Oxford dictionary describes Militarization as “preparation for an immediate combat situation or a violent conflict by nations or arms groups”. It can be of many forms, from raising armed groups, stockpiling of weapons, to deployment of troops. Here, militarization of Indian Ocean is carried by foreign nations and countries sharing territorial boundaries with the Indian Ocean.
The largest communist nation has created a ‘circle of influence’ around India, followed by few failed diplomatic approaches in Maldives.
The US and the USSR
The beginning of modern militarization of the Indian Ocean stretches back to 1960s. In the beginning of the cold war, USSR sent various naval boats and ships to further vast areas. These routes included Pacific Ocean followed by Indian Ocean and the horn of West Africa. Through these routes USSR was able to establish strong diplomatic relations with Yemen, allowing USSR ships to replenish fuel and stocks in the Yemeni harbour.
America was shocked by the USSR’s “model of approach” and felt threatened by the activities and wide influence in the region. With United Kingdom on its side, the US established its first naval base in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) island Diego Garcia. The name of the island is a synonym to the base.
China and India
Jumping forward to the 21st century, India and China entered in the picture. Both the rapidly developing nations are in a battle for the influence in the IOR. China specifically has been involved in a lot of activities in the IOR.
These activities include establishing numerous naval bases followed by surface to air missile launching stations along with political and economical approaches. By financing the “post cities” of Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, China is in a hurry to modernise the ports. The largest communist nation has created a “circle of influence” around India, followed by few failed diplomatic approaches in Maldives.
China feels its ‘pursuit of interests’ is being threatened by Indo – US relations.
China feels its “pursuit of interests” is being threatened by Indo – US relations. Many experts see the growing US influence as a blow to Chinese government’s “theory of expansion” thus forcing china to influence other nations. It is also a fact that Chinese influence has given its activities a cover all along. Countries supporting China are willing to follow the Chinese leadership, along with the controversies that comes with it. This is very clearly seen as nations following Chinese leadership have still not ratified Taiwan as an independent nation.
Additionally, Chin is rapidly building ship based advanced weaponry, quite possibly for their influence in the region. “What is the point of developing weapons, when you are mostly at peace”, says Michael Webber, a foreign expert on south Asia. China as also spent a lot on drone research and development. The Wing Loong, a recently designed Chinese drone is almost a replica of the US drones deployed in Pakistan. Clearly, this fleet will have military capabilities aside from patrolling and reconnaissance.
However, despite being actively offensive, China also appears to have significant interest in peacemaking. Objectively, China calls the region of Indian Ocean as the “Zone of Peace”. However some experts say that Chinese navy might use this as a medium to react quickly during natural calamities, while some differ, claiming this, a “good cop, bad cop” approach.
…Pakistan and Yemen have been, till today, failing or failed states, as both the nations are gripped in severe militant control …
Rise for Power
With numerous speculations however, Chinese intentions are very clear, it wants to fortify the region, while US (and India) losing its naval grip in the region. Many nations welcome this change, not openly, but for strategic needs (specifically those in the “Circle of Influence”) whereas some nations like India and Australia strongly oppose the Chinese tactics.
The battle of influence is not just between the nations with power, it is also among the smaller nations. While obviously not able to influence other nations through independent approach, these small nations have chosen sides, and receiving protection and more trade options in return. There are two distant groups: those around India (indirectly with US) and those supporting China.
With tensions rising on one side, and quest for military dominance on the other, the situation might attract more players as the tension escalates.
In Indian Ocean region, failed states are typically classified into two: western powers and militant organizations. Thus, creating a battle of influence in the Indian Ocean. Two nations in particular, Pakistan and Yemen have been, till today, failing or failed states, as both the nations are gripped in severe militant control specially Yemen where the president is taken by the Islamists rebels. Thus, there is vast support from the militancy to battle with the western powers.
Today Piracy costs $13 to $16 billion in goods each year worldwide. Most of the amount is robbed within the IOR…
Today Piracy costs $13 to $16 billion in goods each year worldwide. Most of the amount is robbed within the IOR, especially in and around the Somali Coast and the Strait of Malacca.
However, piracy in the IOR has been declining since last year. Investors in shipping business are willing to back attacks hence, increased awareness and massive global support is reducing profitability and raising the risk involved. The last reported piracy was a hijack attempt of October 1, 2013. While in 2010 to 2012 36 piracy cases were recorded.
Thus, the attempts to curb piracy globally have been more than successful. In the Strait of Malacca, assistance from the boundary nations and mutual understanding between the neighbouring nations and India has brought piracy down to a zero level. This is a perfect example of achieving objectives through coordination rather than militarization. Merchant ships are now equipped with Private military personnel on board. In the Strait of Malacca, safety has come with heavy patrols. The Indian Army has also building an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) base on the Andaman and Nicobar Island.
So, now the IOR is protected against piracy, weaponry is in abundant supply. If the weapons are to go, piracy will return subsequently. Although it is also true that these weapons are easily deployable and can be used for various purposes. Dealing with piracy in Somalia is entirely non militarization but deployment of weapons in Indian Ocean pose a grave threat to the neighbouring nations.
