India’s Maritime Security Challenges
(The Power Equation
in the Indian Ocean Region)
Admiral Sangram S Byce (Retd)
(The author is a
former Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command and is a
Fellow of the Australian
College of Defence and
Executive member Inpad.
India is faced with multiple and complex security and strategic
challenges. There is political turmoil and instability in the immediate
weapon country, is on the verge of
breaking up with the possibility of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of
fundamental forces resulting in attendant grave consequences. A
nuclear Pakistan is too dangerous to be
left adrift. A global strategy to wrest control of her nuclear arsenal would
have to be adopted. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar,
too have serious political problems. All of these have a direct impact on India’s
would have to proactively shape the strategic environment in her area of
interest for her to be counted as a predominant power.
An out of the
box approach would be necessary. Such an approach is possible only if major
organizational changes are introduced in the policy making machinery of India.
Sectoral differences would have to be managed and
greater synergy brought about within the various organs of the administration.
This is not a mean task, as I am of the firm belief that it is ‘easier to fight
an enemy than to coordinate friends’.
India has been a member of the ‘Nuclear Weapons Club’ (albeit not
recognized by the Big Five) since Pokharan II. She
should have taken the Strategic initiative and pursued
with vigour her geo-political
ambition and increased her influence in global affairs. However, even though India
made spectacular economic and industrial gains, she was regrettably unable to
adequately leverage this status to further advance her Strategic and security
interests. Sadly, Pokharan II remains just another
technological milestone. India’s
Nuclear weapon status runs counter to the strategic interests of major world players and if she does not
actively consolidate her position, pressures will be applied on India
to roll back this important ‘lever of power’.
of International Relations are in a state of flux. The status of USA as the sole super power is under serious
challenge from a number of countries, particularly from India’s neighbour China. The continuing Global
Economic meltdown which has seriously impacted the US has resulted in further diluting
her Super Power position.
In order to
maintain her Super Power status, the US will strongly pursue
strengthening and further increasing alliances particularly in the resources
rich Indian Ocean Region. On the other hand, in order to gain pre-eminence China has already considerably increased her
influence in both Asia and Africa. Infact, today all the immediate neighbours of India, with the exception of perhaps Bhutan are in
the sphere of influence
of China. India would need to reverse this
trend and ensure that areas of influence around her are free from external
interference and power projection. This forms a major strategic challenge for India.
competition for Power between US and China,
must not lose sight of her own strategic and security interests and would need
to pursue an independent policy engaging both these countries without carrying
out the agenda of either of them.
It is a
historical fact that all major powers have also been great sea powers. This was
reiterated by India’s
first Prime Minster – Shri Jawahar
Lal Nehru when he said,
“To be secure on
land, we must be Supreme at Sea...” India’s geo – strategic environment
is predominantly Maritime in nature. She has vast and varied Maritime interest
that needs to be furthered and protected. These interests include Energy
Security, fisheries, mining,
and maritime trade to name only a
few. Equally vast and varied are the complex Maritime security threats and
challenges. They span from terrorism and piracy to drug trafficking, gun
running, illegal immigration, environmental pollution and movement of
would therefore need to formulate a comprehensive Maritime strategy that would
give her the capability to deter conflict in the region both Military and
non-military (counter –terrorism and counter – piracy). Additionally, she must
have the ability to win militarily if forced into a conflict.
It is fairly
well documented and widely reported that presently China’s
interest in the Indian Ocean is Energy
security. As the Chinese economy grows, her energy requirement and consequently
her interests in the Indian Ocean region will
grow even more. In order to protect her Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) China
in all probability will increase her Naval Power in this Region. Her intent to
do this has been made amply clear by China’s participation in the
anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast. As India’s own Maritime trade and
energy requirements increase, a sizable presence of Chinese Navy in
the Indian Ocean Region will run
counter to India’s
interest. Furthermore, in pursuance of Sea Power,
China is likely to look for
bases in India’s
area of interest. The construction of a modern port at Gwadar
(on the Pakistani coast) by the Chinese is a case in point.
in Oil rich West Asia and the Power Vacuum that obtains in the Indian Ocean
Region has resulted in a sizeable presence of extra regional powers in India’s
backyard. Failure on her part to
develop into a strong Maritime Power will only expose her to the risk of becoming
a pawn in the maritime game which is now clearly
discernable. India would have to work towards
developing a strategic architecture wherein her status as a predominant power
in this region is recognized. It is in her maritime Interest to create an environment
within which she can indulge in
nation building activities and also
ensure free and unhindered flow of International Trade.
It is a well
known fact that China
has embarked on a massive military (including Naval) modernization programme
since the 1990’s. However, as of now the Chinese Navy does not have the
requisite capability to operate for extended periods in the Indian
Ocean region. Furthermore, China’s
focus in the near future is unlikely to shift from South
China Sea (specifically The Eastern Pacific where her vital
interests lie) to the Indian Ocean Region. India should therefore, seize this
opportunity and develop her Naval strength to a level that would enable her to
fill the existing power vacuum and create a regional balance thereby protecting
her National interests in the Indian Ocean region.
requiring early attention is the eradication of increasing incidents of Piracy
and Seaborne terror attacks. The threat of global terrorism, piracy and
international crime coming together is very real. A proactive approach to
counter these threats would be required. Pre-positioning of Maritime forces in
order to provide quick reaction against emerging threats would be necessary.
Since both terrorism and piracy have global implications, a policy of
cooperative engagement would perhaps be the best strategic option in
prosecuting these threats.
The key to
strategic ambition lies in developing credible capabilities so that even while
pursuing cooperative security arrangements her predominance as a maritime power
in this region is not diluted. This would also need to be borne in mind when
entering into any bilateral/ multi-lateral initiatives and partnerships.
The process of
capability building is complex and has many dimensions. I will address this
aspect in a subsequent article. However, suffice it to say that capability
would have to be based on a well
thought out strategic plan involving a joint approach. India must also reduce dependence
on ‘got abroad’ weapons and weapon systems. This does not imply
self-sufficiency (as that may be utopian). However, greater self-reliance is
the need of the hour.