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The Evolving Role of the Colombo Security Conclave

Context:

In early December, Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Adviser (NSA), participated in the sixth NSA meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC). The meeting conducted a comprehensive review of the CSC’s developments and progress over the past year, culminating in an agreement on a roadmap for the year 2024.

Relevance:

GS2- International Relations- Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Mains Question:

In the context of the recently concluded sixth NSA meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC), examine the grouping’s significance for India and its evolving role in the Indian Ocean Region. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

About the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC):

  • Established in 2011, the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) originally operated as a trilateral maritime security alliance involving India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.
  • During its fifth meeting of national security advisers, Mauritius was formally welcomed as the fourth member.
  • Additionally, Bangladesh and Seychelles participated as observers and have received invitations to become full-fledged members.

Sixth NSA meeting of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC):

  • The primary objective of the meet is to foster a safe, secure, and stable Indian Ocean. Attendees included member states Mauritius and Sri Lanka, as well as observer states Bangladesh and Seychelles.
  • Notably, the Maldives, now under new leadership, was the lone member state absent, highlighting the influence of domestic politics on regional collaboration.
  • It is crucial for India to persist in advocating for an active CSC to effectively address the challenges in the Indian Ocean.

Shifting Dynamics of the Colombo Security Conclave:

  • The Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) highlights the changing dynamics within the Indian Ocean. It gained prominence in 2011 when Sri Lanka joined India and the Maldives to form a trilateral maritime security group. However, tensions between India and the Maldives led to a standstill after 2014.
  • In 2020, India not only advocated for the revival and formalization of the organization but also expressed interest in expanding its scope to include Mauritius, Seychelles, and Bangladesh.
  • This initiative reflects India’s evolving strategic vision for the Indian Ocean, which is increasingly at the center of a multipolar world, with external powers vying for influence in the region. This competition is expected to intensify with the growing significance of the Indo-Pacific.

Significance of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) for India:

  • For India, a traditional power in the region, the CSC presents an opportunity to fortify its leadership and security framework. Since gaining independence, India has played a progressively significant role in enhancing security in the Indian Ocean.
  • The limited capacity of island nations to safeguard their seas and counter transnational threats has motivated India to provide assistance in defense and security capacity building, infrastructure development, and equipment provision.
  • India has also served as a crucial first responder in the region, intervening to prevent coups and extending humanitarian and economic aid during crises such as COVID-19.
  • The CSC allows India to institutionalize its role, shape the regional security architecture, and effectively address both current and emerging threats.
  • The CSC focuses on five pillars: maritime security and safety, countering terrorism and radicalization, trafficking and transnational crime, cyber-security and protecting critical infrastructure, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
  • Through these areas of cooperation, India aims to better comprehend and address threats in the Indian Ocean, positioning itself as a preferred partner for Indian Ocean states. This strategic accommodation and flexibility contribute to the security of the Indian Ocean.

Rising Influence of China:

  • The resurgence of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) is intricately linked to the rise of China. Since the early 2000s, Beijing has made substantial investments in the Indian Ocean through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, aiming to gain access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Presently, China is not only bolstering its naval capabilities but also cultivating robust defense partnerships with Indian Ocean states. It regularly conducts maritime exercises in the region, operates a base in Djibouti, and holds control over Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.
  • Additionally, China engages in scientific endeavors, such as mapping the Indian Ocean bed. By institutionalizing its presence through forums like the Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, China seeks to challenge the existing security architecture in the Indian Ocean.
  • Despite reservations about some of these developments, India recognizes that many regional countries do not necessarily perceive China as a threat. Moreover, these countries are too dependent on China to adopt an overt anti-China policy.

Resurgence of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC):

  • Since 2021, the CSC has delved into issues such as terrorism, terror financing, narcotics trafficking, cybercrime and security, marine pollution, maritime law, and coastal security.
  • In 2022, the organization held its first-ever conference of oceanographers and hydrographers, along with another conference on coastal security. The upcoming iterations of these conferences are scheduled for 2024.
  • Joint working groups have been established or are in the final stages of development, covering areas like terrorism, cyber-security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR), trafficking, and transnational organized crimes.
  • Besides regular meetings of National Security Advisers (NSA) and Deputy NSA, the countries are collaborating on capacity-building in sectors such as counter-terrorism, police, law enforcement, and cyber-security.

The Impact of Political Dynamics:

  • Being a relatively young institution, the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) is susceptible to changes in domestic politics within its member states.
  • The recent absence of the Maldives from the meeting exemplifies this vulnerability. Two likely reasons could have influenced this decision: firstly, a preference for a closer relationship with China, and secondly, an alignment with nationalist campaigns that have committed to distancing the Maldives from India in defense cooperation.

Conclusion:

All CSC member states are democracies, and these nations leverage both aspects for their domestic and external advantages, particularly as the Indo-Pacific region gains prominence. For New Delhi, whose ambitions, responsibilities, and challenges have significantly increased in the past decade, the CSC will continue to be a vital instrument in consolidating its regional leadership.


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