Crucial maritime space

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The changing strategic and economic dynamics of the Indian Ocean Region

MARITIME SECURITY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION —Critical Issues in Debate: Edited by V. R. Raghavan and W. Lawrence S. Prabhakar; Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. Ltd; 7, West Patel Nagar, New Delhi-110008.

India is the only geographical region and political entity to have a whole ocean named after it – much to the chagrin of some of its Asian neighbours – and historically, the subcontinent’s intrinsic maritime potential has been very significant. Yet, no other comparable nation has been more ‘maritime-blind’ and this is one of the many ironies that characterise the Indian elephant. Perhaps this has to do with the national mindset that can only visualise India with the North Pole at the apex and hence the Himalayas loom large, while a whole oceanic expanse that the peninsula juts into gets relegated since it is far, far “south of the Vindhyas” – and hence beyond the pale and comprehension of a parochial New Delhi.

Maritime security

One of the many manifestations of this imperviousness to matters maritime in India is the paucity of rigorous and holistic research or critical literature in the domain, and books devoted to the subject are few and far between. The book under review is an exception and the Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai under whose aegis this has been published is to be commended for this initiative. Derived from an International Symposium on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) the volume is comprehensive and the 19 individual chapters barring the introduction and the conclusion have been classified under three broad areas: paradigms of maritime security; good order in the maritime domain; and policy responses including regime building and legal issues.

The list of contributors is impressive and includes many of the better-known names from the IOR and beyond, who have acquired credible expertise in their respective niches. In a very detailed, yet lucid introduction, the editors posit the emergence of two maritime hubs in the 21st century, the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Asia-Pacific regions, and dwell on the “dichotomous” nature of maritime security in the 21st century predicated on the shift in global security discourse from competitive to cooperative modes. Prevailing policy practice at the state level and intellectual consensus suggest that while the former which deals with hard core military security and strategic issues is still ‘competitive’, the so-called non-traditional determinants warrant a ‘cooperative’ approach.

Thus the editors add: “It would not be appropriate to state that either one of the dichotomies has replaced the other or has gained prominence. It would therefore be purposeful to explore the issues of maritime security of the IOR in a holistic sense, examining the significance and the impact of the issues of traditional and non-traditional security in a seamless tapestry.”

Altered context

It is a persuasive and rich textual pattern that V.R. Raghavan and W. Lawrence S.Prabhakar have accomplished and the participation of senior officials from the Indian Foreign Ministry and the Indian Navy accord the volume higher policy relevance. The broad distillation is the altered maritime context in the 21st century and the manner in which the IOR has now become more relevant than in the preceding Cold War systemic.

To the extent that the Atlantic-Indian Ocean combine was the dominant maritime domain in the 19th century and the Atlantic-Pacific combine in the 20th century, the Pacific-Indian Ocean expanse is now becoming the more relevant maritime area and the manner in which the major states – viz. the U.S. and its allies, and China and India – calibrate their politico-military approaches would be critical to the long-term security of the IOR.

The maritime dimension of hydrocarbon energy traffic in the IOR – the Persian Gulf-Malacca Straits – and its criticality to the economic well-being of the entire littoral is self-evident and new challenges are emerging. These include the non-state entity and the deep anxiety that the recent terrorist fervour could well take on a maritime hue. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the more recent U.S.-led maritime initiatives including the proliferation security initiative (PSI) and suppression of unlawful activities (SUA) and their implications for the IOR have been usefully illuminated.

Converting conference papers and related deliberations into a well-balanced book can be daunting and frustrating but the editors have risen to this challenge admirably. However, given the policy relevance of such an initiative in a nation that is as oblivious to the maritime domain as India is, a more prescriptive conclusion that would have pulled the major strands together would have enhanced the salience of this volume. And the absence of an index is perplexing in an otherwise splendid editorial effort.



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