The exercises enable nations to work together, understand each other strengths, and enable military coordination and manoeuvres specifically in the IOR.
The member nations of Shanghai Cooperation Organization are widely involved in joint military exercises, also known as “Peace Missions.” The most recent Peace Mission was the Peace Mission of 2010 which involved over 5,000 personnel from the original Shanghai Five (although Uzbekistan did not participate).
Inspite of the name, the Peace Missions and joint military exercises are widely seen as provoking to nonparticipant nations of the IOR where exercises are generally held. The exercises enable nations to work together, understand each other strengths, and enable military coordination and manoeuvres specifically in the IOR.
The major participants in the Peace Missions are China and Russia. They also design the peaceful missions. Uzbekistan, which pulled out of Peace Mission 2010 at the last moment, was critical of the operations. The nation firmly believes that the military exercises have become a tool to “show of” the nations military power rather than equipping the member nations to combat the modern threats.
Since its beginning in 2003, India and Russia have been widely conducting “INDRA” military drills. Naval INDRA drills are occasionally conducted in the IOR. In 2011, an INDRA drill was planned, but the Russian military backed out, signifying strained Russia-India relations. INDRA 2012 took place in August of 2012. However it was a land operation.
If the US drives out of IOR, China will be free to maintain its influence in the region followed a controlled dominance over the South Pacific.
The Strait of Hormuz and Iran
The Strait of Hormuz links the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, in other words, it is the biggest links of oil to the western world. In December of 2011, Iran, for the second time, threatened to close the strait in response to the sanctions imposed on it. The situation escalated rapidly as Iran warned against any military intervention in the Strait of Hormuz. As the months passed, more sanctions were imposed on the nation, it become clear that the nation was on the verge of closing the strait. However it is very clear that US will not hesitate to response if Iran moves towards closing the strait.
If Iran were to close the Strait, the global economy will hang on the balance as oil prices will shoot high creating an economic imbalance followed by oil scarcity. Along with the economy fall out many nations will align against Iran. Thus to evade such a result Iran should communicate either diplomatically or through its close allies before closing the Strait.
United States of America
The US has many reasons explaining its presence in the IOR. Firstly, the US is actively in war in the Middle East. Establishing a base in Diego Garcia in the IOR means easy and rapid deployment of naval forces in the conflict.
Second, China has made it very clear that their objective is drive out the US, specially the Indians, bleeding them dry out of any base in the region, preventing any possibility of influence. If the US drives out of IOR, China will be free to maintain its influence in the region followed a controlled dominance over the South Pacific. Even if the US ends the conflict in the Middle East, it is highly unlikely that they will drive out of IOR as doing so will make China uncontested in the IOR.
Due to increasing suspicions on Chinese activities, India has looked to the US for assistance in an effort to maintain peace and good diplomacy in the IOR.
This leads to our third point. Some nations like India, Australia and New Zealand seeks US support and this will only be possible if US maintains its dominance in the region. Even in coalition the nations will never challenge China without proper support from the US or other major powers in the NATO.
Now talking about Iran, US made it very clear that it would take severe action against Iran if it were to close the Strait of Hormuz.
India has always been suspicious of the Chinese actions in the IOR. As clearly stated by the Indian Navy Chief, “Each pearl in the string (the Circle of Influence) is a link in the chain of the Chinese Maritime presence.” Due to increasing suspicions on Chinese activities, India has looked to the US for assistance in an effort to maintain peace and good diplomacy in the IOR. On the other hand, India has extremely good relations with its old partner Russia. This is clear from the point that India was initially invited by this SCO founding member. During the period of 2000s India had a close relationship with Iran. However as the relationship with US improved, India criticised many sanctions against Iran.
Australia, like India, is quite suspicious of the Chinese movements in the IOR. It would accept a US-China congestion rather than Chinese dominance in the IOR. This Island nation believes that China will stop at nothing to become a super power in the South Asia.
Peoples Republic of China
As stated above, China will stop at nothing to become a super power in South Asia. This can be widely stated from the importance of IOR followed by the growing dominance of China in the region. China is as a matter of fact, in short of resources thus cloaking their intententions with bogus natural causes.
Yemen and Pakistan have chances of becoming failed states and action needs to be taken before any such transformation takes place.
One clear explanation of the Chinese presence can be the presence of oil trade in the region. The fuel route passes through many risky areas in the IOR, like the Strait of Malacca. By deploying naval ships in the region, China is meagrely protecting its energy resources. The main problem in regards to the perception of Chinese actions is that they are not very clear. Countries do not know whether China is trying to become a responsible power, or dominant one that is not afraid to use military might.
Yemen and Pakistan
Yemen and Pakistan have chances of becoming failed states and action needs to be taken before any such transformation takes place. In Pakistan’s case, it has support from the US, which is fighting terrorism, and China is constantly funding and on many occasions they sent planning experts to modernise the port of Gwadar. Yemen too feels that the presence of US will eliminate many high ranking terrorists.