India’s Move Towards Collective Security in the Indian Ocean

India’s growing dominance in the Indian Ocean

March 30: The CSRS project was initially established in 2015 with the coastal nations of Mauritius, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka. At the time, the former president of the Maldives, Abdullah Yameen, preferred to broker with China rather than India. This led to a stall in the project in 2016. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has decided to take a forceful stand against Chinese ambitions in the region.

China’s infrastructure projects linked to its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative have extended through Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and presents a direct challenge to India’s regional influence. However, OBOR has hit some bumps in the road. High project costs and poorly negotiated deals that have led to Sri Lanka leasing their port to China to repay its debts, and Pakistan borrowing from the international market. This has led to a reconsideration of previously brokered projects and provided an opportunity for India to present itself as a viable alternative regional leader.

India has engaged actively with littoral states to counter China’s influence in the Indian Ocean. In 2015, Modi travelled to Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius to announce India’s policy called Security and Growth for All in the Region. The policy aims to increase cooperation and maritime security of nations surrounding the Indian Ocean through increased surveillance. India’s CSRS project is a step in that direction by assisting countries to improve, modernize, and share maritime logistics and information.

India is becoming a strategic partner for maritime security and has received the support of countries such as France and Australia, both of which have significant interests in the Indian Ocean. France is uneasy with China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and views it as a threat to its maritime, national security, and economic interests in the region. For Australia, the Indian Ocean represents a vital trade route and the country sees India as an ally in maritime security.

Increased cooperation reduces risks

The November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, wherein members of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba arrived via boat from Karachi, was possible because of India’s poor maritime border security. Since then, India has built a strong coastal surveillance network to decrease the probability of future similar incidents. Overall cooperation with surrounding countries reduces the likelihood of trans border security challenges including piracy, trafficking in drugs and persons, illegal fishing, and dangers posed by natural disasters such as tsunamis, cyclones, etc.

Beyond mitigation of security risks, the agreement has global economic implications, as the regional connects the oil-rich countries of the Middle East to Africa, East Asia, Europe, and North and South America. The countries surrounding the Indian Ocean have more than 65 percent of the world’s oil and more than 45 percent of the world’s gas reserves. The region encompasses 28 countries that account for 35 percent of the world’s population and 19 percent of global GDP representing a big market for businesses. Over 80 percent of maritime trade passes through these waters.

India imports over 70 percent of its oil through the Indian Ocean region and a majority of that oil comes from the Gulf region. India conducts 40 percent of its trade with littoral states along the Indian Ocean Rim and increased cooperation will facilitate uninterrupted trade flows. The ocean also provides a source of income and prosperity to coastal Indian states which depend on fishing as a source of income. A stable maritime policy with information sharing among partner countries is integral for maintaining India’s economic and security interests of the regional, and India in particular.

Maritime alliances strengthen broader geopolitics

This comes at a time when India and most other countries in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific region are particularly concerned about China’s ambitions to expand its sphere of influence through the OBOR.  The Maldives represents a particularly important trade route for both India and China. The Maldives is significant to China’s long-term ambitious for OBOR. For India, much of the country’s cargo passes through the Maldives’ shipping lanes, which makes it unlikely that any overtures China makes to the small island nation will be ignored by India.

By securing a maritime alliance with another country such as the Maldives, India has moved one step closer to promoting its own long-term interests and strengthening its own position in the Indian Ocean in the face of increasing Chinese posturing in the region.

Source: Global Risk Insights

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