Maritime Security Complexes of the Indo Pacific Region – Book Review

This book describes the geo-strategical, geo-political, and geo-economic significance of the Indo-Pacific region for the world.

Shakuja,V. &, Prabhakar, L.S, Maritime Security complexes of the Indo-Pacific Region (New Delhi: CPPR & ICWA, 2022), pp272

The author(s) of this book are experts in International relations and Strategic Studies with specialization in the domain of maritime power and coastal security. This book describes the geo-strategical, geo-political, and geo-economic significance of the Indo-Pacific region for the world. It highlights the maritime security complex of the Indian Ocean Region and the Western Pacific Region.

Vijay Sakhuja is a former Indian Naval officer and South Asian expert in Maritime Power, Security, Strategy, and Blue Economy. He is the author and co-author of many famous books on the same subject: Perspectives on Blue Economy (2017), South Asia Defense and Strategic Perspectives (2020).

Dr. Prabhakar is an expert on naval power and strategies. He is the author and co-author of many books and articles on this subject. Growth of Naval Power in the Indian Ocean Region: Dynamics and Transformation (2016) is one of his famous books.

This book holds a significant position due to the issues of Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region in the contemporary era. The geostrategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region for the blue economy, as major trade routes are situated here has made this book very significant and relevant to develop a comprehensive understanding of the maritime phenomenon occurring in this region.

The fundamental element of the Regional Security Complex (RSC) is the Anarchic structure of the International System, based on two types of relationships: arrangement of enmity and amity and power relations among the states. The Regional Maritime Security Complex Theory (RMSC) covers the concept of securitization and de-securitization. It emphasizes the traditional, non-traditional, and transnational threats impacting the regional maritime security dynamics. A profound understanding of RSC and RMSC has made it easy to envisage shifts in the global balance of power, the nature of threats, and the application of hybrid threats in the maritime domain.

The Indo-Pacific Region is the Littoral space of Asia, Africa, Australia, and America. The region is the hub of global trade because of its strategic importance concerning maritime choke points like Bab-el-Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Torres. Around 50% of the traded oil of the world passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Particularly, for this region economics and security have remained twin drivers in the pre and post-colonial periods as well as in the contemporary world. There are many multilateral and bilateral agreements aimed at developing a secure and peaceful security architecture. This part of the world is going through three major shifts: Quad, Trying to shape a “rules-based order” to deal with great power rivalry and regional maritime contestations, strategic shift in the balance of power from the US to China, and growing US military presence in the pacific ocean, and capability of escalation of regional conflicts paving way for intervention of extra-regional forces. RMSC gave a complete understanding of this region by dissecting it into sub-complexes.

The Indian Ocean is facing security threats due to numerous reasons. It has been referred to as the “arc of crisis” due to political and economic instability. The inter-state conflicts have given rise to naval arms buildup. Pakistan and India are prime examples. On the other hand, China is pursuing its goal of strategic modernization. Terrorism and Piracy are asymmetric maritime threats, rising at a considerable rate. Similarly, the failure of governing bodies in these states and, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles for deterrence purposes is another major contributor to this threat mechanism. Looking at non-traditional security threats, Pirates and Terrorists have an affinity to collaborate to achieve collective objectives. Human trafficking, Narcotics smuggling, Small Arms and Light weapons trafficking, IUU fishing (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated), and Climate Change are the non-traditional threats to this region. It is becoming difficult to separate the two types of threats, because of the complex, changing dynamics of regional politics.

North Arabian Sea Crescent (NASC) is economically and strategically important because of the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea. It is the major source of gas and oil, serving as a hub of transshipment providing access to Central Asia and Eurasia. The security dynamics of NASC can be analyzed by focusing on two areas: classical security (Inter-State conflicts/wars) and targeting non-state actors (Al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Shabaab, and many more). Gulf countries are increasing their military capabilities, particularly naval capability to maintain a regional balance of sea power. GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) considers an attack on one GCC member as an attack against the entire council. Moreover, the navy and air forces of alliance partners are facilitating each other for joint operations to ensure maritime security. Great powers like the US, UK, Australia, and France have a military presence in the Gulf region due to their vested interests. Proxy wars involving non-state actors have been playing an important role in destabilizing this region. The intervention of great powers has done more harm than good playing a key role in escalating tensions among Gulf countries.

The Bay of Bengal holds a vibrant place for international commerce. Cooperative and competitive dimensions of maritime security are major frameworks for analyzing the security architecture of this region. Chinese-led ambitious BRI provides potential for geo-political and geostrategic instability. Climate change and food security are among the leading non-traditional security threats.

The Western Pacific Ocean has grasped the attention of the globe as the most contested region in the 21st century due to Sino-US competition as the regional hegemons of the Eastern and Western world respectively. The US with its allies like India, Singapore, and Japan has set up a plan to deploy the First Fleet. The US is committed to ensuring a “Free and open” Indo-Pacific. Taiwan is another important concern for both Beijing and Washington. Indo-Pacific Quad has been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations, naval operations, and war games in the South China Sea. Other than conventional military buildup, the naval nuclear proliferation of new and old nuclear weapon states has posed a serious challenge to strategic stability and nuclear deterrence in the maritime domain.

Indo-Pacific region is strategically important for regional as well as extra-regional powers. Being home to more than 60% of the global population, it has been facing a number of challenges like climate change, overpopulation, food shortage, piracy, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, etc. All these challenges are directly or indirectly relevant to maritime security.

Umme Laila
Umme Laila
Mphil Scholar at NDU, Isb. My area of interest includes strategic shifts in global order, complex economic interdependence and South Asian politics.