being recognised as the PSP in the IOR is underscored by its commitment to the security of its smaller neighbours in the region. India possesses the military capability necessary for swiftly responding to a crisis in its vicinity and has the track record of unequivocally extending its military, economic and human resources for the security of its neighbours. Minilateral forums such as the CSC are significant in accentuating India’s image as the PSP to its maritime neighbours. On 9 August 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his remarks at the United Nations Security Council’s high-level open debate on enhancing maritime security brought out five key principles—removing economic barriers from legitimate maritime trade, peaceful settlement of maritime disputes, coordinated response to natural disasters and maritime terrorism, preservation and sustainable use of maritime resources and lastly promoting maritime connectivity.15 It must be taken into account that there is a considerable overlap between the five principles brought out by the Hon’ble Prime Minister and the five pillars of security cooperation that have been laid down in the recent CSC meet. As the CSC moves towards developing a concrete roadmap and a defined charter of objectives, it can contribute immensely towards shaping India’s image as the PSP for meeting regional security challenges.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.