Abstract: In the narratives of international relations, the term ‘great game’ has been used to describe those events that have drawn the great powers into the conflict. In the 21st century, the region which is the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is considered to be the arena of another ‘Great Game’ involving the US, China, EU, Russia, India, Japan, and Australia (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 182). Some call it a (Barauh, 2020). This region is increasingly been referred as Indo- Pacific region. In this essay, we shall understand the significance of the Indo – Pacific region from the perspective of India. Who would be a better person than the external affairs minister to explain India’s stance? We shall analytically discuss the insights and understanding of Subramanian Jaishankar from his newly released book ‘The India Way.’
The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ was first introduced by Dr. Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation(Kuo, 2018). Even though such nomenclature leads people to think that India has a special role to play, it is rather a general mix of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. An interesting fact is known that during Obama’s office, the US decided to go with the name Indo- Asia- Pacific region encouraging India to be the ‘net security provider'(Ibid). However, Trump has made it short – calling it ‘Indo-Pacific’. The growing aggressive behavior of China in economic terms and physically in the South China Sea, and its string of pearls strategy engulfing the Indian Ocean region and extending its economic sea lanes till Northern Africa has become a cause of concern for the major powers. This makes the Indo- Pacific region a strategic hot spot of geopolitics.
China is India’s competitive neighbor with unresolved border issues. Accordingly, for India, securing its backyard – the Indian Ocean becomes a priority. However, India cannot challenge China’s rise and show the world that it belongs to the camp which will be hinged on containing China’s rise. Its huge titled balance of payments towards China shows strong economic dependence. It has to carefully manage the changing power dynamics and establish itself as one of the regional power in the upcoming multipolar world. Accordingly, India did not publicly declare Indo – Pacific to be the region of its strategic interest until 2018. It was in the Shangri La dialogue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defined Indo- Pacific expanding the strategic interests from Western Africa to the shores of America(PMO, 2018).
The importance of the Indo –Pacific region is reiterated by India’s external affairs minister in his book ‘The India Way.’ He asserted that it is not just India, but all the great powers are shifting their focus on to this region to counter the emerging hegemon. In the following section, we shall analytically understand his stand on this new great game using structural realist constructs.
Importance of the region and the reason for calling it a contemporary new great game(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 162)
- For India, it is a logical step to move beyond Act-East policy.
- For Japan, movement into the Indian Ocean would be a long term strategy.
- For the US, it is a necessary region to uphold its global dominance.
- For Russia, it is a new emphasis on the Far East.
- For China, it is a necessity to emerge as the regional hegemon
- For Europe, it is the return to the region from which it withdrew.
These assertions are easily understood from the Hegemonic Power Transition theory (Kugler & Organski, 1989). According to this theory, the international structure is considered hierarchical. When the nation-states reach their maturity of productivity, other great powers will soon catch up to the status of the dominant power. In such a scenario, the friction arises between the dominant and the challenger. Here, the dominant power would be the US and the great powers would be China, EU, Russia, and also India. The great power which has reached the position to challenge the dominant power is China. Japan’s long term strategy, and the US necessity, and the EU’s return to the region shows its limited options. They have to concentrate on the balancing strategies in the Indo- Pacific region. Such balancing needs a strong anchor in the region making India be the only option. When it comes to Russia, its focus would be on securing its SLOCs (Sea lanes of Communication) from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean region, and a free movement From Vladivostok to the South China Sea. However, Russia and India would not be strongly associated here because of the former’s strategic ties with China.
This region has not only come up in the foreign policy discourses with the growth of dominant players in Asia. Its importance has historical, cultural, and economic importance attached to it. India’s cultural influence can be traced to the extensive reach of Buddhism, temple architecture of South East Asia, and also migrations. Even during the colonial times, the trade between Europe and South East Asia was carried out in the confluence region of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Owing to the domination of the US and the fall of the UK, India’s role in this region both politically and economically dwindled. With China rising its stakes in the region, it has become inevitable for India to re-draft its balancing strategies and enhances its capabilities. With these challenging dynamics of the power relations between the great powers and the emerging multi-polarity, Jaishankar asserts that the Indian foreign policy strategy should adopt the real politic nature of Lord Krishna(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 49).
Jaishankar’s New Neo-realist stance on Indo- Pacific
Being a vivid structural-realist, he asserts that the Indo-Pacific policy should focus on strengthening India’s power as a regional dominant player. In achieving the same, it has to strengthen its centrality on the Indian Ocean by expanding the nation’s influence into the extended neighborhood. SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is one such promising initiative that advances cooperative development without pushing the Indian Ocean Littoral states to the fear of India becoming the regional hegemon. BIMSTEC, IORA, IONS are some of the other initiatives highlighted and asserted that they have to be a dynamic and collaborative approach to strengthen the security apparatus.
