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India’s leadership in UNSC Meet on Maritime Security


The Indian Prime Minister chaired a debate on maritime security titled, ‘Enhancing Maritime Security — A Case for International Cooperation’, as a part of India’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidency.


GS-II: International Relations (Important International Institutions and Groupings, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Mains Questions:

  1. To what extent has India’s leadership in the UNSC debate on maritime security boosted its standing as a key player in the shared commons of the ocean waters? (10 marks)
  2. What is the role of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)? How can India play a part in furthering the prospects for a stable and enduring maritime environment? (15 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the UNSC debate on maritime security
  2. What is Freedom of navigation
  3. Importance of Freedom of Navigation
  4. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  5. Views of other Countries on Maritime Security

Highlights of the UNSC debate on maritime security

  • India, as the UNSC president for August 2021, noted the threats to maritime safety and security and called upon the members to consider implementing the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
  • India emphasized on safeguarding the legitimate uses of the oceans and security of coastal communities, affirming that international law — reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), among other global instruments — provides the legal framework for combating these illicit activities.
  • India also called on the member States to implement the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and Chapter XI-2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and to work with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to promote safe and secure shipping while ensuring freedom of navigation.

Other points highlighted by India

  • Indian Prime Minister described the oceans as a common heritage for humankind and a lifeline for the future of the planet and urged the global community to develop a common framework to deal with contemporary challenges.
  • The PM emphasised on India’s ancient maritime traditions, pointing at: the Gujarati seaman who helped Vasco da Gama sail to the west coast of India from Zanzibar in the 15th century; spread of Buddhism and Hinduism to Southeast Asia by the maritime route; Kutch and Kathiawar as well as the Malabar coast enjoying ancient links to Africa, etc.
  • India has put forth five basic basic principles for maritime security.
    • Free maritime trade sans barriers so as to establish legitimate trade.
    • Settlement of maritime disputes should be peaceful and on the basis of international law only.
    • Responsible maritime connectivity should be encouraged.
    • Need to collectively combat maritime threats posed by non-state actors and natural calamities.
    • Preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources.
  • The Prime Minister advocated the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes on the basis of international law – pointing to an example set by India with its acceptance of the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014 which paved the way for India and Bangladesh to put aside their maritime dispute and forge even closer ties.
  • The PM has called upon the global community to rally together to deal effectively with the ravages of cyclones, tsunami and maritime pollution.
  • PM’s remarks also underscored the importance of preserving the maritime environment and its resources.

What is Freedom of navigation

  • Freedom of navigation (FON) is a principle of customary international law that ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states, apart from the exceptions provided for in international law.
  • In the realm of international law, it has been defined as freedom of movement for vessels, freedom to enter ports and to make use of plant and docks, to load and unload goods and to transport goods and passengers. This right is now also codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Not all UN member states have ratified the convention, notably, the United States has signed, but not ratified the convention – However, United States enforces the practice.

Importance of Freedom of Navigation

  • Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce are key to the spread of prosperity as critical supply chains depend on the concept of open seas.
  • Disruption of sea lanes of communication will have global repercussions – examples for which are:
  • The blockage in the Suez Canal earlier in 2021 interrupted the flow of trade worth billions of dollars.
  • In 1956, great powers intervened militarily when Egypt nationalised this key waterway.
  • In present times, a naval blockade at any choke-point in the Indo-Pacific could prove catastrophic.
  • Considering these examples, it can be said that the neo-colonial concept of closed seas in the South China Sea could be a major impediment to the future of the global economy.
  • India stands for openness and transparency in the execution of projects, based on local priorities, with in-built fiscal viability and environmental sustainability.
  • The U.S., Japan and Australia are also promoting better standards for global infrastructure through the Blue Dot Network.


United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the international agreement defining the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
  • UNCLOS replaces the older ‘freedom of the seas’ concept, dating from the 17th century: national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation’s coastlines according to the ‘cannon shot’ rule.
  • All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters: free to all nations, but belonging to none of them.
  • While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far.

Views of other Countries on Maritime Security

  1. U.S. – The U.S. highlighted that China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea region and said that conflict in the South China Sea or in any ocean would have serious global consequences for security and for commerce. The US also referred to the unanimous and legally binding decision five years ago by the arbitral tribunal constituted under the UNCLOS which China firmly rejected as unlawful.
  2. China – China held that with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea remains generally stable. Referring indirectly to the Quad (US, India, Japan, Australia), a few countries are pursuing exclusive regional strategies in the Asia Pacific region, China warned that such moves can create and intensify maritime conflicts, undermine the sovereignty and security interests of relevant countries, and weaken regional peace and stability.
  3. Russia – Russia did not mention the South China Sea or the Indo-Pacific, and articulated a much nuanced position which promotes strict adherence to key norms and principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter.
  4. U.K. – The UK has a vision for a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific.
  5. France – France held that the maritime domain has emerged as a theatre for a new generation of challenges and urged greater cooperation among the members of the UNSC to deal with the issue.

Click Here to read about the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and India’s Presidency in 2021

-Source: The Hindu

April 2024