US-India maritime trajectory?
S Qamar A Rizvi
TOWARDS deepening the evolving partnership in the maritime domain, India and the US held the first round of discussions under the recently-constituted maritime security dialogue between officials of Defence and External Affairs ministries and their US counterparts. There are certain indications that US wants an Indian subjugation over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as to contain the Chinese influence. In May, 2016 the two sides started their comprehensive dialogue regarding the Indian Ocean maritime issues.
“Among the issues discussed were Asia-Pacific maritime challenges, naval cooperation, and multilateral engagement. The dialogue was one of the several new initiatives agreed between Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his former US counterpart Ashton Carter during the Obama’s administration plan of upgrading maritime security objectives under the India-US Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.” They also agreed to launch a bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue, co-chaired by officials at the Joint Secretary/Assistant Secretary-level of the Indian Ministries of Defence and External Affairs and the US Departments of Defence and State,” the joint statement issued at the end of the visit had stated.
The US-based Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA) conducted this study to determine how the United States can advance its naval and maritime relationship with India in the coming five to 10 years. US-India defence relations, especially in the naval domain, have expanded in the past two decades and soared under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The study analyses the key factors that have shaped the course of relations between the US Navy (USN) and the Indian Navy and considers India’s possible future trajectories and how they may impact bilateral naval ties. CNA study envisions four strategic trajectories that India may be taking in the next five to 10 years and draws implications for USN-Indian Navy cooperation.
Elements of all four trajectories may certainly be present at any given time, but these archetypes are used to advance USN security cooperation with the Indian Navy. They are: Baseline trajectory: continuation of the current, incremental growth in India’s economic and military capabilities. Alternate trajectory 1: renewed focus on Pakistan and land-based threats. Alternate trajectory 2: Monroe Doctrine in the Indian Ocean. Alternate trajectory 3: increased tensions with China. Despite the outcomes of these ascribed futures for US-India relations, the USN and Indian Navy can work together effectively given their shared interests across multiple missions. And finally, there appears an Indian desire for controlling the western Indian Ocean region-an area of strategic significance. This suggests possibilities for USN-Indian Navy cooperation that are outside the traditional US Pacific Command (PACOM) area of responsibility (AOR), but may still be enhancing the U.S. naval relationship with India.
Recently, India has entered into a unique five-year pact to permit Singapore’s armed forces to hold regular exercises on Indian airspace and territory. It also allows Singapore to permanently store military equipment in India. Singapore has similar agreements with the US, France, Australia, Thailand and Taiwan, as land is scarce in the small city-state. India will, however, need to handle the growing defence relationship with care. New Delhi seems keen to diversify the stable of countries from which it buys arms and want to move away from over-dependence on traditional supplier, particularly Russia who has increased its defence hardware exports to China.
Given the huge volume of oil movement between the Persian Gulf and the Malacca Straits towards North Asia, the Indian navy has been looking to possess a long-range nuclear platform on the eastern and western seaboards, with adequate strike capability. On the other hand, India has sent a letter of request (LoR) to the US seeking to purchase patrol drones for protection and vigilance of its maritime assets in the Indian Ocean, sources said. New Delhi sent LoR just after, India was inducted into Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and recognised by the US as a “major defence partner” after the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama, earlier in June,2016.
As for the strategic significance of the IOR, a number of the world’s most important strategic chokepoints, including the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca through which 32.2 millions of barrels of crude oil and petroleum are transported per day—more than 50 per cent of the world’s maritime oil trade—are found in the Indian Ocean Region, which itself is believed to be rich with energy reserves. It is estimated that 40 percent of the world’s offshore petroleum is produced in the Indian Ocean, coastal beach sands and offshore waters host heavy mineral deposits, and fisheries are increasingly important for both exports and domestic consumption.
Therefore, the Indian Ocean has become a growing area of competition between USA/China/India. The two regional powers, China and India move to exert influence in the ocean include deep-water port development in littoral states and military patrols. Though experts say the probability of military conflict between China and India remains low, escalated activities— accompanied byport development and military exercises and rhetoric— may endanger stability in a critical region for global trade flows.
Because of the US-India quest for maritime subjugation, China seems more pertinent and profound on the issue of South China Sea. Both Pakistan and China are aware of an immediate and extended neighbourhood in Indian Ocean Region. Beijing and Islamabad are jointly committed to working on this growing geostrategic balance in the maritime security arena. For China, CPEC-affiliated Gwadar Port is not only a shortcut to Africa and the Mediterranean Sea but also the shortest route for China to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The CPEC naval routes trajectory may upset the US-India maritime subjugation plan, thereby defending China’s economic, geo-political and geo-strategic objectives: Firstly, it provides an entry to warm waters of Indian Ocean through Pakistan as opposed to utilizing long strategic locations (SLOCs) on its maritime route connected its eastern part to the Middle East. Secondly, it allows China to adopt a “Look West Policy” in its connect with Afghanistan, CIS States, Russia and beyond and develops its geo-strategic bonds with them by facilitating their use of CPEC as a trade and economic link.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.