The Indian Ocean is considered as “bedrock” of the economic activity in the 21st century, but in recent years due to increasing economic competitions and security concerns, importance of Indian Ocean for security and military purposes has increased many folds. Indian Ocean adjacency to Middle East, South Asia, Africa and South East Asia, make it important geographical space for major powers as a lot of oil and petroleum transport of world goes through the ocean. Major powers (US, Britain, France and now China) always had their presence in the Indian Ocean, but due to increasing competitions between major powers, such as US-China and raising competition between regional and major powers, such as India-China, the region is becoming focus of regional and major powers maritime policies.
One of the regional power adjacent to Indian Ocean is India, which is a nuclear power and aspire to have dominance is Indian Ocean. India even considers Indian Ocean as its “backyard” and its policy makers considers that owing to its dominance in Indian Ocean, it would be able to exert power on not only regional countries but other countries adjacent to Indian Ocean. Therefore in recent years India is procuring naval equipment such as UAVs, radars, helicopters missiles and other weapons weapons; building arms, weapons, vessels, SSNs and SSBNs. Moreover, it is also seeking refuge in pacts, arrangements and alliances, to facilitate the process further India recently decided to do a bureaucratic change as well by deciding to appoint a “National Maritime Security Coordinator”. As, Indian bureaucracy is slow, corrupt and lack coordination, it is norm that their projects, procurements and initiatives rarely complete on time.
So, to achieve results faster and in coordinated manner, India is appointing a NMSC, who probably will be serving or retired Vice Admiral and will report to NSA. Like all other countries, Indian maritime economic and security fragments are handled by different organizations, but it has been observed that due to their lack of coordination quicker decision making was not possible. It has been reported in India newspapers that the recommendation to create this position was given by the apex committee of Kargil War. But the reason this decision came now can be found in several reasons. First of all though India always wanted to have naval dominance and nuclear triad, but it is the recent years in which aggressively increased its commitments in the Indian Ocean. Secondly, today India is supported and facilitated by many countries (QUAD, Italy, France and etc.) in pursuing aggressive policies because of their own geopolitical conflicts and interests. Thirdly as today government in India is more hawkish, it is naturally to assume that it would adopt the policies which will facilitate more aggressive outlook. Fourthly, in recent deadly border conflict with China where Indian land forces are in very tight position and have no alternative to coerce PLA to withdraw from recently acquired positions along disputed LAC, development of strong naval force, building of naval alliances would help India in creating a pressure on China. As Chinese oil and petroleum and other exports go through the Indian Ocean, India with help of alliances wants to create a tougher situation for China to have some bargaining chip. Last but not the least is India consider the IOR as its backyard, it is impossible for it to bear the competition in the region, therefore to further invigorate its diplomatic front it is establishing a post dedicated solely for naval and maritime coordination and relations.
In these attempts, India even established center known as “Fusion-Information Center” in 2018 to monitor traffic and track any development in Indian Ocean Region. This center would also serve the purpose of creating linkages and partnerships with like-minded states on issue of same concern. Other than the appointment of NMSC and establishment of FIC, to increase the process naval military modernization India has started the program “Make in India” which is Indian attempt to build indigenous military naval requirements for making Indian navy actual “blue- water” navy. In last five years India even gave its maritime security strategy, where it recognizes that focus of major powers and their conflict is shifting from “Euro-Atlantic” to “Indo-pacific” thus, Indian navy should be formulate a strategy which enabled its navy in multi-dimensional ways. To increase its naval diplomacy with states littoral to Indian Ocean, Modi government presented a so-called strategy to provide security to all regions named “SAGAR” in 2016. India has also signed agreements with US which would facilitate its naval and maritime surveillance capacity.
However, these all initiatives and points boiled down to one fact, which is that India consider it-self as “net security provider” in Indian Ocean Region, therefore it cannot bear the idea of co-existence, where it cannot have the dominant role. Oceans, like skies and space are common goods which play pivotal role in economy and transportation throughout the world, growing competition and rivalry in the region has forced more and more IOR littoral states to develop aggressive naval policies, which ultimately would hamper the “free and secure use of seas and oceans”. Thus, it is necessary that major powers which are not littoral to IOR, but have massive interests in the region stop facilitating India’s aggressive role and also try to negotiate on their own geopolitical conflicts, so that this massive militarization of the Indian Ocean could be stopped.
*Ahyousha Khan, Research Associate, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad