Maritime diplomacy

The International maritime fleet review, held on the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Vishakhapatnam in February, showcased India’s naval might, represented by aircraft carriers and frontline warships, not only to all those who participated in  the review, but to those also who were observing the review from open sources. The maritime review included naval representatives and ships from over 50 nations, who had good opportunity to interact with each other and develop better camaraderie among themselves.

In a reciprocal gesture even Chinese navy was invited, in response to last year’s Chinese invite to participate in the fleet review.

Significant and obvious omission was the Pakistan navy, which was the only neighbouring country not represented in the fleet review.

Explaining the significance of India’s second International Fleet Review, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R K Dhowan said, “both geographical configuration and historical antiquity bestow a unique dimension to India’s maritime disposition.”

“These two factors ensured that matters maritime and its offshoots such as trade, commerce, cultural and civilizational exchanges (but not conquest) remained intrinsic aspect of our DNA for a long time.”

Even during the relative period of maritime decline in the second half of the last millennium, several aspects such as prowess of our shipbuilding industry, the gallant exploits of the Maratha and Malabar navies and our significant contributions in both the world bore testimony to our maritime instincts, the Navy Chief said.

Significantly, almost a fortnight before the International Fleet Review, the Indian Navy had released its Maritime Strategy document-2015, which was revised one of the 2007 document.

In fact, India had for the first time released its comprehensive naval doctrine in 2004 and the naval headquarters felt the need of releasing a revised doctrine in 2009 an year after the infamous 26-11 terrorist attack on Mumbai by the combination of Pakistani state and non state actors under the able guidance of Pakistani ISI, the intelligence arm of the Pakistani army.

Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that all the might of Indian Navy aided by the 2004 naval doctrine and the Maritime Strategy, 2007 failed to prevent 10 Pakistani terrorists who chose to invade India through maritime route from Karachi to Mumbai.

The 26-11 attack compelled the Indian maritime planners to recast its maritime strategy and deployment pattern and probably which led to the revised maritime strategy.

Merely possessing the maritime naval resources as a show of strength would not be sufficient to safeguard the nation’s maritime borders.

Not only States use non state actors to threaten the strategic and economic interests of the nation states but they also use their own naval might to deter the enemy forces from roaming in the maritime areas adjacent to the sea boundaries.

In the age of State and Non state actors, both independently and jointly, threaten the maritime interests of the nation states.

In this background the organisation of International Fleet Review second in Indian Navy’s history will go a long way in reinforcing the belief that Indian Navy is a force to reckon with.

It is not only in the maritime areas surrounding Indian waters but far beyond up to the South China Sea, where Indian warships are found roaming most of the year, causing consternation in the Chinese maritime and strategic circles.

Similarly, the Chinese navy also marked their presence in the Indian Ocean causing ripples in Indian waters.

This great game of controlling the sea lanes of communication has been hastened in recent times.

To avoid this, the Indian Navy has appealed to the International naval community to present a cooperative posture to prevent the non state actors from threatening the State forces in the high seas.

Reviewing the parade, President Pranab Mukherjee rightly pointed out India’s pivotal role in maintaining peace and security in the high seas.

Indian Navy played a central role in ensuring the safety of the vital sea lanes of communications across the Ocean, said Mukherjee, “our common desire to use the sea to promote peace, cooperation and friendship also develop partnerships for a secure maritime future.”

During the Review, the Indian Navy not only displayed the might of its warships but also an impressive flypast of 45 naval aircraft forming 15 formations which included the Sea Harriers, MiG-29K, Dorniers, P8I, Sea Kings, Kamovs, Chetaks and India’s advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv.

There were 24 foreign warships, 65 Indian warships, three submarines and other smaller vessels which took part in the International Fleet Review.

According to a senior naval official, in the 21st Century, Asia is at the centre stage of the global economic, political and security discourse. The ‘Rise of Asia’ is largely attributed to the economic development as also greater geo-strategic heft in its maritime configured rim-land comprising established and emerging powers.

While the rapid economic growth of the region has contributed to strong interdependence within and beyond Asia, the regional security environment faces new challenges emerging from changing power dynamics among states, ongoing maritime/territorial disputes and issues relating to freedom of navigation and over flight have become sharper. There are also visible anxieties related to regional naval modernization programs.

Though Indian Navy is natural claimant over the right to have a prime role in safeguarding peace and stability in the Indian Ocean, the rival nations from far off coasts are also roaming around, thus challenging Indian Navy to acquire more deterrent force in the Oceans.

However, non-traditional threats pose equally challenging threats to all the navies and Indian Navy has already experienced the threat from terrorist to sea pirates of Somalia.

But, non-traditional security threats and challenges have encouraged institutional mechanisms towards cooperative management of the sea areas for safe and secure environment.

In this milieu, the navies make seminal contribution to peace and stability at regional and global levels that transcend narrow national interests.

All the navies world over will have to work in this spirit. However, the way the militarization of the seas is leading to greater competition among navies to modernize their weaponry and naval platform is the cause of concern for India.

Strategic move

The non-resident navies of the Indian Ocean are establishing naval bases and maintenance facilities on the island nations of the Indian Ocean.

Not only this China is working fast to open a full fledged naval base on the coast of East Africa near the Gulf of Aden in Djibouti, presenting new threats to India but changing the balance of power in Indian Ocean.

Keeping these issues in mind, during the IFR-2016 the naval officials and experts of various countries interacted on the issues relating to managing competition in an uncertain but increasingly globalised oceanic commons, frameworks for enhancing interoperability at sea, maritime domain awareness as a tool for naval cooperation and relevance of existing international frameworks for conciliation and arbitration as resolution mechanism.

In view of these challenges to Indian Navy the organization of second international fleet review along with the near simultaneous release of the Indian maritime security strategy which was actually finalized in October 2015, is extremely significant.

The international community has recognised India’s lead role in protecting the maritime trade through the Gulf of Aden since 2008. Due to Indian Navy’s deterrent patrol in the Indian Ocean, the sea faring nations feel safe and secured.