Maritime Security In The Ior History Essay

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Indian Ocean – A Strategic Waterway. The Indian Ocean, with an area of 68.56 million sq m, is the third largest ocean in the world and covers about 20% of the earth’s surface. The Indian Ocean’s historic importance has prevailed well into the present times. Its current geo-strategic significance essentially lies in maritime communications – its shipping routes for international trade and commerce, and in military context, the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) for imports and military mobility [2] . The northern part of the Indian Ocean, bordering on the subcontinent of South Asia, enjoys a superior geographical position. It has for long been the major sea route connecting the East and the West as well as the outlet to the other parts of the world. Its strategic waterways provide the shortest and the most economic lines of communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It is not surprising to note that this ocean accounts for transportation of the highest tonnage of goods in the world. On its waters are carried half the world’s container shipments, one-third of bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of oil shipments [3] .

2. Maritime Security. The term maritime security is defined as comprising those issues which pertain to the sea and have a critical bearing on the country’s security. In our context, these include seaborne trade and commerce in energy resources, the management of living and non-living marine resources, the delimitation of international seaward boundaries, and the deployment and employment of naval and military forces in the Indian Ocean [4] .

3. Threats to Maritime Security in IOR. The maritime security problems that have recently arisen in the IOR are to a large extent linked to failed or weak states. Specific challenges are piracy, asymmetrical threats by non-state actors, illegal trafficking in people, smuggling of arms and drugs, resource security and environmental threats. Because the region’s maritime security problems have the potential of disrupting the global economy, energy security and ISLs, they have become important international issues. Many extra-regional powers have a stake in Indian Ocean maritime security and deploy forces in the area [5] . To fight piracy, the UN Security Council has passed a series of resolutions calling for international assistance and various multinational task forces and independent naval units operate in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

4. Diplomacy. Diplomacy has been a practicing political tool since the first city states were formed a few millennia ago. It remained a foreign policy instrument of the modern Westphalia nation-states and at present is recognised as a tactical as well as long-term political weapon for the creation of stability and order in the nation-states system. Diplomacy is identified as a key process of communication and negotiation in international politics and as an important foreign policy instrument used by all global actors. Conflict is augmented by war, while cooperation leads towards diplomacy. Diplomacy like war epitomises national interests but displays many facets unlike war. Its efficiency multiplies when linked to other instruments of state such as economic and military force [6] .

5. Naval Diplomacy. Post the two World Wars, most of the world navies became proactively involved with diplomacy than any other state agencies [7] . Navies, by the very nature of their operational role and additional characteristics of flexibility, manoeuvrability, adaptability and reach are ideally suited to be appropriate instruments of their States’ foreign policy and furtherance of their respective national interests. The British and the Americans have continually leveraged their naval power in the furtherance of their respective countries’ foreign policy and achievement of political objectives. In the context of the current world order, there are numerous opportunities for navies to engage in non- traditional activities which project the benign face of the State whilst keeping the force well trained, equipped and operationally active [8] .

6. One of the least intrusive, most benign and reasonably effective roles of the navies involves the ‘overseas deployment’ and ‘showing the Flag’ visits to the port of foreign countries. Overseas deployment refers to a task wherein maritime forces are deployed far from own shores, to areas of operational or political interest. They operate in these areas independently or in conjunction with friendly navies, so as to gather operational and environmental knowledge; build defence and political relations; develop interoperability; project own reach and capability; and portray national interest, intent and industry.  ‘Showing the Flag’ in foreign ports helps to foster good relations, besides demonstrating interests and involvement in the region. The visits also afford additional opportunities for interaction at several levels, providing a platform for exchange of perspectives, and to develop upon existing relations [9] , thereby providing opportunities for countries to build on this cooperation nd understanding to tackle various maritime issues and ensure maritime security.


Statement of Problem

7. The aim of this dissertation is to study and analyse the maritime security situation in the Indian Ocean Region and to establish efficacy of use of naval diplomacy to ensure maritime security and safeguard India’s interests in the IOR.


8. In today’s ever changing geo-political scenario and increasing threats at sea, naval diplomacy has a crucial role to play in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.

