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International Relations

Different Water Disputes in the Indian Ocean

Different Water Disputes in the Indian Ocean


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Indian Ocean Geopolitics

Why in the news?

Water Disputes in the Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean Region:


The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in general, and the Indian subcontinent in particular, are becoming increasingly vital to the world order. A safe IOR is critical to the security of India’s national interests. India’s stated intention to become a regional net security provider demonstrated the importance placed on the security of sea lines of communication (SLOCs). In 2015, India established the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative, laying the groundwork for his involvement with the Indian Ocean rim and islands.

Significance of the Indian Ocean region globally:

The economic significance of the region:

  • Advantaged location at the crossroads of global trade: 80 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade passes through three narrow waterways in the Indian Ocean known as chokepoints. The Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is the sole sea passage connecting the Persian Gulf and the open ocean.
  • Attractive Economies: The region is home to a number of rapidly expanding economies. As investors seek fresh chances, the economies of several Indian Ocean countries are fast expanding. India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Tanzania, for example.
  • The Indian Ocean is rich in natural resources:The Indian Ocean basin is rich in natural resources, with nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and iron, as well as massive sulphide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold.
    • Fishing in the Indian Ocean now accounts for nearly 15% of global totals, and has increased 13-fold between 1950 and 2010 to 11.5 million tonnes.
    • Mineral resources are equally substantial, with vast sulphide deposits of manganese, copper, iron, zinc, silver, and gold present in large amounts on the sea bed, as well as nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and iron.

Competition in the zone:

  • Chinese investment: As part of its One Belt One Road strategy, China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across the region.
  • Cheque diplomacy: Kenya received a $3.2 billion loan from China to build a 470-kilometer railway line.
  • Infrastructure development: In Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh, China has invested in infrastructure and ports.
  • Counterbalancing China: Western powers such as the United States and Australia are attempting to balance China. The United States, for example, has established its own infrastructure funds.
  • The importance of the Indian Ocean can be seen in the fact that the Indian Prime Minister has intensified his travels to African countries. PM Modi has traversed the length and breadth of Africa’s east coast to encourage cooperation and strengthen trade and investment links, and he has articulated bold visions of India-Africa cooperation.

Significance of the Indian Ocean region for India:

  • Geographical location: India is geographically placed near the centre of the ocean, with a coastline of over 7,500 kilometres.
  • Economic importance: The Indian Ocean accounts for 95 percent of India’s commerce volume and 68 percent of its trade value. Additionally, the Indian Ocean imports 3.28 million barrels per day, or roughly 80% of India’s crude oil requirements.
  • Fisheries and aquaculture industries: India is significantly reliant on the Indian Ocean’s resources. Exports from the fishing and aquaculture industries are also significant. Between 1962 and 2019, India’s maritime exports increased by 65 times in volume.
  • Mineral resource extraction: India was granted exclusive exploration rights to the Central Indian Ocean in 1987, and has since explored four million square miles and constructed two mining sites. The International Seabed Authority approved permits for the Indian Ocean ridge in 2014, paving the way for additional deep seabed mining potential.
  • India’s engagement has a security dimension: The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, which killed 164 people and was carried out by terrorists arriving by sea. Human trafficking, smuggling, and illicit fishing are all big challenges.
  • Indian economy’s reliance on the monsoon: The Indian Ocean plays a vital part in maintaining Southern India’s temperate climate, and Indian agriculture is mostly reliant on the southwest monsoon.
  • Strategic Importance: Because India is developing the Chabahar port in Iran, the Indian Ocean region’s stability is critical to India. “Infrastructure development rights” for two islands in the region – Agalega from Mauritius and Assumption from Seychelles – were recently awarded to India.
    • To maintain the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace free of superpower competition while strengthening collaboration among the region’s littoral countries. It has always been an objective of India’s foreign policy, as seen by the Look East strategy, the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, BIMSTEC, and Ganga-Mekong Cooperation, among other initiatives.

Importance of Indian Ocean Region for Indian security:

  • Energy security: Nearly 80% of India’s crude oil needs are met by imports, which are largely transported by sea. The country’s cumulative marine dependency for oil is projected to be around 93 percent when total oil imports by water, offshore oil production, and petroleum exports are taken into account. As a result, IOR is critical in ensuring the safety of India’s oil route.
  • Trade security: The Indian Ocean currently carries about 95 percent of India’s trade volume and 68 percent of its trade value. Any stumbling block in the flow of business traffic would be bad for her economic goals.
  • Natural resources: India’s natural resources are primarily reliant on the Indian Ocean.Fishing and aquaculture industries are a major source of export as well as providing employment to more than 14 million people. Thus, securing presence in IOR is important for India.
  • Security threats: Militarily, the presence of a long coastline makes India vulnerable to potential threats emerging from the sea. One of the worst terrorist attacks in Mumbai was perpetrated by terrorists arriving by sea. India’s nuclear installations, coastal cities are at continuous threat from state and non-state actors. Thus, keeping an eye on the sea is important.
  • Piracy: The presence of non-traditional threats like piracy, smuggling, illegal fishing and human trafficking also present major challenges and hence, a secure Indian Ocean is key to securing India’s national interests. Multiple cases are reported in the past of drug smuggling near Gujarat coast, Mumbai coast etc.

