Indian Ocean Region (IOR)

Mains Marks Booster     27th July 2023        
output themes

Introduction: The context of the discussion is the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in the world order, specifically in the Indian sub-continent. The discussion highlights the significance of the IOR, its diverse sub-regions, and its role as a major trade route and repository of natural resources.

What is IOR?

  • The IOR broadly defines areas consisting of littoral states of the Indian Ocean.
  • It comprises sub-regions such as Australia, South East Asia, South Asia, Horn of Africa, and Southern and Eastern Africa.
  • The IOR is marked by cultural, social, political, and economic diversity.

Indian ocean

Significance of IOR

  • Biggest Market: The IOR littorals house over one-third of the world's population.
  • Trade Significance: More than half of global seaborne trade passes through the Indian Ocean, with nearly 70% going to countries external to the region.
  • Rich in Natural Resources: The IOR littoral states possess abundant raw materials, primarily oil, crucial for major manufacturing industries in developed and developing nations.
  • Ample Marine Resources: The IOR holds vast seabed resources, including oil, natural gas reserves, minerals, and abundant fish.
  • Maritime Choke-points: The presence of major maritime chokepoints and Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) in the IOR contributes to its strategic importance.

Geo-Strategic Importance of IOR to India

  • India is at the Centre: India's central position in the IOR presents both advantages and challenges.
  • Energy Security: India's "sea dependence" for oil is estimated to be around 93% due to total oil imports by sea, offshore oil production, and petroleum exports.
  • Dependence on Seas: Approximately 95% of India's trade volume and 68% of trade value are routed through the Indian Ocean.
  • Fishing and Aquaculture: India heavily relies on Indian Ocean resources, with fishing and aquaculture industries contributing to exports and employment for millions.
  • Huge Maritime Boundary: India's long coastline makes it vulnerable to potential threats emerging from the sea.
  • Hostile Neighbourhood: The 2008 Mumbai attack, carried out by terrorists arriving by sea, underscores the threat posed by the sea border.
  • Unforeseen and Non-conventional Threats: Non-traditional threats such as piracy, smuggling, illegal fishing, and human trafficking present challenges, emphasizing the need for a secure Indian Ocean to protect national interests.

Net Security Provider: To Be or Not to Be

    • Peaceful Seas: India has experienced largely peaceful seas in recent decades, with non-traditional threats like piracy and trafficking being the primary concerns.
  • Reasons to Take Up the Role:
  1. Obligation for the West: Becoming a net security provider is now a strategic obligation for India amid global economic turbulence and shifting US policies.
  2. Wisdom of Responsibility: India's emerging global power status brings with it a commensurate level of international responsibility.
  3. Void in Capability: Recognizing the existing void in capability, India needs to decide on taking up the role.

IOR Threat Mosaic: From Indian Prism

  • Growing PLAN Presence: Chinese presence in ports like Gwadar, Hambantota, and Djibouti raises concerns.
  • Modernization of Pakistan Navy (PN): Pakistan Navy's rapid modernization, particularly in undersea warfare, with assistance from Turkey and China.
  • Shifting US Policy: US policies, particularly since Trump, have seen deviations from previous Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) strategies.
  • Non-Traditional Threats: Non-state forces, piracy, maritime terrorism, drug trafficking, climate change, and other non-traditional threats.

Impediments to India Becoming a Net Security Provider

  • Resource Availability vs. Requirement: India's finite resources and population size pose challenges amid a global downtrend.
  • Financial Capabilities: Robust financial backing is essential to materialize intentions and increase military hardware for net security provision.
  • Existing Civil-Military Relationship: Differences between ministries and civil-military leadership hinder strategic gains.
  • Nascent Jointmanship: Turf wars among the three services impede jointsmanship required for net security provision.
  • Non-alignment Policy: India's adherence to military non-alignment to retain strategic autonomy.
  • Primacy of Land Operations: India's focus on land boundaries with China and Pakistan and its participation in ongoing proxy wars.

Various Steps Taken

  • Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), and naval exercises like MILAN manifest a strategic intent.
  • Initiatives like Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), project MAUSAM, and the proposed Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
  • Increased participation in bilateral/multilateral naval exercises and Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) with regional nations.
  • Training naval personnel from IOR nations through exchange programs.
  • Supplying naval assets to IOR countries.

Way Forward

  • Develop a comprehensive IOR strategy: Create a well-defined plan addressing security, economic cooperation, sustainability, and diplomacy in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Enhance maritime domain awareness: Invest in advanced surveillance technologies and information-sharing mechanisms to monitor and secure maritime borders effectively.
  • Foster strategic partnerships: Strengthen cooperative security mechanisms, intelligence sharing, and capacity building initiatives with like-minded countries in the region.
  • Strengthen naval capabilities: Upgrade the fleet, invest in advanced platforms, and develop indigenous technologies to protect maritime interests.
  • Promote maritime diplomacy: Engage in regional forums, promote dialogue, and foster understanding and cooperation on maritime security issues.
  • Encourage sustainable blue economy practices: Support marine conservation, responsible fisheries, and renewable energy development for long-term environmental and economic benefits.

Conclusion: India's role as a net security provider in the IOR is a topic of debate. While India has experienced relatively peaceful seas, it faces emerging threats such as Chinese presence in strategic ports, modernization of the Pakistan Navy, shifting US policies, and non-traditional threats like piracy and maritime terrorism. Becoming a net security provider would require careful resource allocation, financial capabilities, enhanced civil-military coordination, and the development of joints man ship among the three services.