India from having primarily a continental strategic outlook for most part of the 20th century has started to expand its strategic horizon beyond the South Asian and Indian Ocean regions to the wider regions of the Indo-Pacific in an effort to establish itself as a Great Power in the 21st century.  The Indo-Pacific is important to New Delhi’s strategic outlook as it helps transform India from being a continental power to a competing maritime power in the international system.

 

As India transits from being a continental to a maritime power, with its growing economic and political ambitions, its strategic understanding comes with an innate difference between the geo-strategic orientation and the geopolitical perspective. In that context, India’s geopolitical perspective seems to be encompassing the whole of the Asia-Pacific region (which includes the continental threat from both Pakistan and China: and expansion of its influence till the Oceania) whereas the geo-strategic orientation is towards establishing itself as a credible maritime power in the Indo-Pacific region.[1]

 

India’s Maritime Strategy in the Indo-Pacific and the Evolving Grand Strategy 

 

India’s maritime strategic outlook is geopolitically towards the rimland of Eurasia, a large part of which implies the Indo-Pacific, and it is in continuation of its efforts to establish itself as a Great Power by expanding in its maritime periphery (whole of the Indian Ocean extending till the South-West Pacific) despite its primary strategic concern with regard to the core continental threats from China and Pakistan.

 

India’s ambitions in the rimland coincide with the United States’ efforts to secure control of the rimland. This concurs with the geopolitical understanding – “Whoever controls the Rimland rules Eurasia, whoever rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world” – as envisaged by US geo-strategic thinker Nicolas Spykman2

 

The above geo-strategic vision envisaged in the first half of the 20th century holds good for the United States in this century also and India being a primary strategic partner subscribes and nurtures such an ambition while promoting its own desire as an emerging Great Power in the same region. Further, as an emerging Great Power, India is proving to be competitive in both its core (continental) and peripheral security (maritime) areas. This is reflected in the expanding force structure of both its army and navy with increased attention being given to India’s expanding maritime strategic reach.

 

The expanding maritime strategic reach of India is well documented in the recently released blue print document of the Indian Navy, titled Maritime Security Strategy (IMSS-2015).[2] In this context, India is working hard to develop a blue water joint force expeditionary maritime capability that is increasingly oriented towards the Indo-Pacific as a priority area of operations extending till the South Pacific.[3]

 

On the other hand, it is acknowledged at present that India retains its majority focus on land-based threats due to the geopolitical position it finds itself in. India has formalized its commitment to the Act East strategy since May 2014 by strengthening its military capability and security relationships in the Indo-Pacific; something that will continue in the years ahead. Such an initiative will be developed through naval diplomacy in the Southeast Asian countries; strengthening the Eastern Command based in Vishakhapatnam; and the Tri-Command services in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[4]

 

At present, India has no military presence in the Pacific, but this may change in the next five years as India starts increasing the Eastern Fleet’s operational capabilities. As an extension, the Indian Navy will increase its cooperation with the US Central, African and Pacific Commands, thus increasing the maritime synergy and coherence between India and the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. This aspect has been facilitated recently with the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement by India and the United States, which will allow India to also access US military bases in the Indo-Pacific such as Djibouti, Guam and Diego Garcia even though the scope of the agreement is limited and the implementation, conditional as of now.[5]

 

On the other hand, it could be asserted that unlike China’s island chain strategy of having a permanent blue-water presence in the whole of the Asia-Pacific as a part of its maritime disposition, India’s planning seems to envisage having command of the sea in the Indo-Pacific. Hence, strengthening influence and control over the Indian Ocean choke points through security relationships with key littoral states such as Singapore, Mauritius and Oman become significant.

 

India as a Net Security Provider

 

Though at present, India is at the stage of a regional capacity builder, it is evolving itself as a net security provider in the wider Indo-Pacific region and this task lies with the Indian Navy, which is acknowledged even by the United States in its Quadrennial Defence Review 2010 and 2014.[6]

 

Examples of regional capacity-building – this provision is extended to several of India’s maritime neighbours such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Myanmar. Further efforts from India include creation of a dockyard in Maldives, airfield development and allied support facilities in Mauritius, and a wide variety of maritime training — in India as well as in-country training by assigned Indian teams. It also includes the conduct of extensive hydrographic surveys by specialized Indian ships and aircraft. Indian ships and aircraft make a major effort in regional surface and airborne EEZ-surveillance to counter maritime crime such as illegal immigration, human-trafficking, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, and piracy. Beneficiaries once again include vulnerable Indian Ocean nation-states such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Myanmar among others. In fact, even Vietnam, which is not located in the Indian Ocean region, has been a beneficiary of India’s capacity-building initiatives.

