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THE STATE OF MARITIME SECURITY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

Maritime security matters immensely to a country like India given that it stretches into three prime sea areas in the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean. Since the bygone times, maritime security has been a concern as the open seas have offered a convenient medium for adversaries to strategize tactfully against a vulnerable civilization. The world’s third-largest water-face in the Indian Ocean has witnessed historical activity that had much to do with trade in a borderless world which inadvertently brought about the rise of maritime security as a chief determiner of the safety and continued survival of man.

In the present day, maritime security has developed many alternate dimensions owing to geostrategic necessities which compel nations to think broadly. It is not merely traditional seaborne threats that pose danger to the Indian peninsula and coastal areas but even non-traditional ones. The latter usually denotes the activities and actions of irregulars such as pirates and maritime criminals but also encompasses threats relayed by the wrath of nature and environmental problems which may or may not be anthropogenic in nature. Owing to climatic unpredictability and worsening environmental regimes such as the decaying health of ocean species and the scramble for valuable undersea resources to the point of emptying them in entirety, non-traditional security threats in maritime regions have evolved and are knocking the doors of a global exigency.

The Indian Ocean is no different from other maritime regions yet it is also a unique water-mass that is an important constituent of the multi-continental Indo-Pacific region. For India, the Indian Ocean presents a maritime security challenge by itself like no other entity. Various extra-regional players, the security of trade-carrying sea lanes, resource concerns relating to energy and mineral extraction, and the opportunities un-utilized (or under-utilized at best) that are all to do with harnessing the immense potential of India’s blue economy, typify the Indian Ocean’s holistic maritime security.

Moreover, the islands lying within and around the Indian Ocean area bear the geostrategic potential to critically include and involve maritime countries of proximate regions such as East Africa and Southeast Asia in the Indian Ocean’s volatile mix. Maritime security isn’t a mere add-on but a definitive factor in the Indian Ocean. India’s prerogative is all but defined through the need to consistently work towards high levels of maritime domain awareness, MDA, and the safety and security of its sea-facing populations which derive their livelihood from what is harnessed through an immense coastal economy. Maritime security is a broad term in the Indian context as it serves a dual purpose of maintaining livelihood of millions in combination with combatting threats and challenges to the country as a whole.

The interlinking of traditional and non-traditional threats to the Indian Ocean’s maritime security with the above factors poses a huge challenge in and out of the Indian Ocean’s depths. Threats posed by organized actors such as China have much to do with intelligence gathering, information analysis, survey missions, and the deployment of nuclear-powered submarines to challenge or alter the status quo. The utility of the Indian Ocean in China expanding its footprint (both maritime and terrestrial) in regions such as East Africa cannot be understated in Beijing’s case. Chinese strategic attitude in the Indian Ocean is exemplified by its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), strategic maritime infrastructure interests in countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives involving ports and islands, and the devised-for-India ‘String of Pearls’ euphemism meant to absolutely deny the rising South Asian power any form of Indian Ocean supremacy. The latter is also aimed at restricting India to South Asia while empowering its longtime adversary in Pakistan through extensive defence diplomacy.

The Indian Navy, in all obviousness, believes the Indian Ocean to be critical to India’s maritime security. Any unnatural splashes in the waves of the Indian Ocean are also likely to impact India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity drastically and decisively. The 26/11 Mumbai terror adventures with their distinctly maritime element will always serve as a ghastly reminder of how and why the seas offer a convenient medium for obscene acts of terrorism. While an ocean differs from secondary water-bodies such as seas and straits as it presents considerable natural challenges on a massive scale to all sorts of players, the security of the Indian Ocean, in particular, has always been at stake despite India’s relatively decent and continually evolving naval force, and accompanying maritime security enablers such as the Coast Guard and the Marine Police. Pertinent application of what the Indian Navy intends to achieve greatly and grandly in being India’s maritime commander-in-chief and the supreme force of general goodwill is the need of the hour, and precisely so in the Indian Ocean.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong to the Author alone and do not, in any capacity, reflect the views of his employers in the National Maritime Foundation and the Defence and Security Alert magazine.

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