The Indian Ocean region has grown in terms of its profound strategic power in the world order because of its advantageous geostrategic location. The Indian Ocean region has become a hotbed of increasing power struggle of various countries to prove its prominence and its dominant nature. Various countries like USA, India and China have been in constant competition to increase its naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR) to serve its own national interest in this region which is of greater strategic interest in the recent times because of its huge energy reserves and the existence of relevant choke points in this region altogether. Robert D. Kaplan in his book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, explained rightly that, “Throughout history sea routes have been more important than the land ones….the Silk Route from Venice to Japan across the Indian Ocean in the medieval and early modern centuries was as important as the Silk Route proper…..Globalisation relies ultimately on shipping containers, and Indian Ocean accounts for one half of the world’s container traffic. Moreover, the Indian Ocean rimland from the Middle East to the Pacific accounts 70% of the traffic of the petroleum products.”(Kaplan, 2010)
The USA had continuously been trying to prove its prominence in the Indian Ocean region but is being contested by China because of its rising power in Asia as well as the world. On the other hand, India has also been trying to become the sole power in the Indian Ocean region by increasing its naval exercises and also the joint exercises with various other countries like USA and Japan in this region. The power conflict rises to use the Sea lines of Communications (SLOCs) to fulfil its energy procurement and trade through this region whereby the Malacca Strait, Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb are significant choke points in the world order. China, which is a very ambitious power have been constantly increasing its military assertiveness in this area and these are serious concerns for India and United States for this reason. Hence this makes Indian Ocean the busiest and significant Ocean in the world order. With this the energy needs of various countries will increase by almost 50% by 2030. Moreover, India and China will be the greatest consumer of energy because of its huge population. It also is the new point of rising armed conflicts because of the rise of various Asian powers like India and China, constant conflicts between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue and so on. Some of the other conflicts are those of USA’s interventions in the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of sea piracy, increased terrorist activities and incidences of drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean region. These conflicts have risen to such a point that there is even a reduction in the fisheries in this region.
The Indian Ocean area would in a greater way face various challenges in the advent of increasing military interventions in this area and also affect the mobilization of energy resources of various countries through this region. Almost all the countries in the Indian Ocean region have deployed substantial amount of military in this region whereby there have been greater incidences of security threats around this area. Powerful Asian countries have always been in a rising competition in the Indian Ocean and this has resulted in escalation of mutual distrust of one country towards the other. China and India are the biggest example of degrading relations being neighbours and their only way to prove its powers are that of increasing military control over the Indian Ocean region altogether. In this power struggle which has successfully manifested around the Indian Ocean between the major powers of India-USA and on the other hand China; the other equation which was successfully added by the United States to ease down the assertiveness of China was another rising Asian power which was Japan. Japan which in the recent times have been an emerging partner of India is that of the political diplomacy of United States to make its side better in the power game against the vehemently increasing power of China in Asia and more specifically of China in the Indian Ocean Maritime supremacy altogether.
There have been major challenges both traditional and non-traditional which are as follows:
- Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
- Increased nuclearization in the maritime arena which has been acting as a threat to the environment and energy and also causing climate change in this area.
- India’s increasing border dispute with its neighbours like Pakistan and China.
- Piracy in the Sea
- Disruption in trade
- A continuous power games.
The nuclear submarines which not only a security threat to the region but also have adverse effects on the blue economy of the region on which the population of the littoral states depend for their livelihood. China’s String of Pearls strategy or otherwise called the Diego Garcia also poses a serious threat to the security environment of the Indian Ocean. Adding to these the presence od various extremist groups have increased terrorist activities in the maritime domain of the Indian Ocean Region. This has called for the need of initiating a peaceful and stable environment in the seas and this has resulted in the initiation of India-Japan ties to bring about “Good Order at the Seas” and also the organisation of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) whose main focus is to enforce the maritime security and safety in the Indian Ocean Region which is infested with conflicts and insecurity. It also aims towards the trade and investment mobilisation, fisheries management, disaster risk management in the Indian Ocean Region. The India-Japan ties have manifested a great initiative to balance China as well as bring into the ambit the security of the Indian Ocean Region. For this reason the Asia-Pacific has been shifted to a more precise Indo-Pacific policy by USA’s initiative and later called by Japan as the confluence of the seas to cooperate amongst various countries for bringing a peace and stabilising effect in continuum in the whole Indo-Pacific region in the modern political dynamics of world order.
This brings to the forefront a clear picture of the triangular power game which dominates the Indian Ocean maritime strategy whose base lies in the individual interests of the three main countries- the USA, China and India-who are always in a tryst of proving its influence in this region. India has undertaken the policy of “Security and Growth for all the Region” which is based on its Act East Policy and the Look West Policy. USA’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s Maritime Silk Road Strategy which is part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR). Hereby its always Indian and United States on one side and China on other. The SAGAR taken up by India is a balancing strategy of India to influence power balance in the IOR region. India has been giving a tough competition to the military power of China in the Indian Ocean Region.
China’s conceptualisation of the One Belt One Road has been said to be a continuation of the Maritime Silk Road which will use the waterway of Indian Ocean and its various choke points for acquiring its energy needs and has also been blamed for its highly imperialistic foreign policies amongst which also includes the String of Pearls Strategy. China also possess the greater design to dominate the whole of Asia and Europe connecting it through pipelines, roads and railways. Moreover, China’s close relation with Pakistan and the huge investment on the China-Pakistan Industrial Corridor is also a major concern for India’s security and military threat.
The United States which has been the major pioneer in conceptualising the Indo-Pacific Strategy in which first India and now Japan has also been a major addition did it as a counter policy to check the Chinese domination in world order and specifically in the Indian Ocean Region.
The Power competition of India, USA, and China should be able to counterbalance each other to maintain the power dynamics of the Indian Ocean region. It also is essential that no one country should dominate completely the political scenario of the IOR which would destroy the multipolar structure of power and result in the emergence of a hegemonic power. Also, the role of India-Japan relations is also important to maintain maritime security through policies like “Confluence of Seas”, enforcing “Good Order at the Seas” and so on. Peace and stability is essential in this region as there is an increasing incidence of mistrust and conflicts which may result in a probable military conflict in the near future. India is trying to strategize as a middle negotiator between China and United States to maximise its advantages in the Indian Ocean region.