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India: Time For Special Task Force On Maritime Security – Analysis

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Maritime security, which was a two-dimensional concept before 2000 focussing essentially on likely threats and challenges from State actors and pirates, has now become a three dimensional concept as a result of the increasing threats of maritime terrorism with a global or trans-national reach.

Till 2000, the concept was seen largely through the prism of possible confrontations and conflicts between the competing interests of State actors in the region such as between India and Pakistan or between India and China or between the US and China.

The attack by an explosive-laden boat of Al Qaeda against US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October,2000, and the unsuccessful attempt by Al Qaeda to blow up and sink a French oil tanker Limburg in the same area in October, 2002, expanded the scope of the concept to cover likely future threats to maritime trade and navigation and to sensitive coastal establishments from non-State actors with the motivation and capability for attacking targets on or from the seas.

India
India

The interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects arrested during the investigation of the attacks on USS Cole and Limburg revealed the plans of Al Qaeda to target maritime choke points like the Straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz and the Malacca Straits by blowing up sea-borne vessels laden with explosives and container ships to block the choke points.

As a result, maritime counter-terrorism became an important component of maritime security. Counter-piracy was an important component of maritime security even before 2000 due to the activities of pirates based in the ASEAN countries in the Malacca Straits, but the threat was limited in scope due to the fact that the pirates operating in the South-East Asian region, despite being well-equipped in modern means of communications, had a limited capability for operating in high seas far from the Malacca Straits.

The advent of the Somali pirates in the post-2005 years totally changed the complexion of piracy and the complexity of counter-piracy operations. The Somali pirates, though not as well equipped as the pirates of South-East Asia in modern means of communication, demonstrated a capability for operating in high seas far away from their bases in Somalia through the technique of using small boats launched from mother ships. Consequently, the techniques of counter-piracy called for a capability to deal with sea-borne non-State actors off the coast as well as in high seas.

The degradation of the capabilities of Al Qaeda in recent years as a result of the relentless campaign of attrition waged by the US against it and the strengthening of maritime security measures relating to ports and container traffic have prevented the major threats to maritime security from Al Qaeda apprehended in the wake of the attacks on USS Cole and Limburg from materialising.

However, new threats have arisen from attempts of other terrorist organisations to copy-cat Al Qaeda’s acquisition of a capability for maritime terrorism. The sea-borne attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba on targets in Mumbai from November 26 to 29, 2008, showed that the capability for maritime terrorism is no longer confined to Al Qaeda alone. Moreover, the role of the State of Pakistan in helping the LET to carry out a devastating sea-borne terrorist attack on targets in Mumbai underlined the new threats from State-sponsored maritime terrorism.

The conventional naval techniques and capabilities developed over the years to protect ourselves against threats from State actors and their navies would no longer be sufficient to protect ourselves against maritime threats from non-state actors, whether it be terrorists or pirates, and their State-sponsors. Naval doctrines now have to contend with threats from State as well as non-State maritime actors.

Dealing with threats from non-State actors, who pose a threat to the maritime security of many nations, calls for techniques based on mutual assistance and intelligence sharing among the navies of the affected countries. Despite political differences and competing economic interests among the State actors, they find it necessary to engage and co-operate with each other to face and neutralise threats from the non-State actors.

Despite the continuing border dispute and despite suspicions and apprehensions over the implications to India of China’s strategic co-operation with Pakistan and the implications to China of India’s strategic co-operation with Vietnam, the Indian and Chinese navies have found ways of co-operating with each other in dealing with the Somali pirates. There is a triangular co-operation mechanism involving the Navies of India, China and Japan and there is a talk of the South Korean Navy being brought into this co-operation mechanism. The serious differences between China and Japan on the question of sovereignty over the East China Sea islands have not come in the way of ideas towards a counter-piracy strategy based on mutual assistance and intelligence sharing.

A reference to the coming into shape of a trilateral co-operation mechanism was made by Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, the retiring chief of the Indian Navy, in his final briefing of the Indian media at New Delhi on August 7,2012. According to “The Hindu” of August 8,2012, he said: “ Our anti-piracy operations have thus far been co-ordinated trilaterally with the Chinese and Japanese and, in the near future, this initiative could include the South Korean Navy.”

Engagement and co-operation against maritime terrorism has not made the same progress as co-operation against the Somali pirates because of the role of Pakistan in sponsoring organisations such as the LET, which pose a threat to our maritime security. Unless and until Pakistan gives up its policy of using terrorism as a weapon against India, the scope for co-operation between the Indian and Chinese Navies against Pakistani terrorist organisations taking to sea-borne terrorism will remain limited. There is, however, scope for co-operation between the Navies of India and China against global terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda when they operate on or from the seas.

Engagement and co-operation against non-State actors should not be allowed to weaken our national will and determination to assert our national core interests against State actors. One has to see the activism of the Chinese and US Navies in the South China Sea area in this context. The US has not allowed its developing economic and other cooperation with China to come in the way of the assertion of its national interests in the Pacific and East and South China Seas. Similarly, China has not allowed its co-operation with the ASEAN countries in various fields to come in the way of an assertion of its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea islands.

Thus, one finds the evolution of a new naval doctrine in different countries of the region based on the twin pillars of engagement and co-operation to the extent possible against threats from non-State actors and assertion of national interests against State actors without allowing the importance of engagement and co-operation against non-State actors weaken the national will and determination to assert national interests against State actors endangering such interests.

Our naval doctrine to deal with the three dimensions of maritime security should provide for capabilities that would enable us to deal effectively with threats from non-State actors, by our acting either alone or in co-operation with other navies, and threats from State actors to our national interests. While discussing Maritime Threats and Challenges, one has to clearly identify likely threats from State as well as non-State actors and the techniques required for dealing with them. The ability of our Navy to deal with the three-dimensional threat to our maritime security will depend on the back-up support from our intelligence agencies.

There is a need for not only a new and smart naval doctrine to deal with the three components of maritime security, but also for a new and smart intelligence doctrine to enable the R&AW , the Directorate-General of Naval Intelligence and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) provide effective back-up support to the Navy and the Coast Guard.

Unfortunately, the R&AW continues to be largely a land-struck intelligence agency using traditional police methods of collecting, analysing and assessing intelligence. It does not have an adequate understanding of the sea and sea-borne threats and does not have the capability for collecting intelligence about them. The importance of imparting a sea-borne orientation to the R&AW has not received much attention. This state of affairs needs to be corrected without further loss of time.

We have had many Task Forces to look into our capabilities for dealing with threats to our national security—whether such threats be from the land, the seas or the air. In view of the rapidly changing dimensions of the threats to maritime security, the time has come for a separate Task Force to deal exclusively with threats to our maritime security. It should identify the doctrinal, strategic and tactical deficiencies relating to our maritime capabilities and recommend measures to remove those deficiencies.

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B. Raman

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

One thought on “India: Time For Special Task Force On Maritime Security – Analysis

  • Avatar
    August 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm
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    I have read the article and analysis with interest and underscore the urgency to review current doctrine, national liaison mechanisms and ‘other practices’. I would like to make two principle remarks (suggestions) if I may:
    1. The Special Task Force is to be comprised of as many different ‘stakeholders’ as possible, under the leadership of an independent, but valued individual; and preferably a civilian with an excellent grasp of the military domain and its many interfaces ‘internally’ and ‘externally’.
    2. I would be thrilled to be invited and – as an independent foreigner – be allowed to become closely involved with this gargantuan STF challenge.
    Marco Hekkens, Aldershot (UK) 9 August 2012

    Reply

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