India’s Emerging Indian Ocean Strategy

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India’s Emerging Indian Ocean Strategy

The Indian Navy is trying to preserve its influence in increasingly contested waters.

India’s Emerging Indian Ocean Strategy
Credit: Shailesh Andrade, Reuters

A few weeks ago, India released its latest maritime guidance document for security operations. Ensuring Secure Seas, the new Indian Maritime Security Strategy (IMSS-2015) is an exposition of India’s nautical challenges, existing maritime practices, shifting technological trends, and evolving operational posture at sea. No sooner was the document released than it prompted a discussion on India’s security role in the Indian Ocean. The new publication focuses attention on India’s maritime imperatives in its near littorals, giving credence to reports that the Indian Navy is preparing to expand its sphere of operations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

New Delhi’s concern for its maritime neighborhood seems well-founded. Recent developments have given India’s security managers good reason to be worried about the growing threats in the IOR. Despite a decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia, the Indian Ocean has been witnessing a sudden rise in non-traditional challenges. Maritime crime has been increasing, with a record number of drug hauls in the Asian littoral in the last two years (a recent seizure of more than 150 kg of heroin from a smuggling vessel by an Australian warship off the east coast of Africa, serving as the latest reminder of the severity of the drug threat in the IOR). While the Eastern Indian Ocean hasn’t seen the same level of crime as the Western theater, the Indian Coast Guard has been reporting elevated levels of narcotics smuggling in the sub-continental littorals.

Migration and human trafficking in South and Southeast Asia too has registered a surge in numbers. Last year, a rise in refugee movement from Bangladesh and Myanmar, resulted in a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. While India is still largely unaffected by maritime migration, its coastal communities have been at the receiving end of severe climate-related events, which have over the past few years grown in duration and intensity. The Indian Navy got a preview of the destructive potential of climate change during the floods in Chennai last month, when it had to urgently deploy warships and aircraft to provide aid and assistance to citizens marooned in the city.