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It Is Vital To Protect Indian Ocean Region

Context

  • The shifting geopolitical landscape in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) had resulted in “international rivalries, competitiveness, and clashes of interests,” according to National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, who called for seamless coordination among all players active in the maritime sector.
  • He claimed that the marine realm is a global construct in which a nation “cannot unilaterally decide.”
  • The MEA’s IOR section includes nearby neighbours like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, as well as medium neighbours like Mauritius and Seychelles, and has recently included distant neighbours like Comoros, Madagascar, and French Réunion, all of which are island states. MEA has lately established a distinct section to address the Indo-Pacific region.

Relevance

GS-II: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Dimensions of the Article

  • The Indian Ocean Region
  • India’s ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ policy for the IOR islands (SAGAR)
  • The Significance of The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) For Indian Security
  • India’s stance toward the Indian Ocean
  • Challenges to India’s role as a net security provider in IOR
  • Way Forward


The Indian Ocean Region

  • The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) endured instability following the Cold War, which was worsened by weak government institutions and the littorals’ limited ability to regulate the marine domain.
  • As security challenges became more varied and frequent, the IOR was increasingly militarised by regional and extra-regional powers. The Indian Ocean is the world’s third biggest ocean, spanning over 20% of the Earth’s water surface. It consists of 51 coastal and landlocked states, including 26 Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) states, 5 Red Sea states, 4 Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as 13 landlocked states.
  • The region is rich in energy and minerals such as gold, tin, uranium, cobalt, nickel, aluminium, and cadmium. Furthermore, the region has an abundance of fishing resources. This region has around 55% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of the world’s gas reserves.
  • The IOR includes four major waterways: the Suez Canal (Egypt), the Bab el Mandeb (Djibouti-Yemen), the Strait of Hormuz (Iran-Oman), and the Strait of Malacca (Indonesia-Malaysia). IOR’s primary seaports are Chennai (Madras, India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Durban (South Africa), Jakarta (Indonesia), Kolkata (Calcutta, India), Melbourne (Australia), Mumbai (Bombay, India), and Richards Bay (South Africa) (South Africa). Consider the primary groupings involved with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

India’s ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ policy for the IOR islands (SAGAR)

  • Protect Land and Maritime Territories and Interests: A primary objective of the SAGAR programme is to strengthen capacity to protect land and maritime territories and interests. India has performed multilateral naval exercises dubbed Milan with 16 other nations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, as well as in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The effectiveness of maritime cooperative action against piracy in the Gulf of Aden exemplifies the advantages of a collaborative strategy, which resulted in a remarkable decrease in pirate incidences in the region.
  • Strengthening Economic and Security Cooperation: The rise of the Blue Economy promises the area a new pillar of prosperity with enormous economic and employment possibilities. It is critical to collaborate with IOR on Blue Economy efforts, notably in marine biotechnology, exploration and sustainable exploitation of ocean mineral resources, sustainable fishing techniques, and ocean energy harnessing. India is dedicated to expanding port connectivity throughout the Indian Ocean’s littoral states and beyond.
  • Disaster Management: One purpose of SAGAR is to promote collaborative action to cope with natural catastrophes and marine concerns such as piracy, terrorism, and emerging non-state actors. India is aggressive in giving disaster relief to littoral islands. This was recently shown in India’s assistance to Madagascar, which had been devastated by Cyclone Ava. The Indian Navy and Air Force sent 1,000 tonnes of fresh water to Male to assist the Maldives, which is experiencing a severe drinking water crisis. The Indian Navy’s annual Joint HADR exercises let India engage with other nations.
  • Working Toward Sustainable Regional Development Through Increased Collaboration: India’s goal is to re-energize economic activity on our islands and along our coasts. There is a renewed emphasis on enhancing marine research, creating environmentally friendly marine industrial technologies, supporting sustainable fishing, and assuring maritime environmental protection. Sagarmala is creating 14 Coastal Economic Zones.
  • Engaging with Nations: One of SAGAR’s missions is to engage with countries beyond our borders in order to foster stronger confidence and promote respect for maritime laws, conventions, and peaceful conflict settlement. India is collaborating on a number of initiatives in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles to boost marine logistics. Other proposals include the Kaladan transit project leading to Myanmar’s Sittwe port, the Trilateral Highway to Thailand, and Iran’s Chabahar port project.

The Significance of The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) For Indian Security

  • Energy security: Nearly 80% of India’s crude oil demand is imported, with most of it travelling by sea. Taking overall oil imports by water, offshore oil production, and petroleum exports into consideration, the country’s cumulative maritime dependency on oil is estimated to be around 93 percent. As a result, IOR is critical to ensuring the safety of India’s oil route.
  • Trade security: Today, the Indian Ocean handles over 95 percent of India’s trade volume and 68% of its trade value. Any obstruction to the flow of commercial traffic would have devastating consequences for her economic goals.
  • Resources: India is significantly reliant on resources from the Indian Ocean. The fishing and aquaculture industries are a key source of export and employ over 14 million people. As a result, establishing a presence in IOR is critical for India.
  • Security Risks: India’s extensive coastline puts it exposed to possible attacks emanating from the sea. Terrorists landing by ship carried out one of Mumbai’s biggest terrorist strikes. State and non-state actors are constantly threatening India’s nuclear plants and coastal cities. As a result, keeping an eye on the water is critical.
  • Piracy: The presence of non-traditional dangers such as piracy, smuggling, illicit fishing, and human trafficking poses significant problems; hence, a secure Indian Ocean is critical to safeguarding India’s national interests. Several incidences of drug smuggling near the Gujarat and Mumbai coasts have been recorded in the past.
  • International Collaboration: Maintaining international cooperation to improve maritime security need two supportive policy and operational frameworks.

India’s stance toward the Indian Ocean

  • IOR is the focal point of 21st-century politics, and India is physically located in the centre. South Africa, Iran, Indonesia, and Australia are other members of the Indian Ocean RIM family, but none has the centrality and attractiveness that India has.
  • India is portraying itself as the “net security supplier” for the Indian Ocean area as a whole.
  • India can play a critical role in this area due to its strategic location and capabilities, particularly during catastrophes and emergencies. Until far, it has played a constructive role and has readily assisted smaller nations in the area such as the Maldives (Operation NEER), Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Importance in Geostrategic Terms

  • India is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean.
  • It is critical to safeguard the Indian Ocean Region in order to protect Indian ships from piracy and to prevent human trafficking and drug smuggling. It handles 90 percent of Indian trade. As a result, it is critical to safeguard our commercial sea lines.
  • Energy Security: The majority of our oil comes from Indian Ocean Rim nations.
  • Asset and island protection: Its security is critical in order to secure Indian assets and islands in the Indian Ocean

Challenges to India’s role as a net security provider in IOR

  • The Indian defence industry’s ability to offer naval and military equipment to India and its allies.
  • Because of potential territorial conflicts with China and Pakistan, there is a greater emphasis on territorial borders.
  • China’s BRI and String of Pearls undermine India’s position in the Indian Ocean.
  • Other nations’ opposition for example, the Seychelles parliament is involved in the Assumption Island project.

Way Forward

  • Rule-of-law Approach: There is a need to assess the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s operational efficacy.
  • Particularly in terms of enforcing its provisions on freedom of navigation, sustainable exploitation of marine resources, and peaceful dispute settlement.
  • Securing Sea Lanes of Communication: Securing SLOCs that cross the seas is critical to improving maritime security.
  • As a result, the global discussion must centre on maintaining nations’ equitable and unfettered access to SLOCs while settling conflicts peacefully.
  • Engaging the Private Sector: There is a need for the private sector to play a larger role in the marine realm, whether it be in shipping or sustainable development through the Blue Economy.
  • Furthermore, the maritime domain may be used to deliver essential underwater fibre-optic connections that enable the Digital Economy.
  • The UN Security Council’s capacity to respond to the discussion by approving a multi-stakeholder strategy to boosting maritime security would be a significant outcome, establishing a model for maintaining “multi-dimensional” security in the twenty-first century.

Source – The Hindu


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December 2022
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