B S Raghavan

Security concerns of Indian Ocean nations

B. S. RAGHAVAN | Updated on May 30, 2013

In an article titled ‘A union of Indian Ocean nations’ carried by this paper on July 18, 2011, I had strongly pleaded for exploring boldly and with a fresh mind the new and exciting vistas of social, cultural and economic partnership that exist within the Indian Ocean community. Constituting as it does a $6 trillion powerhouse, it can, I argued, transform itself, like the European Union, into a free trade zone and even work towards adopting a common currency.

I had also mentioned how it can be further buttressed by exchanges in the fields of higher technical education, use of satellite and IT technologies, oceanography and so on. I felt that it was an idea whose time had come, and pitching for it in a massive collective effort of the governments and civil societies of the 60-odd countries forming the Indian Ocean Rim held tremendous scope for the prosperity and security of over 2 billion people.

There was, of course, the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), initially known as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative, formally launched in 1997 with a very limited membership of some 20 states on the Indian Ocean littoral and narrowly focusing on prospects for trade and tourism through joint ventures and the like. Nobody, to this day, precisely knows what it had accomplished, and very few know that it even exists.

There is also the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which some Indian Ocean Islands are members. Again, few are aware of the extent to which it has been able to achieve its objectives.


Additionally, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) could also be said to have an interest in forging linkages with the Indian Ocean community. But, all these various groupings are pursuing their variegated agendas with no linkages forged among them.

There had been no serious study undertaken so far of the implications and ramifications of issues relating to the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean Region in the 21st Century perspective. That gap has now been filled by the Australia India Institute which, in a critically and clinically analytical, and at the same time lucidly written report, has set out the various factors contributing to the changing significance of the geopolitics and security challenges of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The Australian Consul-General in Chennai, David Holly, must be complimented for seizing the initiative and managing to bring about its maiden launch in the city with a one-day workshop on May 27, enriched by insights provided by eminent participants, including Robert Johanson, Chair of the Institute and Deputy Chancellor of Melbourne University, Amitabh Mattoo, Director of the Institute, Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, President for Security Analysis, Lawrence Prabhakar, known for his perceptive writings on maritime security and, not least, Holly himself. The multifarious aspects covered by the report are of extreme sensitivity and vital importance, and have to be handled with great balance and objectivity if they are to form the basis of a framework of willing and active cooperation among the IOR nations. In this the report has noticeably succeeded.


Amongst the noteworthy features of the report, the foremost is its stress on security as a multi-dimensional rather than the traditional military or power-play concept, bringing within its purview the inter-dependence of human security, economic and resources security, maritime security and environmental security. It is not merely a question of the stability and sustainability of the IOR; a stable global world order itself is predicated upon a holistic approach to security. Expectedly, the report goes in some detail into the roles that India and Australia can jointly play in binding the IOR nations as the driving force of efforts towards the realisation of the immense potential of a region that had long been bypassed and ignored by Western colonial powers which sucked its resources dry. The presence of Australia will have the effect of making amends for them, besides providing an opening to the possibilities on the Pacific Ocean side of the coin.

This has led the report to see the Indian Ocean as part of a wider Indo-Pacific system that embraces the trade routes and sea lanes that cross the Ocean and extends past the Straits of Malacca, into the South China Sea, and north to China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan and on to the west coast of North America. It wants to pull all of them into a “new Indo-Pacific” straitjacket.

This, in my opinion, is excessively ambitious in a context in which the barebones of the IOR itself are yet to be understood. To the authors of the report, my advice is: Festina lente, hasten slowly. Let the core idea take root first, and then think of embellishments.

Published on May 30, 2013

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