Justification of the Study

9. Conventional threats posed by rival maritime forces have been replaced by asymmetric / non-conventional threats by non-state actors either under the patronage of rogue nations or acting independently. The non-state actors use the lawlessness and imploding internal state of affairs of a nation to carryout unlawful activities at sea. Activities by Somalian pirates are a live example of such a kind of situation. 9/11 and 26/11 are grim reminders of the capabilities of these entities and the destruction they can cause. Some of the other contemporary non-conventional threats and other issues seriously affecting the maritime security in the IOR are maritime terrorism, illegal trafficking in narcotics, arms and humans, illegal fishing and poaching, illegal migration, degradation of marine environment and natural disasters [10] .

10. Naval Diplomacy means the use of ‘sea power’ in furtherance of diplomatic and political objectives of a country. It involves, creating a favourable general and military image abroad, establishing one’s right in areas of interest, providing reassurance to allies and friendly regimes, influencing behaviour of other governments, threatening sea borne interdiction and finally threatening intervention. Indian diplomacy, particularly naval diplomacy, has been reaching out to the countries in the Indian Ocean. Indian Navy has off late embarked on a series of exercises and has built partnerships with countries in the IOR. The Indian Navy started the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) to provide the Indian Ocean littorals a forum to come together and cooperate on the security aspects in the region. India has also been very pro-active in engaging with navies of the IOR countries in the form of joint exercises, port calls, goodwill visits, sale of naval assets, joint patrolling, repair and maintenance and training of naval personnel. All these measures taken as part of naval diplomacy are the steps in the right direction and in the long term will help our country in addressing our various concerns of maritime security in the IOR.


11. The scope of the dissertation is intended to be limited as under: –

Analyse the importance of IOR in the present world set up.

Examine the threats to maritime security in the IOR.

Examine diplomacy with emphasis on naval diplomacy and the role it can play in ensuring maritime security.

(d)   The diplomatic role of Indian Navy.

Methods of Data Collection


12.         The information for the dissertation has been obtained from various books, journals and publications available in the college library. In addition, information has also been obtained from various articles, write ups, online journals and research foundations available on the World Wide Web. The bibliography of the sources is appended at the end of text.

Organisation of the Dissertation


13. It is proposed to study the subject in the following manner: –

(a)  Chapter I – Introduction and methodology.

(b)  Chapter II – Geo- strategic importance of IOR in the present world set up.

(c) Chapter III – Maritime security and present day threats to maritime security in IOR.

(d) Chapter IV – Diplomacy and naval diplomacy.

(e) Chapter V – Indian Navy’s diplomatic role and initiatives taken.

(f)   Chapter VI – Conclusion.



“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. The Ocean is the key to the seven seas. In the twenty first century, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters”.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

1. The deeply perceptive and almost prophetic vision of the great American naval strategist, Alfred Mahan, expressed a century ago signifies the importance of the Indian Ocean region. The statement when made was perhaps related to the control of the sea at its surface. However, technological advances have enabled control in a multidimensional context which extends to the depth of the ocean as well as to the space above it. In the horizontal dimension, the littoral states of the region become key actors, hence the relevance of the region as opposed to the ocean by itself. Today, the Indian Ocean region has emerged as one of the most significant regions in the world due to its geographical, political, economic and strategic characteristics.

2. Geography. The Indian Ocean, with an area of 68.56 million sq km, is the third largest body of water and covers about 20% of the earth’s surface. The Indian Ocean is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the meridian 20 E and from the Pacific by the meridian 147 E. The northern limit is Persian Gulf, at approximate latitude of 30 N and extends southwards to the parallel of 60 S [11] . The Indian Ocean is walled on all three sides by land, with the southern side of Asia forming a roof over it imparting some features of a land locked sea. The Indian subcontinent jutting into sea for a thousand miles and dividing the ocean named after it into the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal provides the Indian Ocean one of its prominent geographical features and also its name [12] .

3. Historical Perspective. The relatively closed character of the Indian Ocean with only few entry points has played an important part in shaping the course of historical developments in the region [13] . Centuries before Columbus sailed the Atlantic and Magellan crossed the Pacific, the Indian Ocean had become a thoroughfare of commercial and cultural traffic between the west coast of India and Nineveh and Babylon (modern Iraq) as well as the Levant (eastern Mediterranean) [14] .

