With a coastline of over 7000 KM, Maritime security is an important aspect of national security for India. The Government of India is implementing Coastal Security Scheme, in phases, to strengthen security of coastal areas against sea borne threats. The Coastal Security Scheme aims to augment the capabilities of police force of coastal states and UTs for patrolling and surveillance in territorial waters especially shallow waters close to the coast. India also has growing strategic interest due to its strong economic and political relations with Southeast Asian countries coupled with concerns about the safety of the sea lanes. At the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined the vision for free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region which was universally welcomed. Later at the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2019, Prime Minister Modi announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative or IPOI as practical implementation of this shared Vision for the Indo-Pacific with a focus on collaborative effort to better manage, conserve, sustain and secure this maritime domain. In August this year under India’s presidency United Nations Security Council also hosted a high level open debate on enhancing Maritime Security.
Shift from continental strategies to the maritime sphere:
A paradigm shift from continental strategies to maritime strategy is needed because of the following reasons:
- Unlike in the continental sphere where India seems to be hemmed in by China-Pakistan collusion, the maritime sphere is wide open to India to undertake coalition building, rule setting, and other forms of strategic exploration.
- Unlike in the continental sphere, there is a growing great power interest in the maritime sphere, especially with the arrival of the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’. The Euro-American interest in India’s land borders with Pakistan and China is negligible, and more so, there is little any country can do to help India in its continental contestations.
- The situation in the maritime sphere is the exact opposite: great powers remain ever more interested in the maritime sphere and this interest has grown substantially since the coinage of Indo-Pacific. For instance, Germany recently released its Indo-Pacific guidelines following the example of France which brought out its Indo-Pacific strategy last year.
- Beijing’s bullying behaviour in the South China Sea in particular and the region in general has generated a great deal of willingness among the Euro-American powers and the countries of the region, including Australia and Japan, to push back Chinese unilateralism. This provides New Delhi with a unique opportunity to enhance its influence and potentially checkmate the Chinese ambitions in the region.
- The maritime space is a lot more important to China than engaging in opportunistic land grab attempts in the Himalayas, thanks to the massive Chinese trade that happens via the Oceanic routes and the complex geopolitics around the maritime chokepoints which can potentially disrupt that trade.
- Organization like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) may provide equal leverage as a key transit route between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, placed at the intersection of the Chinese and the Indian strategic interests, thereby fuelling India’s Act East Policy as well as deeper integration with ASEAN equally.
- The various conceptions and interpretations associated finally culminate into the creation of better multilateral platforms for India with like-minded partners in the region, for example, the idea of creating the ‘Quad’ or a quadrilateral partnership (with USA, Japan, Australia and India) or strengthened bilateral naval exercises demanding a strategic vision for the future. It is only through a renewed geopolitical scenario that India would be able to make its mark in the new vision of the global maritime outlook.
Importance of Indian Ocean for India:
- Long Maritime Boundary:With a coastline of over 7,500 km, India has a natural interest in enhancing maritime security.
- Securing Sea lanes of Communication:In the Indian Ocean, three major Sea Lanes Of Communication (SLOCS) play a crucial role in the energy security and economic prosperity:
- SLOC connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean through the Bab al-Mandab(that transports the bulk of Asia’s international trade with its major trading partners in Europe and America),
- SLOC connecting thePersian Gulf to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz (transporting the bulk of energy exports to major import destinations like India, ASEAN, and East Asia),
- SLOC connecting theIndian and Pacific Oceans through the Straits of Malacca (integral to the smooth flow of trade with ASEAN, East Asia, Russia’s Far East and the US).
- The Indian Ocean region transports 75% of the world’s maritime trade and 50% of daily global oil consumption.
Other Advantages of having a robust maritime strategy:
- Protection from sea-based threats to India’s territorial integrity.
- Ensuring Stability in India’s maritime neighbourhood.
- Creation, development, and sustenance of a ‘Blue’ Economy, incorporating
- The preservation, promotion, pursuit and protection of offshore infrastructure and maritime resources within and beyond the Maritime Zones of India (MZI).
- The promotion, protection and safety of India’s overseas and coastal seaborne trade and her Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), and, the ports that constitute the nodes of this trade; and Support to marine scientific research, including that in Antarctica and the Arctic.
- The provision of holistic maritime security — i.e., freedom from threats arising ‘in’ or ‘from’ the sea.
- Provision of support succour and extrication-options to the Indian Diaspora.
- Obtaining and retaining a regionally favourable geostrategic maritime-position.
- India’s maritime security challenges and opportunities are both complex and varied.
- Despite being smallest of the three armed forces, the Indian Navy ably complemented by the Indian Coastguard has acquired a creditable profile in the extended Indian Ocean region. Whether it is Tsunami 2004 or humanitarian efforts, the Indian Navy has made the nation proud.
- There is much merit in India formulating and executing a maritime strategy that is focussed upon attaining the objectives arising from a detailed analysis of the country’s principal maritime interests.
- This ‘interests-based approach’ should be at the heart of India’s maritime strategy, wherein India recognises — and leads regional recognition — that the geo-economic goals that the country seeks to achieve in this century are increasingly referenced to the maritime domain.