Indian Ocean Region(IOR) and Indian Geopolitics

Friday, July 24, 2020

Indian Ocean comprise 20% of the water of the world around which world's one third population is living. From ancient times Indian Ocean Region(IOR) remained one of the world's busiest international trading area. After the the first industrial revolution this region became even more important as factories were located in Europe and goods was to be sold to South and South-East Asian Countries like India, for which Indian Ocean is used heavily. 
After second world war the international trade got major push due to emergence of world Trade Organisation (WTO), United Nations and various other Trade Treaties, which increased the shipment volume through Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Subsequently with the advent of crude oils in Middle East Asian countries this route became much more important than  earlier because now IOR  alone witness almost 40% of crude oil exports of the world.

Strategic Locations in Indian Ocean Regions

1. Strait of Hormuz(connects Persian Gulf and The gulf of Oman)

This strait alone witness about 30% of the total seaborne traded crude oil supply in 2015, which makes this position one of the most important one. Currently this strait is dominated by Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, USA (using Saudi Arabia). Recently this location became hotspot of conflict between USA and Iran which still in continuation. 

2. Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb (connects Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea)

Like strait of Hormuz, this location also see a large part of crude oil supply across the world but the importance of this location was enhanced much more after the development of Swej Canal, which connects Mediterranean Sea to Red Sea and Arabian Sea via Gulf of Aden. Which makes it strategic for not only crude oil supply but also for other goods like cotton, fruits as well as raw & finished products to European countries. 

3. Strait of Malacca (connects Indian  Ocean to Pacific Ocean) 

This is equally important as previous two locations. But this strait became even more important for China as it serves the shortest possible route to China from India Ocean via South China Sea. 
This strait accounts major part of the supplies from South Asia, Middle-East to USA, Canada and other American countries and vice-versa.

Dominant Countries in IOR 

1. India

As Indian Peninsula separates India Ocean into two parts i.e. Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and posses very strategic position in between the Arabian Sea as well as Bay of Bengal, hence India has control over both parts of the region because shipments towards south-East Asia needs to be passed through Srilanka and Maldives which is not far away from Indian Naval Bases. In addition to this Andaman and Nicobar Island command which is very much closer  to  the strait of Malacca as well as Kyaukpyu(being built by China on Myanmar's coast) is one of the most strategic position which can be utilised by India to block this route in case of any tension. This is one of the major concern for China. 

2. USA

United States of America uses Saudi Arabia, Australia, India and of coarse their modern warships to dominate in this region. USA's main focus is around strait of Hormuz, from where USA receives major chunk of crude oil supply(especially from Saudi Arabia) and that's why the conflict with Iran is.

3. Russia

Russia previously was most powerful in this region in 19th and 20th century, when Afghanistan was under it's influence and when Russia was leading USSR. But now it has not much interest in this region as Russia does not require crude oil from this region(Russia is self sufficient in this regard). 
However Russia recently seen increasing it's presence in the region through various naval exercises with Srilanka, South Africa and China.

4. China

From last 20-30 years China is trying to establish it's influence in this region because China also imports crude oil from Middle-East Countries (especially Iran) as well as China is trying to counter Indian and USA's dominance due to geopolitical reasons and it's ambitious plan to become world's strongest power.

Challenges for India in IOR

  1. China is the main cause of concern for India which is trying counter Indian dominance in the region. 
  2. China with the help of Pakistan building Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which very much closer to India as well as Strait of Hormuz. 
  3. Besides Gwadar china taken Hambantota Port on lease for 99 ears from Srilanka due to default of Chinese loans by Srilanka.
  4. China is also developing Kyaukpyu port near Strait of Malacca in association with Myanmar, which is close to Andaman and Nicobar Command of India. 
  5. USA's Sanctions on Iran made Indian position weak in the region as it hurt India-Iran relations because India had to stop oil imports from Iran despite good relations. Although India became successful in excluding Chabahar Port from US sanctions, which is being developed by India to boost it's position in IOR. 
  6. Foreign policy issues with Srilanka, Pakistan and Maldives. 

What is being done by India to Sustain its Dominance in IOR?

  1. India constantly pushing Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), whose members are Australia, Bangladesh, the Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen to boost economic co-opration and development of the region. 
  2. Chabahar Port development is being done by India in Iran to boost it's dominance in the region and would also help India to connect with Central Asia. 
  3. Maintaining good relations with Maldives, which is also one of the most important location in Indian Ocean which can be used to keep close watch over shipments passing through between Srilanka and Maldives. 
  4. Despite some differences India remained successful in maintaining good relations with it's most of the neighbouring countries, which is essential for Indian dominance in the region. 
  5. India is constantly working with USA, Japan and Australia to boost it's presence through many bilateral and multilateral naval exercises in the region.

What needs to be done by India to boost it's Dominance ?

  1. India has to improve it's diplomatic channels in Critical countries like Srilanka and Myanmar to overcome difference and problems of India with these countries. 
  2. Although India has not much cash reserves in it's wallet but India should finance projects of neighbouring countries especially Srilanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Indonesia and Bangladesh as it is done by China. 
  3. We need to talk with USA on the issue of Iran as it is essential for India to connect to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
  4. We have to increase our Naval presence in critical areas to safeguard shipments as it was done in previous year (2019), when tension between USA and Iran grown to critical levels. 
  5. India should integrate with France a resident power in the ocean.
  6. India should also engage with Britain and other European countries, who has good stake in the region.