Indian Ocean Power Competition

Significance of Indian Ocean Commission for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IOC and its member countries.

Mains level : Paper 2- How increasing cooperation with IOC could help India in its vision enshrined in SAGAR?

India got an observer status at IOC (Indian Ocean Commission) in March. This article discusses the significance of IOC in the Western Indian Ocean. The IOC is also significant for India as India’s leadership is made clear in SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) which is “consultative, democratic and equitable”. There are things that India need to learn from IOC like-“bottom-up regionalism” and there are things that India can contribute to IOC like its expertise. These issues are discussed here.

About Indian Ocean Commission (IOC)

  • Founded in 1982, the IOC is an intergovernmental organisation.
  • It comprises five small-island states in the Western Indian Ocean: the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (a French department), and Seychelles.
  • Though Réunion brings a major power, France, into this small-state equation, decisions in the IOC are consensus-based.
  • While France’s foreign policy interests are represented, the specifics of Réunion’s regional decision-making emerge from its local governance structures.
  • Over the years, the IOC has emerged as an active and trusted regional actor, working in and for the Western Indian Ocean and implementing a range of projects.

Maritime security by IOC and India’s interests

  • More recently, the IOC has demonstrated leadership in the maritime security domain.
  • Since maritime security is a prominent feature of India’s relations with Indian Ocean littoral states, India’s interest in the IOC should be understood in this context.
  • However, India has preferred to engage bilaterally with smaller states in the region.
  • The IOC is a cluster of small states which do not seek a ‘big brother’ partnership.
  • The IOC has its own regional agenda.
  • The IOC has made impressive headway in the design and implementation of regional maritime security architecture in the Western Indian Ocean.

MASE program and RMIFC to help maritime security

  • What is MASE program? The European Union-funded programme to promote Maritime Security in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean.
  • In 2012, the IOC was one of the four regional organisations to launch the MASE Programme
  • Under MASE, the IOC has established a mechanism for surveillance and control of the Western Indian Ocean with two regional centres.
  • RMIFC: The Regional Maritime Information Fusion Center (RMIFC), based in Madagascar, is designed to deepen maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime activities and promoting information sharing and exchange.
  • The Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC), based in Seychelles, will eventually facilitate joint or jointly coordinated interventions at sea based on information gathered through the RMIFC.
  • These centres are a response to the limitations that the states in the region face in policing and patrolling their often enormous Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
  • They deliver an urgently needed deterrent against unabating maritime crime at sea.
  • Which was only partly addressed by the high-level counter-piracy presence of naval forces from the EU, the Combined Maritime Forces, and Independent Forces.
  • Seven states in the region have signed agreements to participate in this multilateral maritime security architecture, and once ratified, will provide its legal foundation.
  • Many major powers have expressed interest in accessing the RMIFC.

In 2013, a question based on the “strings of pearls” was asked by the UPSC. In 2014 question with respect to the  South China Sea and the freedom of navigation was asked. On similar lines, a question can be asked from the Western Indian Ocean region dealing with maritime security. Such a question would require information about IOC.

What India can learn from IOC?

  • The IOC’s achievements offer an opportunity for India to learn, and also to support.
  • The IOC style of ‘bottom-up regionalism’ has produced a sub-regional view and definition of maritime security problems and local ownership of pathways towards workable solutions.
  • A 2019 policy brief published by the IOC ‘Strengthening Maritime Security in the Western Indian Ocean’, sets out how the counter-piracy response off the coast of Somalia delivered unprecedented regional and international cooperation in the domain of maritime security.
  • However, it resulted in multiple players, the duplication of actions, and regional dependence on international navies.
  • The IOC has been seeking more sustainable ways of addressing maritime security threats in the region, with the RMIFC and RCOC as part of this response.
  • Its regional maritime security architecture is viewed locally as the most effective and sustainable framework to improve maritime control and surveillance and allow littoral States to shape their own destiny.
  • Moreover, with proper regional coordination, local successes at curbing maritime threats will have broader security dividends for the Indian Ocean space.

How India can contribute?

  • Nearly all littoral states in the Western Indian Ocean need assistance in developing their maritime domain awareness and in building capacity to patrol their EEZs.
  • All would benefit from national information fusion centres that can link to those of the wider region.
  • With its observer status, India will be called upon to- 1. Extend its expertise to the region. 2. Put its satellite imagery to the service of the RMIFC. 3. Establish links with its own Information Fusion Centre.
  • As a major stakeholder in the Indian Ocean with maritime security high on the agenda, India will continue to pursue its interests and tackle maritime security challenges at the macro level in the region.
  • However, as an observer of the IOC, a specific, parallel opportunity to embrace bottom-up regionalism presents itself.
  • There are those in the Western Indian Ocean who are closely watching how India’s “consultative, democratic and equitable” leadership will take shape.

Conclusion

India, with its principles of leadership made clear in SAGAR has an opportunity to learn from and partner with IOC to reinforce the maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean.

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