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Indian Ocean Region: An Area of Conflicting Maritime Strategies and Power Struggles

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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:

  1. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
  2. 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.
  3. India’s increasing border dispute with its neighbours like Pakistan and China.
  4. Piracy in the Sea
  5. Disruption in trade
  6. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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Defense

Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases

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Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.

India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.

India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.

In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption

has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group  ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.

Shady background of Defsys

Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.

The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.

Rampant corruption in India

Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.

Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended

India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.

Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.

He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.

Tardy trial

The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.

According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.

Legal cover for middlemen

Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.

Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual

There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.

The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.

For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”

Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product

Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.

India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)

India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.

All-round corruption

In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”

According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.

Concluding remarks

Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more.  Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.

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Turkish Expansion of Libya Threatens Wreck NATO

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Despite the fact that the parties to the Libyan crisis are gradually coming to a political solution, the situation continues to become heated both within and around the country. It is mainly influenced by the states involved in the conflict.

At the same time the instability in Libya has a negative impact on international relations, including growing contradictions between strategic partners. In particular Turkey’s military activities raise fears among at least three NATO members – France, Italy and Greece.

Relations between Ankara and its partners in the North Atlantic Alliance are exacerbated due to the actions of the Turkish leadership, which not only delivers weaponry to the former Jamahiriya avoiding the UN embargo, but also conducts geological exploration of the hydrocarbon fields in the eastern Mediterranean sea.

Contradictions between NATO partners have already begun to take the form of hidden clashes. For example, the French frigate “Courbet”, operating as part of the Alliance’s “Sea Guardian” operation aimed to prevent arms smuggling into Libya, approached three Turkish warships and a cargo vessel on June 10 last year. The French military attempted to inspect a civilian ship suspected of illegally carrying weapons to a war-torn country. In response, the Turkish warships illuminated the Courbet by the targeting radar for three times.

After the incident, Paris pulled out of the “Sea Guardian” operation. Moreover, the White House national adviser, Robert O ‘Brian condemned the Turkish military actions and expressed support for France. “NATO allies shouldn’t be turning fire control radars on each other. That’s not good. We are very sympathetic to the French concerns,” he told.

The contradictions between France and Turkey are also evident in the geopolitical sphere. Paris considers the Libyan National Army commander Halifa Khaftar as one of the key figures in resolving the Libyan conflict, while Ankara refuses to recognize him as a significant political force in the country.

In addition, there are growing tensions between Turkey and Italy. Rome as the largest importer of Libyan oil has been long cooperating with Tripoli’s authorities in oil and gas spheres. After throwing its weight behind one of the rival administration, Turkey seeks to revise the status quo in the Libyan hydrocarbon industry by sidelining France’s Total and Italy’s Eni in a bid to gain full access to the natural resources of Libya. Although Turkey urges countries and companies to joint collaboration, no one highly likely will consent to it, considering this suggestion as a “toxic asset.”

Greece, in turn, is annoyed by agreements between Ankara and Tripoli that deprive Athens of its legal right to the sea shelf between Rhodes and Crete. This part of the continental shelf belongs to Greece and Cyprus, but Turkey is trying to contend for its rights to the fields through the memorandum of understanding on maritime zones with the Government of the National Accord, predecessor of the newly formed Government of National Unity. The Turkish side sent warships to the Mediterranean to reinforce the “legitimacy” of its actions, which was negatively perceived by Athens. The situation became heated to such an extent that many experts have not rule out the outbreak of armed confrontation between the allies.

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Firmly Address Tehran’s Ballistic Behavior

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The recent change in US administrations has spawned a lively debate about the potential path back to a deal with Iran, especially concerning the latter’s troubling nuclear ambitions. Some argue against reviving the 2015 nuclear deal while others counsel for a swift US return to it. But there is a big problem with an undemanding US revival of the deal. Over the past five years, the regime has displayed extremely disturbing behaviors that endanger the region, Europe, the United States, and the broader international community.

Indeed, Iran’s nuclear escalations and its burgeoning ballistic missiles program are major threats. But much more troubling is Iran’s ballistic behavior.

There are four significant hotspots where the Iranian regime is active. This means any return to the Iran deal cannot exclusively address technical nuclear issues. The geopolitics of the entire region have changed. For instance, in Yemen, Houthi militias control a large segment of a sovereign country, and they are armed by the Iranian regime, including missiles. They are at war with the legitimate government of Yemen, and they have had a terrible record of human rights abuses.

In Iraq, Iran has used its militias to establish control over the entire country, with some exceptions. These militias are not only controlling the government, major parts of the economy or the banks, they are engaged in suppressing the population. In the fall of 2019, hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis from all walks of life took to the streets to demand meaningful reforms. But they were met with lethal force. More than 700 Iraqi citizens of all communities have been killed by pro-Iranian militias.

The Iranian regime’s forces in Syria have brought in radical Shia militias from as far as Afghanistan. More than 700,000 people have been killed in that civil war. Five million Syrians have been displaced.

And, last but not least, in Lebanon, Hezbollah is armed and funded by Tehran, and its secretary general does not shy away from publicly announcing his group’s complete allegiance to the Iranian regime.

So, the Iranian regime is effectively involved in the quasi occupation of four Arab countries. All this means that there cannot be a swift return to an “Iran deal” without addressing the regime’s regional ambitions and destructive meddling, which have resulted in instability for Europeans and American interests alike.

Meanwhile both in European capitals and in Washington, there are major interests that echo calls for a quick return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Absent in their inexplicable haste is any consequential consideration to pressing geopolitical demands.

Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal are eager to do business with Iran. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But shouldn’t the cost of that decision be soberly evaluated before rushing back in?

Are there not important destabilizing factors that must be urgently addressed, including the deployment of ballistic missiles in the region, the preponderance of Iranian proxies in strategic hotspots, and persistent deadly attacks against Western allies in the region?

So, what should be done?

Any potential discussions with the Iranian regime must take into consideration the security of the Middle East as a whole.

First, regional security and the regime’s behavior must top the list of potential negotiation topics.

Second, the regime’s ballistic missile program should not proceed under the radar. The Houthi-fired missiles targeting Saudi Arabia and its oil facilities are designed and delivered by Iran. The missiles fired against the US and coalition forces in Iraq are also designed and delivered by Iran. And, Iran has deployed missiles in Syria, which are then aimed at Israel. Similarly, the Lebanese Hezbollah has boasted about having thousands of missiles in its arsenal.

Therefore, as an important step toward stability, the international community must ensure that the proliferation of these missiles is stopped, and they are removed from these countries.

Third, it would only be logical to include countries like Saudi Arabia and other impacted governments in the negotiation process because they bear the brunt of Tehran’s malevolence.

And lastly, international community should begin seriously engaging with the Iranian opposition. For the past three years, hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens have loudly protested the ruling regime and its policies. There is another image of Iran that the world needs to acknowledge and engage. That’s exactly what the US policy is trying to do in Yemen, for example, by engaging both the Houthis and the legal government at the same time.

When dealing with the multilateral and strategic threats emanating from the Iranian regime, it is only natural to engage with the organized Iranian non-violent resistance, including representatives from the Iran protests and exiled leaders, particularly the very active National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and to hear their voices during any negotiation with Tehran.

The Iranian regime will be emboldened to continue its egregious behavior if it senses weakness in the international community’s response. By firmly addressing its ballistic behavior, responsible international actors can harness the strategic domestic and international reserves to curtail Tehran’s threats.

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