Securing Of Indian Ocean & World Trade Shipping Routes: A Debate

"Proportion and prosperity are among the best secrets of domestic wisdom, and there is no surer test of wisdom than a well-proportioned expenditure, both in matters of defence and domestic progress." Opines Brig BL Poonia

Securing Of Indian Ocean & World Trade Shipping Routes: A Debate

Editor's Note:

A recent article on 'Indian Ocean Is Not India’s Ocean' by Gp Capt TP Srivastava was published by Eurasian Times on 3 Apr 2023. This was triggered by an earlier published/publicised news story about China saying that 'Indian Ocean is not India's Ocean!' Gp Capt Srivastava strongly recommends 'heavy militarisation of A & N Islands' to thwart PLAs Evil Design. This recommendation has drawn varied responses from our veterans based on their individual analysis/perceptions. There are basically three views on this: one recommends heavy militarisation, the second advocates restraint with focus on strengthening of Indian economy and jobs for youth, the third appears to be the most balanced and pragmatic view in our overall national interest. Notwithstanding, we leave it to the readers to decide what is best for the country.

The title of the debate could make the reader believe that India will be securing the Indian Ocean and world trade shipping routes! It is not so since the Indian Ocean nether belongs to India nor does India have the wherewithal to do so! India's interest would be that of only safeguarding its vital interests more by denial than domination.

This debate is intricately linked to our earlier MVI published articles/debate on the Great Nicobar Choke and Going Beyond. Do read on Links given below for deeper insight.

China Says ‘Indian Ocean Is Not India’s Ocean’; Is It Time To ‘Heavily Militarize’ Andaman-Nicobar Islands & Thwart PLA’s Evil Design?
A look at the globe or the World map shows the Indian subcontinent as a small entity embedded by colossal water bodies in the East, West, and South and pressed by a vast land mass in the North. Coincidentally, almost all projections used for drawing World maps were invented by Europeans. There is, p…
The Great Nicobar Choke: A Tri-Services Debate
“Do international trade vessels heading East fly only the Chinese flag? - How does one identify which ships are to be embargoed? Military to military is one story - blockading international trade may need a second look” Opines Air Mshl Sumit Mukherjee
Going Beyond The Nicobar Choke: Part 2 Debate
“China is India’s prime adversary, we are not China’s main adversary; it is USA. Indian Military is divided and lacks synergy. Militarily weaker and developing nations can follow a strategy of denial” - Opines Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh, 1st Course JSW/ NDA

Col. Vinay Dalvi, MVI

Lt Gen. Harbhajan Singh

Where is the money? India's social parameters are low. Aircraft, Ships and Guns Vs Jobs for the unemployed, shelter, food, medical care. Where does India stand in Social and Economic indicators? Also our planners are more concerned with 5G,  superfast trains, aviation etc. India has to lie low for may be 15 years and not get into an arms race.

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha

Wastage of time! What stops us from saying that according to ancient History, XINJIANG province is Indian tributary state? It was called, then, UTTAR KURU. Know your history. Let us stop crying.

Why not tell China that TIBET is an independent country? What stops you? It is Nehruvian policies which continues? And descendent of Nehru go and sign memorandum of agreement with CCP and now say India was scared of China. If you have such politicians, obviously, China will claim whole of India or even break it up. Let us stop giving publicity to such Chinese rubbish. Kick out the overground traitors.

Brig. Neil John

Can’t talk about politics  or political leaders. The most threatened area is not the land borders, or the IOR, or the peninsular region. The deep threat is in the island chain of Andaman and Nicobar. Here we are stretched out, are inadequate in numbers, segregated by distances and reaction capabilities. Most islands aren’t even explored or secured. We won’t even know of an occupation till late.

The IOR isn’t ours nor has ever been. The Navy talks about blocking of SLOCS or domination of the same. When asked how? They come up with limp answers which are neither doable or practical. Today trade by sea is huge, the number of ships at any given time are too hard to  corroborate. Most of them flying under different flags of different nations. Even the crew is an international mixed crew. The Chinese are the masters of deception and guile.

We seriously need to review our security apparatus at sea. A QUICK REACTION MARINE DIVISION is a core necessity.

