Year

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security

Abstract

This thesis assesses India’s maritime strategy and critically examines its efficacy and sustainability including India’s ambitions to be the “net security provider” for the region.” It seeks to answer the question, whether or not the extant maritime strategy would help India maintain its balance of power with respect to China, and recommends complementary actions and alternate strategic options for India to fulfill its goals in the Indian Ocean.

The first part of the thesis examines the entire range of strategic maritime threats and challenges posed to India by the evolving Indian Ocean security environment of the twenty-first century. These include the non-traditional threats such as piracy, maritime terrorism and illegal fishing as well as traditional threats posed by India’s hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan. Subsequently, it looks at how India’s foreign policy has shaped its maritime doctrine and strategy, and examines the stated objectives of India’s maritime strategy that broadly envisage shaping a favourable environment in the India Ocean by emerging as the primary “net security provider” for the littoral states. Next, the thesis explores how the changing world security order of the twenty-first century facilitates maritime security cooperation, and proposes an innovative framework that helps to empirically measure the degree of cooperation between India and regional states. Based on this framework, the thesis then examines India’s bilateral maritime security cooperation initiatives with various regional states and extra-regional powers, and critically analyses the extent and scope of these relations supported by empirical evidence. This is followed by a comparative assessment of India’s bilateral security ties vis-a-vis Chinese influence in the region. The thesis argues that although India has successfully established durable bilateral security ties with most regional states, India’s maritime strategy is unsustainable in the long term and challenged by rising Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean. The study brings out the inherent risks in India’s maritime strategy and proposes an alternate strategic option for India that leverages its geostrategic advantage in the Indian Ocean. The thesis also explores India’s role in multilateral maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean and identifies the risks in India’s insular approach to multilateral maritime security cooperation in the region, arguing for involvement of China as well as other extra-regional stakeholders in the maritime security of the region.

The thesis posits that as Chinese maritime power follows its trade in the Indian Ocean region, the threat of China altering the extant balance of power with India in its favour, looms large. What then are the other strategic options for India? The thesis broadly recommends the following: India must realise that national strategy is about leveraging own means rather than dependency on foreign relations which could change over time. Hence, the current focus of India’s maritime strategy based on building bilateral relations could be wasteful and unsustainable. The thesis identifies the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as the weakest link in India’s maritime strategy. It argues that by failing to develop the Andamans as a full-fledged operational command India has failed to leverage their geostrategic potential, overlooking the mouth of the Strait of Malacca. The expansion of China’s maritime power coupled with its rising economic and political influence in the Indian Ocean region could lead to a permanent Chinese presence in the region that could effectively neutralise India’s geographic advantage in the Indian Ocean. Thus, India must strengthen the Andaman and Nicobar command and upgrade it to the level of other naval commands. Furthermore, India should concurrently endeavor to strengthen maritime multilateralism in the Indian Ocean region and work towards closer integration of the extant sub-regional institutions. India’s current approach to take complete “ownership” of the various regional fora in its bid to emerge as the sole “security provider” for the region could potentially stymie growth of maritime multilateralism in the Indian Ocean region paving the way for a larger role by China. Finally, the thesis recommends that India must work towards development of a pan-Indian Ocean information grid, as a regional strategic project that could help to link together the various stakeholders in regional security and help to strengthen India’s position in the region.

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