Bringing the perspective of Organski’s power transition theory, today’s Indo-pacific region’s importance should be attributed to the rise of China which is a great power, and its challenge to the Dominant power, the US. The other great power(perhaps middle powers in the present geopolitical context) in the region will be India, Japan, and Australia. China’s rise as a dominant maritime power in the region is not a sudden and standalone change. The retrenchment of the US from this region is also opined to be the cause(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 184) for the change in power dynamics. Even though his explanations fall in line with the Organski’s propositions, Jaishankar’s strategies are more inclined towards defensive realism. His four-point framework for India to develop its Indo-Pacific strategy blow explain the Waltz’s balancing strategies in the uncertain Indo- Pacific region.
- Safeguard islands and littoral and make India’s capabilities available for others
- Deepening economic and security cooperation with maritime neighbors
- Collective action and cooperation to advance peace and security
- Integrated and Co-operative future for the region enhancing sustainable development
Concentric Circles Approach
Another approach provided is that – the strategy shall be developed in terms of concentric circles. First involves the core, the strengthening of India’s capabilities, and influence in its neighborhood. The second circle includes the ties with island states like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles. Third, is the revival of the Indian Ocean as a community. The outermost circle is the periphery extending to the Pacific Ocean.
This conception appears to overcome both Makinder’s Heartland and Spyman’s Rimland theory. Heart land theory emphasizes on the Eurasian region to be the harbinger of the global control. Rimland theory states the same with an emphasis on the littoral region of Asian continent. Jaishankar’s concentric circles neither emphasizes only on the mainland or the Indian Ocean littoral which is the Rimland. The Oceanic region is considered to be the centrality.
Stretching the Neorealist perspective:
The Indian Ocean is not just a facilitator between the East and the West, it has got historical-cultural linkages across the Indo-pacific littoral states. India’s advantage in the region is its shared cultural history with its neighbors and East Asia. India’s Project Mausam is one such example where it promotes historical and archaeological research Soft power can be used to expand the cooperative development. Sectors such as technology sharing, tourism, education prove to be more practical for regional development.
While considering the African region, the total value of the Western Indian Ocean amounts to US$ $333.8 billion(wwf, 2017). India’s western coastline connects the oil reserves of the world and the untapped African natural wealth. There are a huge human capital and economic investments in the development projects apart from what the ocean itself provides. For the starters, India could use the established regional forums such as IORA and IONS where there are African member states.
Recognizing multi-polarity as the future, Jaishankar’s advocacy of having India’s strategic thought learning and making from its rich history is interesting and necessary. China is an immediate threat to both India and Japan. In such a situation, Jaishankar’s emphasis on the importance of a strategic alliance with Japan to uphold the strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific region is welcomed. It is also opined that the contemporary region of the great game would culminate in having a multilateral setting with regional powers including the US at the high table. Notably, India’s strategic expansion of its naval interests also started with recent buzz around the Quad (Informal strategic forum between India, US, Japan, and Australia) also appears to have a strong push from Jaishankar.
However, his emphasis on the cooperation and multilateral setting have their difficulties. The difficulty is caused by the colonial rule which fragmented social harmony. It dissected the regions into small political units providing them a changed identity(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 192). This makes the restructuring of the Indian Ocean community a difficult task. With the growing skepticism towards China and the growing prowess of QUAD, India should assert its centrality by extending its developmental help towards its Indian Ocean littorals. The strength lies in making the Indian Ocean the transit hub for the Indo-Pacific region (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 188). Thus, strengthening the UNCLOS and advocating freedom of navigation on international waters should be the fundamental anchor point.
The book ‘The India way’ will give a clear perspective on the way the NDA II government approaches its foreign policy. It adopts a neo-realist policy with a flavor of cultural diplomacy. His approaches may be compared to Organski and Waltz as in the other chapters, he encourages the importance of nationalism and historical influence. The power substantiated by the public support and historical justification is opined to carry many responsibilities and pave the path towards the nation’s transition into the great power within the multipolar system.
Barauh, M. D., 2020. India in the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi’s Theater of Opportunity. [Online].
Jaishankar, S., 2020. The India Way. New Delhi: Harper Collins.
Kugler, J. & Organski, A. F., 1989. The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In: Handbook of war studies. s.l.:Routledge, pp. 171-194.
Kuo, A. M., 2018. The Origin of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as Geopolitical Construct. [Online]
Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-origin-of-indo-pacific-as-geopolitical-construct/
PMO, 2018. PM Modi’s Keynote Speech at Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore | PMO. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRndujMJ99M
wwf, 2017. Western Indian Ocean valued at US$333.8 billion but at a crossroads. [Online]
Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?290410%252FWestern-Indian-Ocean-valued-at-US3338-billion-but-at-a-crossroads#:~:text=Antananarivo%2C%20Madagascar%20%2D%20A%20groundbreaking%20new,absence%20of%20stronger%20conservation%20actions.
A Hindu lord whose contribution to the Hindu philosophy can be understood from the texts of Mahabharatam.