Brig. Pradeep Sharma

  1. For too long have the powers that be stuck their heads in the mud like an ostrich to avoid facing the threats staring into its face.
  2. Attention is constantly being diverted towards the status, CSD, Land and Dress or Customs of the Armed Forces, thus missing the major picture of strengthening our military, developing infrastructure along our land borders and coastal areas to pose a deterrence to forces inimical to our National Interests and Territorial Integrity.
  3. The majority Government we have today has repeatedly emphasised their resolve to take difficult decisions when faced with challenges from our adversaries, however, the unflinching concentration has to public view been the singular reduction of pride and spirit of those in service as well as veteran community through various actions which are known to us being open source. The recent CCC and issues emphasized there in were also apparently no different.
  4. In the present day when the obvious threats stare us in the face, our adversaries keep us in a Reactive mode by small measures like changing names to claim our territory, arm twisting smaller neighbours on border issues, violate treaties with impunity only to evoke Statements from our political leadership.
  5. Understandably, India is way behind economically and militarily to do much, therefore needs to create an environment of stability in the region while rapidly developing her military strength and economy and all along keep an eye on promoting internal unity amongst all communities (an Achilles Heel).
  6. How we manage the environment is for those in power to think through, however, the semantics and low level/ petty issues need to stop if we have to focus on the bigger picture and serious threats.

Cdr. Mukund Yeolekar

Whether it is the 1950/60s or now 2023, politically we lack the gumption to be aggressively defensive. We have always played the victim card and our ill-informed populace are seemingly content. Our narrative sounds stern but lacks teeth. On the ground there has seldom been any proactive offensive posture. While our military preparedness has improved we cannot bank on knee-jerk responses in the event of belligerant moves by the Dragon. I agree with the suggestion that we rake up the Tibet issue with full vigour in all international fora. Any border issue with Tibet is to be resolved bilaterally with Dalai Lama the head of Tibetan Govt and China has no reason to be involved.  This sounds preposterous but it is right and we should dare to be different to indicate that we are no more a pushover. We have not highlighted the atrocities commited by China on Uighurs due to fear of offending the dragon. Other Islamic nations too have turned a Nelson's eye for obvious reasons.

We have to be aggressive diplomatically and resort to immediate tit-for-tat tactical military manoeuvers. The navy's posturing in the Malacca Straits has to be belligerant with adequate bolstering of ASW capability and infrastructure in the A&N Islands. China should realise that India can cut off its Oil jugular easily. A long term measure is to counter China economically. This will require shrewd planning and execution over a period of 5-10 years. Till then we should make the dragon guess our moves.

Brig. BL Poonia

Indian Ocean is obviously not India's Ocean, whether China says it or not. No Sea or Ocean belongs a particular nation. Even the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea or North Pacific Ocean do not belong to China. Each nation has a territorial jurisdiction over the maritime boundaries as per international conventions. So China saying so, is nothing new; it is just stating the obvious. What is important is to develop a sea power which can ensure the security of our maritime interests. China is doing that and we too are striving to do that to the best of our ability and capacity. Every powerful or rising economy is bound to do it as per its financial capability and constraints.

Moreover, while we may see China as our biggest adversary, China does not consider us as one. US is the biggest adversary of China. Hence every move of China in matters of strengthening its maritime security interests gives us the impression that it's to undermine our interests, whereas it's ultimate aim is to counter a possible US threat; we are automatically taken care of.

Today India has two Aircraft Carriers: INS Vikrant, and INS Vikramaditya. Presently we need one more so that if one is under repairs, the other two are invariably available. And when functional, all three are available. That can comfortably ensure our maritime security interests. Nor is it in our interest to get into an avoidable arms race with China, which will drain us economically. We must avoid that at all costs.

While Army, Navy and Air Force have a long list of requirements, we should not see the defence requirements in isolation, as the other parameters of progress are equally important and should not be neglected. That's how a nation progresses; and we should grant it to our political leaders who are at the helm of affairs. The Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister are a competent and an experienced lot with the required vision.

And if the government is paying equal attention to those parameters of progress, the same should be appreciated. Every parameter of progress must receive a balanced proportion of attention. The wisdom lies in reaching the right proportion in every aspect that governs the lives of the citizens.

