VIF-IIS-British High Commission Conference, ‘India-UK Maritime Cooperation in the Indian Ocean, 17 Oct 2019
Welcome Remarks by Dr Gupta Director, VIF

I would like to welcome His Excellency the British High Commissioner and the Vice Chief of Joint Staff, to this Conference on India-UK Maritime Cooperation in the Indian Ocean. I would also like to welcome all our imminent participants for sharing their wisdom and knowledge with us.

It was KM Pannikar, who said that the “future of India will undoubtedly be decided on the sea. It is indissolubly connected with developments in the Indian Ocean”. At the time he wrote, in the 1940s, Britain was the most important maritime power in the Indian Ocean. Panikar believed that the defence of the Indian Ocean must be a joint effort of India and Britain. That did not happen. Partition of India chartered a different course for India. India and Britain went on different paths. Pannikar alerted independent India to pay more attention to its maritime linkages which had been disrupted by the colonial rule. During the Cold War years, the Indian Ocean region became a zone of contest between the militarised powers. Lacking significant naval assets or shipping capabilities, and not having strong enough trade due to inward-looking policies, India was not able to utilise the potential of the oceans. What is worse, it was unable to deal with the numerous security challenges which a militarised Indian Ocean present to it. Growth of cross-border terrorism also exposed vulnerability in India’s coastal security. The Mumbai terror attack was an eye-opener and warning that India must take its maritime security including coastal security seriously.

The position is now changing. Maritime security and maritime cooperation is now gaining prominence in India’s foreign and security policies. Prime Minister Modi has personally taken interest in bringing maritime issues higher up in India’s foreign policy. Indian Navy is being modernized and is becoming a blue water navy. New concepts and doctrines are being introduced in Indian thinking and practice. Being centrally located in the Indian Ocean, India has given higher importance to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). India’s Neighbourhood First Policy, Act East Policy, Connect Central Asia, Link West Policy, all have strong maritime component. Indian Navy is playing an important role in not only defending India’s maritime interests but also forging cooperative linkages with other countries in the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister’s policy of Security and Growth for All (SAGAR) is an effort to establish mutually beneficial maritime cooperative linkages with key countries of the Indian Ocean. It has played an important part in anti-piracy activities and in providing humanitarian assistance during disasters on numerous occasions. The Indian Ocean is a prominent artery of global trade and energy. This is also a region with many geopolitical hotspots. Many other countries have interests in the region. India has struck cooperative, maritime relationship with the US, UK, France, Japan, Australia, and others. Staff level dialogues between the navies are held with many countries. Prime Minister Modi has spelt out India’s Indo-Pacific vision at length at the Shangri-La Dialogue. India’s IP vision speaks about Free and Open Indo-Pacific, a rule-based and inclusive order and cooperative ties.

The security dimension is inherent in India’s maritime policy, though it is not overstated. India is actively seeking security collaborations. Its navy conducts exercises with several countries in bilateral and multilateral formats. It is setting up coastal radar surveillance systems in many countries. In addition, it has established maritime security dialogues with strategic partners. Quad is an emerging as important element of India’s maritime security policy. West Asia is extremely critical for India’s security. Notably, the region affected by several ongoing conflicts, it is also host to several Sea Lanes of Communications which are vital for trade and energy. The recent tensions in the Persian Gulf, impact India’s security as also global security.

India is interested in a peaceful and stable Indian Ocean, in maintaining the order on the Sea in accordance with international law. At the same time it cannot be oblivious to the fact that there are no easy solutions to the ongoing tensions, be it in the South China Sea, or in the Strait of Hormuz. Maritime security is threatened by piracy, terrorism and climate change. A comprehensive security architecture in IOR is needed but not very easy to establish. The Bay of Bengal region is especially important for India’s growth and prosperity. BIMSTEC is an important effort to forge subregional cooperation. South Asia and Southeast Asia overlap in BIMSTEC. Stability in the BIMSTEC is crucial for India’s own stability.

The US and European countries are looking at the Indian Ocean with fresh eyes, and thinking of the emergence of new powers. At one point of time, the UK dominated the Indian Ocean region. It has once again returned to the region by setting up a naval facility in Bahrain.

The Indian Ocean region is very large. The security issues in different parts of the region of the Indian Ocean region have unique features. India is as much involved in central regions of the Indian Ocean as in the East as in the West and Southwest. In order to safeguard India’s interests and promote peace and stability, India is forging cooperative maritime cooperative ties with the countries in the different parts of the ocean. There is a great deal of emphasis on binding maritime connectivities. China’s maritime road activities pose a serious challenge to India. The Gwadar port in Pakistan being built by China in an example. CPEC also poses security challenges to India.

India is emerging as a “security provider” in the region as is clear from the role the Indian Navy has played in HADR operations undertaken from time to time. HADR will remain an important element of India’s overall Indian Ocean policy.

Another area of growing importance is the Blue Economy. India is forging maritime linkages with many countries to promote Blue Economy.

The global situation is changing rapidly. There are signs of instability in almost every region. The old order, built by the Western countries, is being challenged. A multipolar world is emerging with the rise of India, China, and other countries. This new world will have new features. India and UK need to discuss and understand each other better and develop common understanding on key issues like the implications of the rise of China, Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism, order on the Sea, building connectivities etc. UK can be a partner with India in setting up defence manufacturing in India under Make in India. We can cooperate on strategic technologies. We can also collaborate on countering terrorism. We can talk about how to counter violent extremist ideologies leading to radicalisation of the young minds. Brexit opens up new opportunities for the UK to come closer to India. These areas of collaboration have maritime dimensions too. This dialogue will in that direction.

Thank you.

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