 

A critical success in India’s regional endeavours has been the creation of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). IONS is the current century’s first (and to date the only) robust and inclusive regional maritime-security organizational structure within the Indian Ocean. These measures are aimed at India providing regional capacity building, which may change in the years as an effort to provide credible net security that includes, if not limited to, having military bases.

 

On the other hand, it is argued that geopolitically, it also means that India will make hard for China’s maritime expansion in the Indo-Pacific. In that context, the Indian Navy has started operating its largest naval base in Karwar, which will help to secure command of its western Indian Ocean seaboard and the Indo-Pacific region more generally. And so strengthening its Eastern Naval Command will help the Indian Navy for effective power projection in the eastern part of the Indo-Pacific.

 

The addition of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and over 30 support ships to the base from which the power-projection is centred in East Africa, will be an effort to control increased Chinese presence in the Western Indian Ocean in conjunction with the Pakistani Navy. The likely transformation of Gwadar port on the Pakistan coast as a base for Chinese Navy ships will further increase the operational capabilities of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean.

 

The above efforts can be negated by India’s power projection in the western Indian Ocean, which will eventually involve establishing a five-carrier fleet, comprising a mix of large and small carriers, doing full justice to its power projection capabilities in the next 10 years. Since the start of this century, India’s politico-military orientation, especially its maritime policy, has predominantly been focussed on expanding its reach in the Indo-Pacific (including the western theatre of the Indian Ocean); this expansion, of course, increases the importance of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs).

 

India’s strategic partners such as Australia finds New Delhi’s robust maritime strategy focussed on power projection deep into the Indian Ocean and littoral waters of the Eastern Indian Ocean all the way to and through the Malaccan Straits, an effective way to counter China’s power-projection in the Indo-Pacific. This fact has been highlighted in the four Australian Defence White Papers released since 2009.

 

Conclusion

 

It is recognised that India’s emergence as a credible maritime power in the Indo-Pacific will be in continuation of its evolving Grand Strategy as envisaged in the Maritime Military Strategy document of 2007.[7] Such a strategy will also involve establishing itself as a credible net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region. It is expected that India’s bold ambitions will be welcomed by countries in the Indo-Pacific such as Australia, Indonesia, the United States, Vietnam and Japan which are also wary of China’s maritime military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.[8]

 

End Notes

 


[1] Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’, Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), 2015, pp. 2-8, see https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian_Maritime_Security_Strategy_Document_25Jan16.pdf.

[2] Balaji Chandramohan, “India’s Evolving Maritime Security Strategy and Force Posture”,  Future Directions International, 3 March 2016, pp.1-7, see http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/indias-evolving-maritime-security-strategy-and-force-posture/

[3] Balaji Chandramohan, “Indian PM's Fiji Trip Aimed at Countering China Says Expert”, Radio New Zealand, 11 November 2014, see http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/20156830/indian-pm's-fiji-trip-aimed-at-countering-china-says-expert.

[4] Balaji Chandramohan and Paul G Buchanan, “India and Australian Strategic Co-operation in the Early 21st Century”, 36th-Parallel: Geopolitics and Strategic Assessments, 31 October 2012, see http://36th-parallel.com/2012/10/31/assessment-brief-indian-australian-strategic-co-operation-in-the-early-21st-century/.

[5] The White House, “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region,” Office of the Press Secretary, 25 January 2015, see https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/25/us-india-joint-strategic-vision-asia-pacific-and-indian-ocean-region.

[6] “Quadrennial Defense Review Report”, Department of Defense, United States of America, February 2010, p. 60.

[7] “Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy”, Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), 2007, pp. 9-16.

[8] Robert Gates, “America’s Security Role in the Asia–Pacific”, The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue: 14th Asia Security Summit, 30 May 2009, see http://www.iiss.org/en/events/shangri%20la%20dialogue/archive/shangri-la-dialogue-2009-99ea/first-plenary-session-5080/dr-robert-gates-6609.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.