Proportion and prosperity are among the best secrets of domestic wisdom, and there is no surer test of wisdom than a well-proportioned expenditure, both in matters of defence and domestic progress.

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha

I agree with Brig BL Poonia. I will substantiate him further.

I do not know as to why was this noise about what China was saying about the name of the Indian ocean? It is just a name of a geographical water body. It has stood the test of time historically. Therefore what China says does not matter.

We must know, the name was Indian ocean, but we do not own the water body. So, why are we crying? Ask yourself, do we own Hindukush mountains on Pak - Afghan borders? It is just a geographical name, internationally recognised. So, what are we shedding tears for? If China does not recognise Indian ocean as India's ocean? We don't own it?

In the same vein, think of Bay of Bengal, it does not belong to Anyone, neither India nor it belongs to Bangladesh or Myanmar and Thailand?

There is a difference in ownership and the geographical name. Do you think INDIRA COL in SIACHEN glacier was named after Indira Gandhi or the Hindu God 'Inder' so that it should be Indian territory? Let us be rational on this issue.

I will give you another example ASIA - PACIFIC. Its name has been changed to INDO - PACIFIC recently - does it belong to India? I think, the analysts who are crying about this Chinese assertion, have nothing better to talk about strategy and transforming global geopolitics. They are just missing the woods for trees. Grow up and think of more deeper aspects of national importance.

Brig. Sanjay Sangwan

China not wanting Indian Ocean to be called by this very name is a psychological move. In this era of Information Warfare, along with economic and military power, knowledge, Beliefs and Perception are equally important components. Why are US and Russia pushing conflicting claims on Ukraine? To dominate the cognitive space of the global populace. China too is attempting the same by questioning the name of the ocean.

The name was given by the leading powers of the world during the Before Christ centuries when anywhere up to 60% of global GDP came from India and most of the leading powers were keen to control trade with and from India. This had led to the discovery voyages. Earlier trade with Middle East, Central Asia Europe, China was through land routes while oceanic routes being more economical were desired. The importance of India and Indian Peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean led to the naming. Over the centuries with shift in economic and military power and trade, focus shifted to the Atlantic, European Seas and West Asia and now has shifted to the Indo-Pacific Region.

Today 80% of global energy flows through IOR SLOCs and approximately 60% of the global trade uses these routes. China with global ambitions first dominated the Pacific by extending its control and militarisation of the South China Sea and then the String of Pearls naval bases in IOR for complete dominance of the Indo-Pacific Region. China’s global dominance hinges on economic dominance supported by military, where required. The OBOR covers the land mass of Eurasia and South  Asia with crucial linkages across ocean/ sea to Africa and SE Asia, Australia and South   America. Of course, China would want to control both the land  and the sea routes for meeting its Middle Kingdom aspirations. Indian Ocean is seen as the Strategic Pivot of the 21st century.

While India has no global ambitions like China, India continues to remain under a multifaceted global threat and in all three domains of Land, Air including Space and Sea supported by Economic, Cyber and Cognitive Spaces. War has changed from mere Kinetic to a continuous Total War with Perception Management providing the all encompassing umbrella and all other instruments of war being placed in supportive roles. Hence the scope and terrain of National Interest has expanded accordingly. Besides, India is increasingly being seen as a growing power with a global role. For that we have to ensure security of own interests and IOR with 22 countries with 2.5 Billion people plays a crucial role in it. For own credibility and the desired seat at the Security Council and other global tables, India has to keep the IOR in own Area of Influence.

Finance is a constraint currently with competing basic demands for our people, however, security too is a fundamental need and some allocations will have to be made with an increasing share to the IAF and the IN and other components like Space, Cyber and Nuclear. With a growing economy and improving technological availability, the situation is expected to keep improving incrementally. Reducing revenue budgets of the military is aimed at this and increasing self reliance.

Another important aspect is Sino-Indian competition. Although I do not visualise a full scale war between the two powers as India has no expansionist ambitions and China stands to risk more than gain from such a war, however, contingencies may arise and with a near local balance of power across the LAC, it is the space, oceans, cyber and Information domains where India needs to become stronger to safeguard own interests.

(Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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