[op-ed snap] All out at sea

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Naval Exercises

Mains level : India's endeavor in Indian Ocean is defense oriented.


CONTEXT

In recent weeks, a series of bilateral exercises with regional navies in the Indian Ocean have demonstrated the Indian Navy’s resolve to preserve operational leverage in India’s near seas.

List of Naval Exercises

  • In April, in their biggest and most complex exercise, Indian and Australian warships held drills in the Bay of Bengal.
  • This was followed by a much-publicised anti-submarine exercise with the U.S. Navy near Diego Garcia.
  • Last week, the Indian Navy held a joint exercise ‘Varuna’ with the French Navy off the coast of Goa and Karwar. even as two Indian warships participated in a ‘group sail’ with warships from Japan, the Philippines and the United States on return from a fleet review in Qingdao.

Reasons for numerous exercises

1. China’s increasing naval footprint

  • For many, the trigger for India’s newfound zeal at sea is the rapid expansion of China’s naval footprint in the Indian Ocean.
  • Military outposts – Beyond commercial investments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, China has established a military outpost in Djibouti, a key link in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Base for non-peacekeeping missions – Reports suggest the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is planning an expansion of its logistics base for non-peacekeeping missions, raising the possibility of an operational overlap with the Indian Navy’s areas of interest.
  • Control over key nodes – As some see it, Djibouti portends a future where China would control key nodes skirting important shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, allowing the PLA’s Navy (PLAN) to dominate the security dynamic.

2. South Asian Navies increasing  Presence

  • Meanwhile, South Asian navies have been making their presence felt in the seas of the subcontinent.
  • In a quest for regional prominence, Sri Lanka has positioned itself as a facilitator of joint regional endeavours, expanding engagement with Pacific powers which includes the Royal Australian Navy and the U.S. Navy.
  • With China’s assistance, Pakistan too is becoming an increasingly potent actor in the northern Indian Ocean, a key region of Indian interest.
  • Beijing has also been instrumental in strengthening the navies of Bangladesh and Myanmar, both increasingly active participants in regional security initiatives.

3. Looking for partnerships

  • Widely acknowledged as the most capable regional maritime force, the Indian Navy has played a prominent role in the fight against non-traditional challenges in the Indian Ocean.
  • While its contribution to the counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (including in cyclone-hit Mozambique) has been substantial, a paucity of assets and capacity has forced the Navy to seek partners willing to invest resources in joint security endeavours.

4.African focus

  •  Chinese investments in port infrastructure in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Mozambique have grown at a steady pace, even as PLAN has sought to expand its presence in the western Indian Ocean.
  • In response, India has moved to deepen its own regional engagement, seeking naval logistical access to French bases in Reunion and Djibouti, where the second phase of ‘Varuna’ will be held later this month.

Conclusion

Defensive stand – Yet, India’s Indian Ocean focus makes for an essentially defensive posture.

No strategic gains – Notwithstanding improvements in bilateral and trilateral naval engagements, it hasn’t succeeded in leveraging partnerships for strategic gains.

Power equation favouring China – With India’s political leadership reluctant to militarise the Quadrilateral grouping or to expand naval operations in the Western Pacific, the power-equation with China remains skewed in favour of the latter.

Only risk management approach – For all its rhetoric surrounding the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, New Delhi is yet to take a stand on a ‘rules-based order’ in littoral-Asia. A wariness for sustained operations in China’s Pacific backyard has rendered the Indian Navy’s regional strategy a mere ‘risk management’ tactic, with limited approach to shape events in littoral-Asia.

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.
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