Indian Ocean Region

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  • Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean: A Changing Kaleidoscope

    The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), though considered an important maritime region, has not yet been accorded the due importance of a geo-strategic entity. One attributable reason is the ‘sandwiching’ of the IOR between two ‘hotspots’—the South China sea and the Persian Gulf that divert the attention of nations from this area. While there are commonalities like ‘Freedom of Navigation’, the divergences—caused by varying strategic interests even while addressing common security issues such as piracy—have resulted in a sectoral view of the maritime security paradigm in the IOR.

    October 2013

    Effective Underwater Weapon Systems and the Indian Ocean Region

    The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has profound strategic relevance not only for the nations in the region but also for other countries.1 The bulk of the world’s merchant fleets transit through one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, via the Malacca Straits. Also, the presence of major petroleum exports originating from the Gulf, encourage the major powers of the world to have a strategic presence in the IOR.

    July 2013

    Vipin asked: What could be the implications of Gwadar Port being handed over to a Chinese company?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: China is seeking to enhance its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean with the ostensible aim of securing the transportation of energy resources from the Gulf region. Its interest in ports in the South Asian region - Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan - is part of this strategy. However, analysts the world over argue that its strategic interests go beyond this. Its strategic nexus with Pakistan over the last more than five decades gives a special connotation to its interests in Gwadar. China is aiming at connecting Gwadar with its restive province of Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway. It intends to convert the highway into a strategic corridor (with railway lines and oil and gas pipelines) and use it for transporting energy from the Gulf region as well as resources from Pakistan.

    However, the Sino-Pak plan to use Gwadar for strategic purposes has not taken off primarily because of the prevailing instability and uncertainty in Balochistan. Therefore, as long as Pakistan does not address the concerns of the Baloch people, it is highly unlikely that Gawadar can ever realise its full potential. Due to this reason, the Singaporean company which had won the tender to manage the Gwadar Port decided to leave, forcing Pakistan to invite China to manage it. Because of its strategic interests alone— since it does not make business sense at all at the moment— China decided to accept the offer. Chinese behaviour, thus, needs to be monitored closely to understand its intentions in the coming days.

    Naval Operations Analysis in the Indian Ocean Region A Review

    The end of the Cold War resulted in a fundamental swing from a navy designed to engage a blue water battle fleet to one focused on forward operations in littoral waters. The Cold War era had fuelled massive research and development (R&D) in design of sonars that was able to substantially minimize the uncertainties of the underwater environment. The shift of the naval theatre to the littoral waters led to a paradigm change in terms of technology requirements to retain the effectiveness of these sonars.

    January 2013

    Ganesh Pote asked: What is the geo-political significance of the Indian Ocean?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The geo-political significance of the Indian Ocean stems from the fact that it is a centre piece in the wider Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The combination of economic growth and slowdown, military expansion, increasing demand for natural resources, demographics combined with the geo-political situation, increased presence of nuclear capable actors and variances in regional structures of governance, highlights the geo-political significance of this area.

    Major points that merit attention are: -

    • The Indian Ocean is third largest water body of the world that has vital sea lanes of communication crisscrossing it and which feeds Asia’s largest economies. Around 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes through the choke points of this ocean and therefore it literally connects the east to the west.
    • The varying system of governance in the area determines the outline of the regional security architecture. The relations between nations both intra and extra regional shapes the complex matrix that define the overall architecture. Changes in political thought processes and any alteration in relations could alter the security scenario of the region.
    • There has been a gradual to an accelerated expansion of maritime forces and their capabilities in the region. The growing presence of extra regional powers and nuclear capable nations has further altered the existing security framework. This is affecting the existing military balance and the impending imbalance could create a new architecture that could affect the prevailing security scenario.
    • The economic upsurge of some nations and stagnation/slowdown of others is throwing up challenges that could affect the regional and international markets. The lack of intra-regional trade as compared to the extra-regional trade has limited the relations between nations in the region. Added to it is the growing competition and race for exploiting available natural resources, which could bring in new challenges to the region in times to come.

    Vipin asked: What are the different measures taken by the Indian Government to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean? How can piracy be eradicated from the Indian Ocean Region?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The measures taken by the Indian Government can be viewed at three levels. Firstly, operationally via kinetic means, by deploying naval ships with armed helicopters to patrol the piracy prone areas. Secondly, in the international arena, by participating in the various multilateral fora that have been set up to combat piracy, and thirdly, internally by taking steps to arrest and prosecute pirates and strengthen the fight against piracy via a piracy bill.

    Operationally, the Indian Navy commenced anti piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden from October 2008. Indian Naval ships operate independently and are not part of the multinational forces that operate in the area. In order to achieve a high degree of cooperation with other maritime forces, India is an active participant of various cooperative mechanisms like “Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE)” that have been established to facilitate sharing of information. In addition, India, Japan and China (all three nations operate independently) have agreed to coordinate patrols thereby ensuring an effective and optimum use of the combined maritime assets to escort ships, especially in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor established for use by all merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden. The Director General Shipping has launched a web-based registration service where merchant ships can register with DG Shipping in order to avail of the escort facility provided by Indian Naval ships in the Gulf of Aden.