(a) Indian Ocean – A Highway to the World. A peep into history would reveal that the Indian Ocean has long been an arena of intrigue and contest. Long before the Pacific and Atlantic were discovered, the Indian Ocean constituted the trade and economic superhighway of the world. As trade flourished, the impulse to dominate the ocean littoral also emerged as a concurrent theme, an observation that is supported by facts of history [15] .

(b) 20th Century Onwards. Around the beginning of the 20th century, however, the Indian Ocean receded in relative importance as Europe took center-stage. It was in Europe that the great powers were concentrated, the great wars occurred, and the key political struggles of the century unfolded. Most strategists of the time were quick to dismiss the clamour of history, which repeatedly demonstrated that world domination was catalysed by control of the Indian Ocean [16] .

4. Geostrategic Imperatives in the Contemporary Setting. Despite its significant geographic span and its large and growing population, the Indian Ocean has long suffered a relative neglect in world geopolitics. For most of the 20th century the region’s role and importance were mostly overshadowed and was considered subsidiary to super power rivalries largely enacted elsewhere and across other oceans. Today, however, the IOR has risen to the forefront of world geopolitics. Propelled by the world’s continuing reliance on Persian Gulf hydrocarbon resources, the growing significance of the Indian Ocean’s sea lanes of communication and chokepoints, as well as the turbulent regional socio-political environment, and the rise of China and India as global powers, the region is increasingly considered an area of crucial geostrategic importance. The past few decades have witnessed several far-reaching changes in the IOR that have reinforced the renewed relevance of the Indian Ocean. As these concerns and interests play out, the IOR is becoming the locus of extra-regional engagement that is, in large measure, justified, but also at the same time, alarming. Few of the interests and concerns are enumerated in the succeeding paragraphs.

Trade and Economic Interests. The Indian Ocean has seen intense maritime activity for the past 600 years, primarily for trade. Centuries ago, the motivation was for silk and spices. Today, it is for oil, the primary energy source powering the economic and industrial sectors of major states which, therefore, becomes the principal strategic determinant. Thus, the Indian Ocean is a critical waterway for global trade and commerce. The ocean facilitates transportation of two-thirds of global oil shipment from the oil fields of Persian Gulf [17] . The warm waters of the Indian Ocean contain major shipping lanes and the sheer volume of trade carried across this region enormously enhances the stakes in the security of this trade as about 1,00,000 ships transit across its expanse annually. In addition, two-thirds of world’s oil shipments, one-third of its bulk cargo and half the world’s container traffic pass through these waters [18] . Also, of the total trade conducted over the Indian Ocean only 20 percent is conducted between the littoral countries of the region, whilst 80 percent is extra-regional. In the Atlantic and Pacific, this pattern is just the reverse. This exemplifies the importance of the Indian Ocean to extra regional powers and explains their presence in the area [19] .

Sea Lanes and Choke Points in the IOR. The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world. The access to Indian Ocean is possible through seven established gateways or choke points. These are the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, Bab-el-Mandeb, the Cape of Good Hope, the straits of Malacca, Sunda strait and Lambok Strait. The choking of any of these could cause disruption of seaborne trade and volatility in the oil and commodity prices, leading to major upheavals in the global economy. More than 80 percent of the world’s sea borne trade in oil transits through these choke points , with 40 percent passing through Strait of Hormuz, 35 percent through the Strait of Malacca and eight percent through the Bab el-Mandab Strait [20] .

Natural Resources. The unique feature of the IOR is the abundance of its natural wealth. There are large deposits of oil, uranium, tin, gold and diamonds. The seabed of the ocean also has abundance of minerals at varying depths. The region has 60 percent of uranium, 98 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of the world’s known gold reserves. The IOR abounds in 20 out of the 40 raw materials of strategic importance imported by the western countries and 40 of the 54 types of imported raw materials used by American industry [21] . With mounting pressure on land based resources, exploitation of the sea bed resources including deep sea mining is expected to be a major thrust area in the future [22] . Attendant to global stakes for trade and energy flow and access to markets, the unrestricted use of sea-lanes of the ocean has become an imperative. This necessitates a collective desire for security and stability in the region.

