INDIAN OCEAN ZONE OF PEACE(IOZOP)
INDIAN OCEAN ZONE OF PEACE(IOZOP)
- It calls upon the great powers not to allow an escalation and an expansion of military presence in the Indian Ocean.It was prompted with the withdrawal of Royal Navy(UK) from the Indian Ocean in the early 1970s where India wanted to prevent the entry of USA and USSR to fill the power vaccum in consonance with its Non aligned policy.
- Recently its demand was revived by India’s National Security Advisor at the Galle Dialogue in Srilanka.
- Increasing Chinese presence and the threat of PLA-N bases in the IOR, the growing interests of other major powers (US, UK, Russia, France and Japan) in the region, and the many Chinese infrastructure projects in the region, create an imperative for India to actively limit the military maritime activity of external powers in the region.
- But the trouble with the IOZOP proposal is that by simply declaring the region a “Zone of Peace”, foreign military presence and activity can be effectively halted.
- The original 1971 proposal of an IOZOP was not so much about peace and tranquility in the IOR, as it was about circumscribing the presence of Western powers in the region. Most permanent members – except China – were vehemently opposed to the suggestion of no bases in the IOR. The littoral and hinterland members, on the other hand, supported it. Opposition to the proposal from the major maritime powers is likely to arise this time as well, the only difference being that today China too would likely join the chorus for rejecting the proposal. With growing Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean, it is almost a given that Beijing would actively reject any suggestion that seeks to limit China’s military presence in the Indian Ocean.
- More worryingly, any such proposal would be detrimental to India’s own power-projection in the neighbourhood.
- Sri Lanka’s original 1971 proposal, as Sreenivasan points out, was driven not only by the fear of extra-regional military presence but also by a perceived uneasiness about growing Indian naval power particularly in the aftermath of the 1971 war when the Indian Navy had launched an audacious attack on Karachi. In some ways, the IOZOP was an attempt by Colombo to buy some insurance against any possible Indian designs on Sri Lanka.
- Paradoxically, it is India that has been dichotomous in its security approach to the Indian Ocean – opposing, on the one hand, extra-regional military presence and yet depending on US naval power to underwrite regional security.
- the Indian Navy might be a net-security provider in the region but it also honestly admits to a lack of capacity that renders assistance by other maritime players in the region a rank imperative. A principal precept of the Indian Navy’s maritime strategy is cooperative security and meaningful contributions in this regard have so far come only from the big naval powers in the region.
- The real danger from an Indian standpoint is not increased US interest in the Indian Ocean Region but the lack of it. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the US Pivot to the Pacific, American interest in the Indian Ocean has been waning. With the shale revolution, the US is losing interest in the Middle East. Consequently, its stakes in securing the flow of energy from the Persian Gulf too have reduced. Regrettably, US naval retrenchment from the region also means a reduced ability to confront larger threats to peace and security in West Asia. This is one reason why many other states are rushing to fill in the vacuum created by the impending American withdrawal. The UK’s announcement of reviving its maritime presence in Bahrain needs to be seen in this light.
- While London’s decision to reopen its naval base in Manama, Bahrain, is a cause for worry mainly because it implies further militarisation of the IOR, the fact is that the Royal Navy never really ceased to be a presence in the region (the RN has four mine-hunter warships permanently based at Manama from where British Destroyers and Frigates in the Gulf are regularly supported). All that UK is now seeking is to bolster the existing infrastructure at the Port, providing its navy with a forward operating base that would enable sustained security operations and the accommodation of its service personnel. This does not mean that RN ships will be a regular presence in the broader security affairs ofthe IOR; much of the heavy-lifting in the Western and Eastern Indian Ocean will still need to be done by indigenous powers like India. The Royal Navy’s new base merely implies the UK’s desire to be able to tend to security hot-spots such as the Islamic State’s threat to the Middle East and the Levant – areas that India might have no interest getting involved in.
- An additional concern is that once a Zone of Peace is declared, Pakistan might revive its proposal for a denuclearized Indian Ocean. Pakistan’s nuclear efforts in the Indian Ocean are motivated solely by the presence of India’s strategic submarine capability (the Arihant). The Pakistan Navy (PN) does not quite need a ballistic missile capable submarine as it is not bound by “no-first use” and does not consequently need a survivable weapon. It, however, feels compelled to counter India’s SSBN, which, it feels, has skewed the balance of power in the Indian Ocean.
- while there is anxiety about China’s aggressive tactics in the South China Sea, many Indian Ocean states are not fully convinced that the PLA-N’s presence in the IOR poses an active threat to maritime security. It is highly unlikely – especially against the backdrop of Beijing’s proposal for a maritime silk road which has received enthusiastic backing from the Maldives and Sri Lanka – that other Indian Ocean states would be keen on a ‘ban’ on Chinese naval activity in the region.
In the event that a ZOP is announced, it is India that will stand to lose the most because its proposal will be seen as a ‘backdoor’ manoeuvre to limit the Chinese presence and an effective abdication of leadership and responsibility in the IOR.
INDIAN OCEAN STRATEGY(IOS)
- IOS must be about building India’s own naval strength and expanding its maritime partnerships with other countries through bilateral, trilateral and multilateral means.
- Delhi needs to look beyond the outdated zone of peace proposal. India’s ocean diplomacy needs a strong domestic foundation, built on more rapid naval modernisation, the expansion of civilian maritime infrastructure, development of island territories, capacity to undertake projects in other countries across the littoral and more vigorous naval assistance to other countries.
- On the political front, India needs much better political relations with its maritime neighbours like Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are playing the China card as an insurance against hostile Indian policies.
- Delhi also needs stronger partnerships with other island states, like Seychelles and Mauritius, which are being wooed by China with great vigour today.
- India needs to deepen its military security cooperation in the Indian Ocean with the US and France and initiate a maritime security dialogue with China. On the foundation of these unilateral and bilateral initiatives, India can expand its maritime multilateralism through such initiatives as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium.
- For all this, Delhi needs the civilian leadership — both political and bureaucratic — in the defence ministry to wake up to the new imperatives of maritime strategy and naval diplomacy.
REFERNCES: IDSA,THE HINDU,THE INDIAN EXPRESS