    Due to the spread of piracy in the Indian Ocean, Indian Naval and Coast Guard ships have also been deployed in piracy prone areas nearer the Indian coast. As a result, around 1000 plus ships of various nationalities have been escorted and around 40 piracy attacks prevented by Indian forces deployed in these areas. At the international level, India continues to take up the issue of piracy and its attendant ramifications at various fora and advocates steps to be adopted by the international community. Internally, India arrests and prosecutes pirates as per the laws of the land, a weak point as of now as there is no specific penal code that addresses the issue of piracy. In arresting and prosecuting pirates, India is one of the few nations that do so. In order to strengthen the fight against piracy, a piracy bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha during the 15th session in April 2012. The bill post enactment should, amongst other aspects, give the required boost to the legal system to prosecute pirates.

    Piracy can be eradicated by addressing the root causes, an aspect well recognised by the international community. The root cause of piracy in the Indian Ocean lies on land i.e., the instability in Somalia. Addressing this issue requires an international understanding and sustained effort.

    Tsering asked: What are the possible strategic and military implications of deep sea mining by China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The strategic and military implications are enormous as they would permit a larger legitimate presence of the Chinese in the region. Economically, deep sea mining in the IOR would require a conduit for storage and transportation of the products mined as close to the mining area as possible. This would require setting up of infrastructure designed to cater for storage and transportation that could be established in a nation or nations close to the region. This infrastructure could be set up by China either as a bilateral or multilateral enterprise and could add to the strengthening of strategic ties between China and the concerned nations.

    Militarily, China would be in a legitimate position to increase its military presence specifically naval for ensuring security of the area from a variety of existing threats like terrorism and piracy. In order to sustain a military presence, it would have to rely on ports in friendly nations for re-supply and refueling purposes. This offers the chance of increased military-to-military cooperation with nations in the area. Overall, the implications of deep sea mining in the IOR could accord China the opportunity to increase its foot print in the region.

    US–India–China Relations in the Indian Ocean: A Chinese Perspective

    The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is becoming increasingly significant in the world arena, with the United States, India and China—the most important stakeholders in the region—playing substantial roles. Judging from the three countries' strategic thought, concerns, interests and power balances, it is the US–India potential competition for maritime dominance in the IOR that demands the most attention. However, competition does not mean confrontation.

    July 2012

    Eminem asked: What are the strategic and security implications of 'string of pearls' for India?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The ‘string of pearls’ theory is often seen as a Chinese attempt to encircle India. However, there are a few imperatives that require to be seen in a holistic manner. The Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) could be seen stemming mainly from their interest in advancing their economic engagement and ensuring safety of their maritime trade, especially oil, as the Indian Ocean is the conduit for Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) flowing from east to west and vice versa. Therefore, in order to establish a presence and ensure protection of their investments and interests in the region, China is engaging IOR nations as it is doing the world over. Whether the ‘string of pearls’ is a threat to India’s interests, especially to what extent, is a debatable issue. Although a matter of concern, it should be viewed in the backdrop of India’s existing standing as a stabilising factor in the security dynamics of the region.

    China’s engagement of nations in the Indian Ocean region, namely Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives and most recently Seychelles is based mainly on infrastructure development and enhancement of diplomatic ties thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what is called the ‘string of pearls’ theory. Recent political events in Myanmar and the US engagement could however dilute the Chinese influence there. However, the strategic and security implications of Chinese engagements in the IOR are tremendous and require to be viewed through multiple prisms ranging from the diplomatic, economic, good will and trust to military balancing. The military balancing aspect is not considered an area of immediate concern and would be driven by the Chinese capability to maintain a sustained military, especially naval, presence in the region.

    Although China’s actions are within the ambit of international law and relations, a fact acknowledged by the Indian defence minister, India should look at a policy that would ensure that its relations and investments with the nations in terms of goodwill and trust earned, defence diplomacy and economics are not reduced by the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

    Sairam asked: How the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region is detrimental to India’s interests?

    S.S. Parmar replies: The Indian Ocean is the conduit for Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) flowing from east to west and vice versa. Therefore, the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region could be seen stemming mainly from their interest in advancing their economic engagements and ensuring safety of their maritime trade, especially oil.

    China’s engagement of Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and most recently Seychelles is based mainly on infrastructure development and enhancement of diplomatic ties, thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what could be called its “Look West Policy.” Recent political events in Myanmar and the US engagement could however dilute the Chinese influence there. However, the implications of Chinese engagements in the IOR are tremendous and require to be viewed through multiple prisms ranging from the strategic to economic to military balancing. The military balancing aspect is not considered an area of immediate concern and would be driven by the Chinese capability to maintain a sustained military, especially naval, presence in the region.

    Whether the Chinese presence is detrimental to India’s interests, especially to what extent, is a debatable issue. Although a matter of concern, it should be viewed in the backdrop of India’s current standing as a stabilising factor in the security dynamics of the region. Although China’s actions are within the ambit of international law and relations, a fact acknowledged by the Indian defence minster, India should look at a policy that would ensure that its relations and investments with the nations in terms of goodwill and trust earned, its defence diplomacy and economics, are not reduced by the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

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