5. Thus, as an area of extraordinary potential for natural resources, an area crossed by trade routes vital to outside powers and those belonging to the region, an area of conflicting big power political and economic interests and an area of regional turbulence , the Indian Ocean is the pivot of world affairs [23] .

6. India’s Interest in the IOR. Straddling the new silk route, India’s interests are linked to its maritime trade. About 75 percent of India’s foreign trade in value and 95 per cent in volume moves by sea [24] . This makes the maritime outlet extremely critical for India’s economic growth, particularly when the share of overseas trade in its GDP is expected to reach 55 percent by 2020 [25] . Another vital concern is India’s dependence on oil imports by sea and over 70 percent of these imports come from the Persian Gulf [26] . The need for clean source of energy has led to change from coal to gas based power generation. India’s import of gas is expected to increase to 40 percent by 2030 and most of it will be by sea [27] . As the Indian economy and the industrial output of its manufacturing sector develop further, Africa would also be a major source of mineral resources and all these resources will be imported by sea. Hence India’s vital economic stakes lie in the stability of the region and securing of sea-lanes stretching from West Africa to Northeast Asia. Closer home, these interests also involve security of related infrastructure located in the littoral like ports, ODAs, energy terminals and refineries [28] .Also nearly 4.2 million Indian citizens work in the Gulf countries contributing billions of dollars to our economy. Our interests dictate that their work environment remains stable [29] , so that the remittances can continue to boost our economy.



“Now that we are free, we have once again reiterated the importance of the sea. We cannot afford to be weak at sea… history has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea-borne trade at her mercy, and in the second, India’s very independence itself.”

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru

1. Maritime Security. The term ‘maritime security’ represents the broadest approach to issues and aspects, which pertain to the sea and have an important bearing on the country’s security. This goes far beyond the military aspect although military power and security remains the final arbiter of national security. The concept as it relates to the maritime environment, therefore, includes activities such as seaborne trade and commerce and the facilities/ infrastructure required for sustaining their efficient pursuit, the management of living and non-living resources of the sea, maritime environmental issues and the delimitation of international seaward boundaries, along with the deployment and employment of Indian and foreign military forces in the Indian Ocean [30] .

2. Of the three major oceans of the world, the Atlantic and much of the Pacific are serene. The Indian Ocean and its contiguous waters present a plethora of security issues. Given its centrality, the emerging multi-polar influences will continue to converge and will be further catalysed by the strategic sea-lanes and the significance of West Asia, a sub-region that remains volatile and unstable. Besides, the Indian Ocean is located at the crossroads of terrorism originating from ‘two banks’ to its west and east that are hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism, thus making it a de-facto ‘lake of jihadi terrorism’ [31] . The Indian Ocean is also an area of conflict. Some conflicts are internal and remain localised, but other local and regional conflicts are of global significance and are prone to foreign political and military interference. According to a recent analysis of global conflicts by the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, altogether 42 per cent of world conflicts

can be associated with Indian Ocean countries [32] . The list is extensive, but notable conflict areas are Israel and Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan. Though the causes of these conflicts vary, many can be associated with weak or failed states, significant levels of poverty, poorly developed institutions, the absence of democracy, corruption, competition for scarce resources, interference by foreign powers, the global war on terror and last but not the least, what can be termed ‘turbulence’ in the Islamic world [33] .


3. The maritime security environment in the Indian Ocean has also undergone transformation. The recent past has shown that traditional maritime security challenges like state-on-state conflict are waning while unconventional challenges are on the increase. Because of weak government structures and a limited capacity to control maritime domains, all types of illicit activities began to flourish in many parts of the Indian Ocean. These challenges include piracy, maritime terrorism, drug trafficking, human smuggling, illegal immigration, gun running, WMD proliferation, natural disasters, environmental concerns and illegal fishing. These challenges have the potential to cause friction among the IOR littorals as they take measures to protect their respective national interests and further intensifying these challenges is the fact that the IOR is already an area of instability and tension with numerous existing conflicts. As a result, the region’s maritime security challenges are now considerable and are affected by key variables such as militarisation within the region, the involvement of major and extra-regional powers, and non-traditional security threats.

Maritime Disorder at Sea.

4. The disorder at sea mainly manifests in form of unlawful activities in the maritime realm by non-state actors ranging from terrorists and criminal syndicates to ordinary people in search of livelihood from the oceans due to lack of avenues on land, as in Somalia.

