Indian Ocean Power Competition

Advocating for sustained focus on the maritime domain


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAGAR

Mains level : Paper 3- Security and growth for all in maritime domain


In an innovative departure from normal practice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside (in virtual mode) over the UN Security Council, on Monday (August 9) when India holds the President’s chair for one month. The subject of debate is maritime security.

Issues with global maritime security

  • FON issue: There is  tension in the South China Sea over freedom of navigation (FON) rights in international waters and how China has laid claim to “territoriality” based on artificial structures (not natural islands).
  • This formulation has not been accepted by the US that has exercised transit rights in these waters.
  • Many ASEAN nations and Quad members such as Japan, Australia and India subscribe to the principle of FON and do not accept the Chinese interpretation of the “nine-dash-line”.
  • Traditional challenges: Piracy and non-traditional challenges at sea such as gun-running and smuggling are old chestnuts.
  • Maritime pollution: Accidents in the oceans have added to the anxiety about marine pollution and its downstream consequences for the health of the oceans.
  • Global warming: A UN report has come up with grim statistics about the impact of global warming on the chemistry of oceans.
  • This study notes that oceans have become more acidic as sea water absorbs more carbon dioxide.
  • Furthermore, the upper layers of the open ocean have lost between 0.5 per cent and 3.3 per cent of their oxygen since 1970 as temperatures have risen.

Way forward for India at UNCS: Security and equitable growth

  • The subject to be deliberated upon by the UNSC members is “Enhancing maritime security: A case for international cooperation”.
  • This would be an extension of India’s advocacy of SAGAR (security and growth for all in the region) in relation to the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
  •  At the UNSC strategic and security issues such as the South China Sea and FON would find little consensus as China is a permanent member and would stall any meaningful debate.
  • Focus on global goods: What may find support for a useful debate at the UNSC would be those areas that could be brought under the rubric of the “global good”.
  • For instance, the welfare of seafarers who are the sinews of the global merchant marine, has received scant attention in this Covid-scarred period and the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has been unable to effectively address such issues.
  • Correlation with globalisation: India can also advocate for sustained focus on the maritime domain and the correlation with globalisation, the blue economy, the health of the ocean and the overall impact on human security.


Security and equitable growth for all by husbanding the global ocean for future generations is a laudable goal and encouraging the UNSC to prioritise this issue is a worthy cause.

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