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Importance Of Indian Ocean Region And Sri Lanka

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.”

Rear Admiral Alfred Thayus Mahan

US Navy Geostrategist

1. Alfred Mahan, Great American naval strategist described Indian Ocean as the most important and strategic Ocean in twentieth century, and with the present geo political situation, his words are coming true, as most of the economic interests of the world are routed through this ocean . Indian Ocean is third largest ocean in the world with a water area of around 73.5 million square kilometres. It is enclosed on three sides by landmasses and large number of nations. The Indian Ocean is becoming the focus of strategic and political attention due to its strategic importance. Robert Kaplan, US security analyst has argued that Indian Ocean forms the centre stage for the challenges of the twenty first century. [11] 

2. IOR. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) comprises of forty eight countries including the littoral and island states. This also includes the nations bordering the Persian Gulf and South Gulf, therefore the hinterland and landlocked states of East Africa which depend on access to the Indian Ocean for trade and commerce are also included in this list. The IOR countries are home to around 40% of world’s population. Religious diversity is the main feature of this region with Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam strongly represented across. Islam dominates the region. The IOR countries produce a large portion proportion of world’s resources like oil, iron ore, tin, bauxite, gold, diamonds, manganese, uranium and chromium. Tuna fish is another feature of this region, which is exported from various IOR countries to Japan, Europe, South Korea, China and Taiwan. Approximate 40% of the world’s oil production is from IOR and there are around 60% oil reserves and natural gas reserves in the Persian gulf sub region of IOR. Oil and gas exploration in the IOR region is likely to increase these ratios. The deep waters of Indian Ocean offer prospects for finding Manganese nodules. India is actively involved in exploring deep seabed areas of Indian Ocean and has been designated as the pioneer investor under United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea (UNCLOS) for an area in the central Indian Basin. [12] 

3. Major sea lines of communications (SLOCs) are across the Indian Ocean connecting Europe, the Middle East, East Africa, East Asia, South Asia , India and Australia, due to this Indian Ocean is important global trading thoroughfare, particularly for energy supplies. With the economic growth of India and China, majority of the world’s trade in energy now transit through these SLOCs. The Bab el madeb strait between Djibouti and Yemen, the Hormuz strait between Iran and Oman, and the Malacca strait between Indonesia and Malaysia are the three critically important entry and exit points in the Indian Ocean. About two-thirds of Gulf oil exports go to Asia across the Indian Ocean. [13] Unlike the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean is a comparatively closed area and access to it is possible only through the choke points of the Cape of Good Hope, the Red Sea and Suez canal and the Straits of Malacca. Therefore the Indian Ocean can easily be controlled by controlling these choke points.

4. Piracy along the Horn of Africa has given another challenge in IOR, due to which, there has been increased naval presence by almost all the major players in the region. There has been presence of external actors too like China, which has kept away from the Indian Ocean hitherto. Apart from checking piracy, the presence of warships in the area serves a wider strategic purpose too. They demonstrate their strategic interests in the IOR region. France, China, Britain, USA, Australia have been actively present in form of their warships along Somalian EEZ and this reflects their strategic interests in the IOR region. The interests of extra regional powers in the IOR are strategic, economic and political. Oil and Fisheries form the strategic interests, whereas political signalling by positioning warships forms the political interests. For USA, IOR is very important in its war on terror. Its principal concerns are countering terrorism and Islamic extremism. The Afghanistan Pakistan border areas have been identified by USA as hotbed of terrorism, and to counter this, IOR region is very significant for USA. The Strait of Hormuz is also very important, as it may be closed down by Iran in case of any future escalation. USA has a strong military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and also has naval facilities in Bahrain, Diego Garcia and Singapore. Japan has extensive oil and other resource interests in the IOR, including a great concern for the security of its SLOCs. It’s also a large aid donor in the region. Europe isn’t a major player in the IOR except for the small British and French territories, fishing fleets and the EU warships on patrol off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. The EU is also involved in programs to build security in Horn of Africa countries and is assisting the Seychelles to build the capacity of local maritime security forces, and improve fisheries management. France is the one European country with a permanent presence in the IOR, with an air force and naval base on Reunion, a smaller naval facility on Mayotte and, at Djibouti, its largest overseas base. It also has fishing interests in the region because of its large distant water fishing fleets and the sizeable EEZs around its island territories. [14] 

5. For emerging economies, India and China, IOR region is very important as their energy resources, which are essential for their economic growth, route through the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean affords direct access to the Indian landmass and it constitutes an intrinsically significant security area to India, whereas it is only extrinsically important to other states. For India, the Indian Ocean is even more important as any external military presence can pose serious security challenges to the nation. India has concentrated its forces along its western borders and north eastern borders due to the security challenges posed by its western and northern neighbours. In case of any threat from the Indian Ocean, India would have to disperse its military resources all along its land and sea borders. Therefore for India, the Indian Ocean is very important, both economically and militarily. obviously, New Delhi regards the Indian Ocean as its backyard and deems it both natural and desirable that India function as, eventually, the leader and the predominant influence in this region-the world’s only region and ocean named after a single state. For India, the Indian Ocean is very important for projection of its power in world’s politics.

6. Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is located at a very strategic location in the Indian Ocean, where SLOC passes just miles away from its southernmost tip. Due to its strategic location, its ports can be easily used to control the Indian Ocean. Around 36000 ships including 4500 tankers pass through the sea lane south of Hambantota in Sri Lanka annually. [15] Sri Lanka’s prime location in prime maritime real estate has made it a prominent player in the Indian Ocean. Trincomalee, located in eastern part of Sri Lanka, is considered as the best natural harbour in Asia. For extra regional players, Trincomalee has always been a very attractive location to base their naval assets and there have been reports in the past and present that USA desire to base its naval assets there. Due to its strategic location, Sri Lanka may be described as a natural land based aircraft carrier. Britain used Trincomalee airbase and naval base extensively during World War II. It also gains its strategic location due to its close proximity to India and also due to the fact that its port, Colombo port, is a transit port for Cargo changeover or transition to India. Peaceful and friendly neighbourhood is always the desire of all the peaceful nations, and same is expected by India from Sri Lanka. India’s more than two third borders is surrounded by Sea and Sri Lanka is the only neighbour in that region, which makes it very important for India. From India’s point of interests, Indian Navy has to go around Sri Lanka, in case of requirement to change the naval forces from western theatre to eastern theatre and vice versa, and this contributes to importance of Sri Lanka for Indian security interests. Sri Lanka location between Gulf of Aden and Singapore makes it significant for Indian power projection in the region. It can be inferred that Sri Lanka matters to India as the Indian Ocean matters.


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