As the latest meeting of Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) came to end, Bangladesh is set to join the conclave as full member transforming CSC into a sub-regional organization from trilateral platform for Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Mauritius and Seychelles will also enjoy the status and perks of full membership. CSC is very likely to emerge as an effective co-operation platform in IOR, specifically in Bay of Bengal. Amid the QUAD- China stalemate and the region’s growing significance, CSC will allow co-operations among the states sharing the ocean in a balanced way.
The Revival of CSC
CSC was first initiated by Gotabaya Rajapakshe in 2011, then Sri Lankan security adviser and now President of Sri Lanka. It was initiated as a trilateral meeting among the National Security Advisers (NSA) of Sri Lanka, India and Maldives. But for the next 10 years, it was inactive.
In November, 2020, Indian NSA, Ajit Doval revived the meeting once again as a part of India’s Indo- Pacific Strategy, maritime security and countering terrorism. CSC agrees to work upon four main aspects, maritime security, human trafficking, counter terrorism and cyber security. The platform will also cover co-operations in marine environment, humanitarian assistance and capacity building. Before joining, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles were observer for a while and after observing, these IOR states expressed their eagerness to join the forum. From now on, member states of CSC will address emerging non-traditional security issues in Bay of Bengal and IOR region multilaterally and share resources with each other and will help in capacity building.
Sub-regional Forum, Geopolitics and QUAD vs. China
South Asian geopolitics is ‘fluid’ in nature as there are hardly any major disputes among the countries. Moreover, rivalries and disputes are also on specific issues and only among individual states, for instance, the Indo-Pak rivalry. As a result, there are no bloc building and counter bloc building in the region. Moreover, as most states are relatively weaker states in present power status, co-operation dictates the discourse in this region. As a result, these states nurture good relations with almost all regional and global blocs in power game. Though China is also highly influential and the rising face-offs between QUAD and China is making the equation hard for these states by compelling to pick sides, small states always try to avoid any hard military alliances.
Countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka haven’t picked any sides yet in these face-offs and are likely to maintain balance between the parties. In this context, CSC offers a non-traditional security co-operation in sub-regional level in IOR. Moreover, it also has no commitment for hard military alliance which makes CSC a perfect suit for these smaller states as at present, it is really tough for these states to maximize their security in Indo-Pacific region without picking any sides. Hence, an effective CSC also has the potential to offer comfort zone for states to address their non-traditional security threats using a sub-regional forum without picking any sides in global stalemate.
Bangladesh as an observer observed the trilateral forum’s activities and then decided to join as a full member alongside other two island states, Mauritius and Seychelles. Among the members of CSC, Sri Lanka is still balancing between China and India in brewing context and India has already expressed its concern over gigantic Chinese investment in Sri Lanka. Other two members, India and Maldives are members and associates of QUAD. On the other hand, traditionally Bangladesh follows a balancing policy and at present has no intention to join any camp. However, Bangladesh faces many challenges and impacts of challenges in shared Bay of Bengal everyday including contraband, piracy, human trafficking, pollutions and natural disasters etc.
Moreover, terrorism and cyber security are also area of concern for Bangladesh’s national security. For Bangladesh, it is ‘tough job’ to tackle these issues alone and logically, Bangladesh requires being a part of a multilateral forum of concerned area. But in current context, without a side picking it was near impossible. So, naturally, when CSC is offering a sub-regional forum without any hard military commitment, for Bangladesh, it becomes a perfect match. Through CSC, Bangladesh can address its maritime security multilaterally with other IOR states by going beyond the QUAD-China debate. Therefore, to ensure maritime security and capacity building in IOR, joining in sub-regional co-operation such as CSC is highly calculated and seems to be fruitful in given context.
In conclusion, it can be said that, CSC as a sub-regional organization in IOR is a ‘must needed’ one. But it must keep itself away from the current QAUD-China face-offs. As, the revival is an Indian effort; naturally it will help India in its Indo-Pacific strategy at least to some extent. But India should not try to incorporate it in its rivalry against China directly. CSC as a framework should transcend beyond the QUAD-China debate and operate as a sub-regional forum for non-traditional security concerns as it is the only operating organization in IOR at this moment. Otherwise, the rationales won’t be met and the potentials will be wasted. Though CSC is still a new initiative, it has the potential to create a multilateral Indian Ocean where all the IOR members may maximize their security without any side picking in ongoing debate.
*MD Mufassir Rashid, MSS in International Political Economy (Ongoing), Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.