5. Piracy. Piracy in the Indian Ocean Region is concentrated in, but not confined to the waters of the Gulf of Aden, southern Red Sea, much of the Arabian Sea and the western Indian Ocean along the east African coast as far south as Madagascar and as far east as the Seychelles archipelago. Recently, piracy-related incidents seem to have spilled over from these areas into the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Indeed, the center of gravity of piracy has now shifted closer to the waters around India [34] . In the third quarter of 2011, maritime security concerns in the Indian Ocean continued to be dominated by piracy and armed robbery at sea, specifically the hijacking of merchant vessels by well-armed Somalia-based pirates. By the end of 2011, 214 vessels had been attacked, 31 hijacked (a 14-percent success rate), while eight vessels remained under capture awaiting release and payment of ransoms, 497 seafarers had been held captive, and 10 seafarers had died. Piracy Attack Groups (PAGs) are increasingly well armed, highly motivated by the prospect of very large ransom payments (average payment is currently $5.4 million), and many are using captured merchant vessels as mother ships to stage further attacks [35] .

6. Maritime Terrorism. The recent Mumbai attacks, which involved terrorists using the sea route to land on the Mumbai coast, are testimony to a spurt in maritime terrorism. The Indian Ocean Region is no stranger to the spectre of insurgency and terrorist activities which have a maritime flavour. Regional insurgent groups such as the Free Aceh Movement, Abu Sayyaf and the Al Qaeda have existed in the area for some time now. Maritime terrorist incidents such as the attacks on USS Cole (at Aden in 2000) and MT Limburg (off Yemen’s coast in 2002) are grim reminders of the fact that the Indian Ocean is beginning to become involved in international terrorism at a scale far larger than before. Even though a direct link between piracy and maritime terrorism has not yet been conclusively established, concerns do remain that terrorists could exploit the same vulnerabilities in commercial maritime trade and use similar methods as done by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Considering the evident aim as well as capability of terrorists, the disastrous consequences of sinking a giant tanker at choke points such as the Straits of Malacca, Bab-el-Mandeb or Hormuz or even using such vessels for suicide missions cannot be ruled out.

7. Transnational Terrorism. The IOR has witnessed a steep rise in global terrorism, with many regional organisations covertly or even inadvertently aiding and abetting subversive elements. Originating from within the IOR, various organisations have spread their tentacles of terror across the globe, and directly impact India’s security and national interests [36] .

8. Smuggling of Narcotics. Drug smuggling and terrorism are often said to have a symbiotic relationship. It is widely acknowledged that drug trafficking is, by far, the most widely used method for generating funds for fuelling terrorist activities and insurgencies across the world. A substantial proportion of this activity in India’s neighbourhood uses sea transportation, both in it’s eatern and western waters [37] . Within the Indian Ocean Region, the ‘Golden Crescent’ to the west (Afghanistan,Iran and Pakistan) and the ‘Golden Triangle’ to the east (Myanmar, Laos and Thailand) are responsible for producing a large quantity of drugs. Both areas, combined, account for nearly 80% of the global production of heroin [38] .

9. Human Trafficking. Trafficking in human beings is a $10-billion industry. Conservative estimates of the number of people trafficked into forced labour and prostitution range from 700,000 to 2 million annually, primarily women and children. The poor nations of the IOR are particularly vulnerable to this malaise. Trafficking, to a large extent, takes place via the sea, which places the moral responsibility for its prevention on state maritime agencies including the navies of the region.

Other threats

10. Regional Disparity. The concept of managing Indian Ocean requires finding ways and means by which the seas and resources can he used for the greater good of the people of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) without hindrance by state or non-state actors. The IOR is an area of contradictions. Some of the richest and poorest nations in the world can be found in this ocean’s littorals as also those with the largest share of the world’s oil reserves and those without any oil. The economic disparity between the IOR nations is glaring. It encompasses such diverse players as Israel, Egypt, West Asia, South Africa, Australia, Southeast Asian countries and the countries of the Indian subcontinent, all with their own national interests and diverse agendas [39] .

11. Nuclearisation of the Region. The Indian Ocean has been the cradle of all civilisations and also the birth place of the major religion

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