India’s Maritime Initiatives:

  • Disaster Management: The UN established an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in 2005 as a result of the 2004 tsunami, which took a tremendous toll on human and natural resources.
  • Anti-Piracy Operations: In response to the growing threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia to shipping in the western Indian Ocean since 2007, the Indian Navy joined a UNSC-mandated 60-country Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
  • SAGAR Policy (Security and Growth for All): India’s SAGAR policy is an integrated regional framework that was introduced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a March 2015 visit to Mauritius. SAGAR is built on the following pillars:
    • India’s function as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean area; India’s role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region; and India’s role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
    • A more integrated and cooperative focus on the future of the IOR, which would improve the chances for the sustainable growth of all countries in the region
    • Those “who reside in this territory” would be primarily responsible for maintaining peace, security, and prosperity in the IOR.
  • Following International Law: India accepted a tribunal award issued under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on a maritime border dispute between India and Bangladesh.
    • It aimed to give a new impetus to efficient international economic cooperation among the Bay of Bengal littoral states (BIMSTEC).
  • Data Sharing: One of the most critical aspects of improving maritime security is sharing data on risks to commercial ships.
    • In this backdrop, India created in Gurugram in 2018 an International Fusion Centre (IFC) for the Indian Ocean area.
    • The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard jointly run the IFC, which has the goal of raising Maritime Domain Awareness on safety and security problems.

Concerns associated:

  • India is playing it safe: India’s strategic ambivalence in the Indian Ocean continues. Its Indo-Pacific policy exemplifies this. India continues to refer to its Indo-Pacific strategy as “inclusive,” without explaining what that term means.
    • As part of its effort to avoid antagonizing China, it has kept Australia out of the Malabar series of naval exercises, for example.
  • Ambiguity on the Indo-Pacific: While India continues to see the Indo-Pacific as extending from the Persian Gulf to ASEAN countries and Japan in the east, Washington is increasingly pressuring India to exclude the Persian Gulf by imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil imports.
    • India’s stated aspiration to become “Net Security Provider”: India does not have the capability to provide security to the whole region.
  • Chinese challenge: The People’s Liberation Army-presence Navy’s in the Indian Ocean is growing, and China plans to expand its Djibouti facility.
  • Chinese Naval Nationalism: China has intensified its military activity in the Indian Ocean region, extending its navy’s range westward. In Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma, it has invested in port facilities (String of Pearls). Concerns regarding China’s long-term geopolitical agenda have been raised by Beijing’s economic ambitions.
  • Rivalry between China and the West: China may be subtly changing IOR connections in order to obtain long-term advantages over the West. The PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) is embarking on a massive expansion programme that could see it become one-third the size of the US Navy by 2020.
  • A glaring misalignment of India’s aspirations and spending: According to figures from FY 2017-2018, India spends only 15% of its overall military budget on its navy, significantly less than its Quad peers. China spends roughly three times as much on its military as India does.
  • No coherent Indo pacific strategy:
    • As China becomes the region’s most powerful actor, a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ means establishing a regional architecture with fellow democratic countries to help maintain the ‘rules-based order.’
    • The favoured formulation of a ‘free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific’ refers to a multipolar regional order in which Delhi may maintain strategic autonomy, project its own leadership ambitions, and pursue a path of’multi-alignment’ or ‘issue-based alignment.
  • Impact of India’s withdrawal from the RCEP on India’s Indian Ocean vision:
    • RCEP countries (except Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar) are members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and participate in its various initiatives. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could have improved India’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Missing Act-East policy: The economic pillar of our Act East policy has remained weak in comparison to those pertaining to political ties, strategic and security concerns, and people-to-people interactions, so joining the RCEP would have given it more substance.

What lies ahead?

  • Consolidating the IOR vision: As New Delhi seeks to strike a balance between its “Act East” and “Look West” ambitions, the consolidation of the IOR vision will be critical in straddling the two significantly different objectives for the two extremities of the Indo-Pacific littoral.
  • Creation of a shared understanding and comprehensive strategy: In order to lay the groundwork for the region’s growth, India needs engage the help of other stakeholders.
  • Prompt reactions to humanitarian emergencies assist to build political goodwill in the surrounding area. However, India should avoid making a mission’s underlying purpose appear geopolitical. Instead of using battleships for medical aid, India should deploy dedicated disaster-relief platforms.
  • Multipolarity: The region’s countries’ security, stability, and law-abiding nature are critical. Multipolarity will be possible in the region as a result of this. Smaller states in the region expect India to step up to the plate and assist them in expanding their economic and military options. India should make every effort to meet its goals.
  • Ensure freedom of navigation, as the region contains some of the world’s most important trade routes and choke points for global business, including the Malacca Straits. The Indian Ocean accounts for over 95% of India’s foreign trade.
  • Securing Shared Interests: preserving commercial shipping freedom of navigation, harnessing the Indian Ocean’s natural resources sustainably and equitably, establishing protocols for disaster prevention and relief as well as search and rescue operations, combating piracy, terrorism, smuggling, and illegal weapons proliferation, and managing international naval competition.