Why the Indian Ocean Matters
Image Credit: US Navy

Why the Indian Ocean Matters

0 Likes
30 comments

This is the fourth entry in our series on understanding Asia-Pacific sea power.

 

As the third-largest body of water in the world, and containing vital sea lanes that help feed some of Asia’s largest economies, the importance of the Indian Ocean has long been clear.

However, the relative decline of US power in the region has left a void that is increasingly being filled by China and India, both eager to secure their position as major powerbrokers in global affairs. It’s this confluence of events and interests that’s starting to make strategic developments in the region particularly interesting right now.

The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world—according to the Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits through Indian Ocean choke points, with 40 percent passing through the Strait of Hormuz, 35 percent through the Strait of Malacca and 8 percent through the Bab el-Mandab Strait.

But it’s not just about sea lanes and trade. More than half the world’s armed conflicts are presently located in the Indian Ocean region, while the waters are also home to continually evolving strategic developments including the competing rises of China and India, potential nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamist terrorism, growing incidence of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa,and management of diminishing fishery resources.

As a result of all this, almost all the world’s major powers have deployed substantial military forces in the Indian Ocean region. For example, in addition to maintaining expeditionary forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, and uses the island of Diego Garcia as a major air-naval base and logistics hub for its Indian Ocean operations. In addition, the United States has deployed several major naval task forces there, including Combined Task Force 152, which is aimed at safeguarding the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf,and Combined Task Force 150, which is tasked with countering piracy from the Gulf of Oman to Kenya.

France, meanwhile, is perhaps the last of the major European powers to maintaina significant presence in the north and southwest Indian Ocean quadrants, with naval bases in Djibouti, Reunion, and Abu Dhabi. And, of course, China and India both also have genuine aspirations of developing blue water naval capabilities through the development and acquisition of aircraft carriers and an aggressive modernization and expansion programme.

China’s aggressive soft power diplomacy has widely been seen as arguably the most important element in shaping the Indian Ocean strategic environment, transforming the entire region’s dynamics. By providing large loans on generous repayment terms, investing in major infrastructure projects such as the building of roads, dams, ports, power plants,and railways, and offering military assistance and political support in the UN Security Council through its veto powers, China has secured considerable goodwill and influence among countries in the Indian Ocean region.

Comments
30
May 14, 2013 at 20:40

[...] and is situated near the oil lanes of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, where by one reported estimate, over 80% of all seaborne oil is transported. The recipient of much Chinese assistance, it has [...]

Akash
February 21, 2012 at 23:57

Forget about China, India was hutiliamed by a few young Pakistanis for almost a week (26/11). If they could not detect them, how come they are going to match China’s military power?

Kadir
February 21, 2012 at 12:22

it is more of aonnyance, not countering. Vietnam can never openly against China. as we speak, VieCom is having a party secretary visiting China putting up nice words.

lalit mahawar
February 6, 2012 at 02:22

no doubt amereica has unparalled militrary strength but strength is not only required to win a war that had been proved in its war aganist iraq and afghanistan dont forget even the lion have to fight from the flees.

Fu Man-chu
December 20, 2011 at 16:34

Yeah, the shadowy powers-that-be via their back channels to the Kremlin promised to dispose of J Kennedy if Russia removes its missiles from Cuba. Mr Hoover and the FBI did exactly that.

America seems to have a short memory. The next President, including Obama had better watch out, what with their placement of missiles in East Asia and Eastern Europe. There are powers other than the U.S. President, Congress, Pentagon, and the Washington/New York controlled-mass medias that controls the destiny of America and the world.

sajil sasi
November 22, 2011 at 15:08

hey but remember the sun tzu………..he defeats an army of 3,00,000 with his small army of 30,000….. its difficult agreed but definiyely not impossible….
and dont disregard china……

Anne St. John Ferris
November 17, 2011 at 14:57

I agree with you 100%. You know exactly what you are talking about.

geetha reddy anant
October 12, 2011 at 23:39

We are perpetually wighing the clout and political (read military ) strength of nations in he IOR – what are the potential capabilities of these countries to initiate, promote and realkise peace stability development and environmentally friendly growth? we need to build synergy in that dimension ..; which countries have the capacity for that? Any idea?

vmitchell
March 9, 2011 at 04:42

The same wishful thinking is peddled:

“However, the relative decline of US power in the region…”

Only to be followed by:

“For example, in addition to maintaining expeditionary forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US 5th Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, and uses the island of Diego Garcia as a major air-naval base and logistics hub for its Indian Ocean operations. In addition, the United States has deployed several major naval task forces there, including Combined Task Force 152, which is aimed at safeguarding the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf,and Combined Task Force 150, which is tasked with countering piracy from the Gulf of Oman to Kenya.”

The US rightly is rightly called a hyperpower – any recession or transients problem should not let one mistake its unmatched and enormous reservoirs of strength, wealth, and ingenuity – it is has an economy 3x’s the size of China’s, is by far the world’s largest manufacturer making one out of every 5 goods on Earth despite perceptions to the contrary, makes one-third of all the high-tech goods on Earth more than anyone else, has the world’s leading universities with an unmatched culture of intelligence, debate, discussion with think tanks etc, and the greatest, most advanced military the world has ever seen dominating space, air, land, water, and under the sea, all matched by a population that is hard working, innovative, and patriotic. The net worth of its individuals is $60 trillion, more than the entire world’s annual GDP – the US Pacific Fleet and Command alone could defeat any nation on Earth not to mention the US’s 9 other Commands and 11 aircraft carriers.

One would truly be silly to bet against the US.

Sayan Majumdar
March 8, 2011 at 23:54

India’s geographical position provides her considerable leverage in shaping the political and strategic outcome in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Prudent overseas powers (especially democratic) are likely forge strong alliances with India to gain position of strength, thus a robust alliance among India, United States and her European allies and Japan is likely to dictate terms in IOR in the foreseeable future.

Sayan.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
required
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment
required

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief