Indian Ocean Power Competition

India’s leadership in the debate on maritime security


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNCLOS

Mains level : Paper 3- Maritime security


Indian PM recently addressed  the UNSC High-Level Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case For International Cooperation”, convened by India.

Highlights of the UNSC debate on Maritime Security

  • India’s leadership: As President of the UN Security Council for the month of August, India’s leadership in the debate on maritime security has strengthened its credentials as a key stakeholder in the maritime commons.
  • Ocean as a common heritage: Prime Minister Modi described the oceans as a common heritage for humankind and a lifeline for the future of the planet.
  • Culture, history, geography: In enunciating five principles, Mr. Modi linked free and open trade to India’s civilisational ethos.
  • He outlined a far-sighted vision rooted in India’s culture, history and geography.
  • SAGAR: The relevance of SAGAR (Security And Growth For All In The Region) was also reiterated.
  • Need for a common framework: The global community needs to develop a common framework to deal with contemporary challenges, including maritime disputes and natural disasters.

Importance of high seas

  • Ninety per cent of global trade is conducted on the high seas, for the simple reason that it continues to be the most cost-effective mode of transport.
  • Spread of prosperity: Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce are key to the spread of prosperity. 
  • Critical supply chains depend on the concept of mare liberum (open seas).

Suggestions and role of India

1) Maritime dispute settlement  based on international law

  • The Prime Minister advocated the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes on the basis of international law.
  • The importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the legal framework governing all maritime activity needs to be emphasised.
  • India’s acceptance of the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014 paved the way for India and Bangladesh to put aside their maritime dispute and forge even closer ties.
  • In 2016, China summarily rejected the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favour of the Philippines.
  • The neo-colonial concept of mare clausum (closed seas) in the South China Sea is anathema to the future of the global economy.

2) Deling with natural disasters and maritime threats

  • Natural disasters and maritime threats posed by non-state actors have grown exponentially.
  • The global community needs to rally together to deal effectively with the ravages of cyclones, tsunami and maritime pollution.
  • First responder: India’s role as ‘first responder’ in the Indian Ocean, whether in thwarting piracy or providing relief after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, is well-documented.
  • The Indian Coast Guard’s operational reach and capability has vastly improved in dealing with environmental hazards and piracy.
  • White shipping agreements: India now has white shipping agreements with several countries.
  • Cooperation: The Indian Navy’s state-of-the-art Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) based in Gurugram hosts officers from the United States, Japan, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.
  • Training:The Indian Navy regularly offers a large number of training slots to friendly countries.

3) Environmental concerns

  • The oceans remain our lifeline.
  • Yet, they have been overwhelmed by plastic waste which chokes all forms of marine life.

4) Connectivity and infrastructure

  • Connectivity: The development of connectivity and infrastructure are also a major priority.
  • There are heightened concerns today over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Openness and transparency India stands for openness and transparency in the execution of projects, based on local priorities, with in-built fiscal viability and environmental sustainability.
  • Blue Dot Network: The U.S., Japan and Australia are also promoting better standards for global infrastructure through the Blue Dot Network.


India’s natural interests stretch across both the Indian and Pacific Oceans as reflected in its inclusive Indo-Pacific vision. No doubt, India’s initiative will further the prospects for a stable and enduring maritime environment.

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