In an innovative departure from normal practice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside (in virtual mode) over an open debate at the global high-table, namely the UN Security Council, on August 9 when India holds the President’s chair for one month.
This will mark a diplomatic first for an Indian PM: This role has been performed in the past by a minister or a senior diplomat.
Recently, Defence Minister has flagged India’s concerns on Maritime Security.
In ADMM-Plus, Defence Minister called for rule-based order in Indo-Pacific and raised the issue of freedom of navigation in SCS. India also sought adherence to international rules and laws.
Global maritime security and India’s role:
- India’s location in the Indian Ocean has placed it at the nerve centre of trade and cultural cross-pollination in this region throughout history.
- Historical evidence exists of Indian linkages with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mauritius with manifestations of Indian culture clearly seen in their temples and legends.
- Nurturing of these linkages is important for preservation of India’s interests in the region.
- The subject to be deliberated upon by the UNSC members is “Enhancing maritime security: A case for international cooperation” under the larger umbrella of the “Maintenance of international peace and security”.
- This would be an extension of Modi’s advocacy of SAGAR (security and growth for all in the region) that he had unveiled in 2015 in relation to the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
- Currently, global maritime security is roiled and the most recent incident that has caused considerable unease about the safety of merchant shipping is the suspected drone attack (July 29) on an Israeli-controlled tanker in the north Arabian Sea off Oman that killed two crew members.
- Piracy and non-traditional challenges at sea such as gun-running and smuggling are old chestnuts.
India’s Maritime Interests:
India has a huge coastline of about 7517 km and more than 1200 islands. Many of these islands are quite distant with the farthest of the A&N islands about 1600 km from the nearest mainland.
India has invested in a variety of sectors like infrastructure, industry, energy, and services in a number of counties in the immediate maritime neighbourhood and beyond.
India has made significant strides towards harnessing deep sea resources with the International Seabed Authority according it pioneer status and an allocation of 75000 sq.km of seabed in the Central Indian Ocean.
- India’s territorial sea has an expanse of 193,834 sqkm while the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers 2.02 million sqkm.
- The living and non-living resources in this zone, which measure about two-third of the landmass of the country, are exclusive to India, as also the trade and transport facilities that navigate through this area.
- This expanse is also home to 51 percent of India’s proven oil reserves and 66 percent of natural gas reserves.
Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs):
- The importance of the Sea Lines can be gauged from the fact that the oceans supported about four fifths of the total world merchandise trade.
- Over the last decade, India’s seaborne trade has grown at twice the global growth rate of 3.3 percent while cargo traffic at Indian ports has doubled to 1 billion tonnes per annum over the last decade and is expected to reach 1.7 billion tonnes per annum by 2022.
- This amounts to a total of 95 percent of India’s trade volume.
- In order to secure Sea Lanes of Communication, enhancing interoperability at sea, intelligence- sharing and maintaining freedom of navigation, India should work together with like-minded nations.
- The Indian economy is hugely dependent on energy imports to the extent of 81 percent of the total domestic oil consumption in 2015-16.
- Nearly 95 percent of India’s international trade by volume and over 70 percent by value is carried over the seas.
- India is also the world’s fourth largest producer of fish, most of which comes from the sea.
- This maritime economy is supported by an extensive network of 13 major and about 200 minor ports all along the coast.
Developing Blue-water Naval Capabilities:
Given India’s stakes in Indian ocean, it is very significant for India to develop blue-water naval capabilities.
Apart from developing indigenous naval capacity, there is a need to push for development of three aircraft carrier groups, one for each Command, and set to operate in western, southern, and eastern quadrants of the Indian Ocean.
On the ‘Act East Policy’, key elements of the policy aim to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.
Over the decades, India highlighted the nuclear issue to the global high-table: Delhi brought nuclear disarmament into the global discourse, even though it demonstrated its own nuclear weapon capability in 1998.
In a similar manner, the Modi legacy to the global policy basket could be advocacy for sustained focus on the maritime domain and the correlation with globalisation, the blue economy, the health of the ocean and the overall impact on human security.
Security and equitable growth for all by husbanding the global ocean for future generations is a laudable goal and encouraging the UNSC to prioritise this issue is a worthy cause.
Extension of the Malabar exercise to the QUAD members and willing nations of Asia-Pacific.
Thus, maritime security has many strands and PM Modi would be well advised to look at the big picture while encouraging the global high table to review the maritime domain holistically.
Clearly, nettlesome strategic and security issues such as the South China Sea and FON would find little consensus in the UNSC where China is a permanent member and would stall any meaningful debate.
What may find support for a useful debate at the UNSC would be those areas that could be brought under the rubric of the “global good”.
For instance, the welfare of seafarers who are the sinews of the global merchant marine, which is the foundation of global trade, has received scant attention in this Covid-scarred period and the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has been unable to effectively address such issues.