NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Admiral R K Dhowan (Retd).
By Sea and Coast | 04/08/2021

Charting the way ahead for a safe secure stable and sustainable Indo Pacific.



1.The term Indo- Pacific has moved decisively from its origin in bio-geography to the realms of geopolitics , and today the Indo- Pacific , which is essentially a confluence of two oceans,  has emerged as the world's strategic and economic centre of gravity in the maritime domain.

2. India's primary area of interest in the maritime domain is the Indian Ocean Region and the secondary area of interest extends across the waters of the Indo-Pacific. As far as India's views of the Indo- Pacific region are concerned, they have been spelt out by the honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi , when he described the bounds extending from the shores of Africa to those of the Americas. The honorable Prime Minister also added that India's engagement in the Indo Pacific will be inclusive.

3. I will now highlight some salient strategic challenges and opportunities in the Indo- Pacific, along with some specific recommendations to chart the way ahead for a safe, secure, stable and sustainable Indo- Pacific.

4. The instabilities and turbulence on land in some parts of the Indo-Pacific region , along with issues related to territorial integrity, sovereignty and control of resources have the potential to spill over into the maritime domain and the situation can best be described as ‘FRAGILE’ , consequently over a 120 warships from nearly 20 navies are always present in the Indian Ocean,  to safeguard their maritime interests. In addition naval assets are regularly deployed in the South China sea to ensure freedom of navigation. India has always advocated adherence to international law and it is recommended that India takes the lead along with other countries,  to evolve a common rules based international order,  for the region , to ensure freedom of navigation and equal access and rights under international law to the ‘global commons’ .

5. The waters of the Indo-Pacific region have emerged as global economic highways and the maritime interests of the countries of the region are intrinsically linked to unfettered flow of oil and trade across the region . About 120,000 ships transit through the Indian Ocean every year carrying 66% of the world oil , 50% of the global container traffic and nearly 33% of the world's , cargo traffic . Approximately one billion tonnes of oil transits through the Indian Ocean every year and these oil arteries and trade routes lead further East to the ASEAN and countries like Japan , South Korea and China.

6. Another unique feature of the Indian Ocean is that 80% of the oil and trade which emanates in the region is extra regional in nature. This implies that if there is any impediment in the free flow of oil or trade , it would have a detrimental impact not just on the economies of the region but the global  economy as well. Safety, security and stability on the waters of  the Indo- Pacific region are therefore of paramount importance and to achieve this, it is recommended that networking between navies and maritime partnerships between countries of the region  be strengthened on priority in the coming years .

7. In order to promote maritime cooperation across the Indo- Pacific, there is a need to examine the connectivity options and existing maritime structures. As far as the connectivity options are concerned, in addition to the BRI, there are a bouquet of connectivity options in the Indo- Pacific. These are the international North-South transport corridor ; the Asia-Africa growth corridor ; project MAUSAM , which is an initiative by India for connectivity between people and cultures; The free open and inclusive Indo-Pacific  and the concept of SAGAR , which is security and growth for all in the region and is the vision of the honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi.

8. When we examine and analyze the existing structures, we find them at three levels in the Indian Ocean region. At the conceptual level we have the concept if SAGAR, or security and growth for all in the region. At the political level we have the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which was set up in 1997 and around 2012, Maritime safety and security added to the agenda of the IORA , for promoting cooperation among countries of the region. At the execution levels of the navies, we have the Indian Ocean Naval
Symposium, which is a unique initiative taken by the Indian Navy in 2008 and today it provides an ideal template to promote maritime security cooperation among navies in the Indian Ocean Region.

9. Similarly in the Indo- Pacific Region, at the conceptual level we could consider the strategy for free open and inclusive Indo Pacific . At the political level we have the Quadrilateral security dialogue or the QUAD construct and at the execution level of the navies we need to formalize the structure between navies of the QUAD countries. There is a need for greater interaction between the existing structures and the navies of the region to enhance connectivity and provide synergy for enhancing maritime cooperation across the Indo- Pacific.

10. In order to fully implement the honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of SAGAR, it is recommended that we draw up a comprehensive maritime cooperation road map with various countries in the region (with a whole of Government approach) to enhance avenues in Maritime cooperation,  to ensure safety security and stability and to shape a positive and favorable maritime environment across the Indo- Pacific.

11. The waters of the Indo-Pacific  have emerged as global economic highways, but the seas are no longer a benign medium and globalization has resulted in vulnerability of the oceans . The threats and challenges in the maritime domain are as wide and varied as they come and include piracy, maritime terrorism, arms trafficking, drug smuggling and poaching or IUU fishing.

12. In order to meet the threats and challenges, the navies and coast guards of the region need to have an effective information sharing agreement to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) across the Indo- Pacific region . India has leveraged technology to launch the naval communication satellite Rukmini in 2013. In addition India set up an extensive NC3I  network by linking up the AIS chain, the coastal radar stations and 51 stations of the Navy and the Coast Guard,and integrated these at the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), which was set up by the Indian Navy in 2014 . In addition the information fusion centre has been set up by the Indian Navy in 2018 , Navies and maritime forces in the region need to collaborate for exchanging white shipping information to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and ensure  safety and security across the Indo Pacific region.

13.In order to extend the MDA to the underwater dimension it is recommended that the navies of the QUAD countries examine the feasibility of cooperating in the field of underwater domain awareness by linking up  the under water sound surveillance or SOSUS network. This could be of particular relevance around the island chains and the choke  points to the Indian Ocean.

14. Another area where navies and hydrographic assets can play a significant role in underwater mapping is marine spatial planning. There is a need to systematically map the coastal areas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to prevent creation of 'offshore ocean slums' and optimally exploit the sea areas for harnessing the Blue economy.

15. Another challenge in the waters of the Indo- Pacific region is that indiscriminate pollution of the seas has resulted in a detrimental impact of climate change on the oceans .Consequently a large percentage of extreme climate conditions turn into natural disasters. It is recommended that navies and coast guards in the region co-operate with each other to provide humanitarian assistance anddisaster relief.

The United Nations document transforming our world 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goal SDG 14 provide a template for conservation of oceans, seas and resources. In addition United Nations has declared the present decade as the decade of the oceans. India along with other countries in the Indo Pacific region need to draw a perspective plan for cooperation to counter the impact of climate change, harness the blue economy and ensure sustainable development of the oceans.

16. Over the past few decades there has been indiscriminate pollution of the seas and contamination of natural marine habitat. Studies have indicated that 80% of all pollutants in the oceans emanate from land and if the current scale of pollution continues, in a few decades from now we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish. The honorable Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi has launched a unique initiative of Swachh Bharat or Clean India; we need to extend this initiative to Swachh Sagar or Clean Oceans.
It  is recommended that India should take the lead and along with other countries in the region to draw up an action plan to ensure clean and healthy oceans for our future generations.

17. The seas around us are gaining new found importance as each day goes by and I have no doubt that the current century is the century of the seas .The countries of the Indo- Pacific region are largely maritime in nature with a natural outflow towards the seas. The responsibility of protecting the maritime interests of the countries of the region, falls squarely on the shoulders of men in white uniform, because it is the responsibility of the Navies and Maritime forces to ensure that the maritime interests of the countries of the region which are enablers of the Blue economy and have a vital relationship with the region’s economic growth are allowed to develop unhindered at all times.

Maritime security isa prerequisite for harnessing the Blue economy and no single Navy is robust enough to ensure the security of the global commons on it’s own. Maritime forces and countries of the region therefore need to work together to ensure safe, secure stable and sustainable Indo-Pacific region.

#Sea and coast