India's take on maritime security!

India | Security | Maritime | 18th August 2021 | Virtual Wire

The Indian Prime Minister chaired a debate on maritime security titled, ‘Enhancing Maritime Security — A Case for International Cooperation, as a part of India’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidency. He described the oceans as a common heritage for humankind and a lifeline for the future of the planet.

In urging the global community to develop a common framework to deal with contemporary challenges, including maritime disputes and natural disasters, he outlined a far-sighted vision rooted in India’s culture, history and geography.

With a long coastline and large island chains spread across the Indian Ocean, India has a natural seaward orientation, with key sea lanes of communication coursing through its surrounding seas.

India has ancient maritime traditions as well. In the 15th century, Vasco de Gama was piloted to the west coast of India from Zanzibar by a Gujarati seaman. Long before that, India’s ancient mariners were trading with the old world.

India’s maritime trade existed with the Mesopotamia civilisation 4,500 years ago. Further, Lothal was a key maritime centre of the Indus Valley civilisation. Buddhism and Hinduism spread to Southeast Asia by the maritime route.

Even Islam took the maritime route from India to Southeast Asia. 90% of global trade is conducted on the high seas, for the simple reason that it continues to be the most cost-effective mode of transport. Disruption of sea lanes of communication has National and global economic repercussions.

Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce is key to the spread of prosperity. India’s natural interests stretch across both the Indian and Pacific Oceans as reflected in its inclusive Indo-Pacific vision.

During the debate, PM Modi outlined 5 principles needed for global maritime security. The principles are :

1. Removing barriers from legitimate maritime trade,

2. Encouraging responsible maritime connectivity,

3. Settling maritime disputes through peaceful means and on the basis of international law,

4. Jointly facing natural disasters and maritime threats created by non-state actors.

5. Preserving the maritime environment and resources.

Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce is key to the spread of prosperity. Critical supply chains depend on the concept of open seas. The neo-colonial concept of closed seas in the South China Sea could be a major impediment to the future of the global economy. Disruption of sea lanes of communication has global repercussions.

The blockage in the Suez Canal earlier this year interrupted the flow of trade worth billions of dollars. In 1956, great powers intervened militarily when Egypt nationalised this key waterway. In present times, a naval blockade at any choke-point in the Indo-Pacific could prove catastrophic.

India stands for openness and transparency in the execution of projects, based on local priorities, with in-built fiscal viability and environmental sustainability. The U.S., Japan and Australia are also promoting better standards for global infrastructure through the Blue Dot Network.

The Prime Minister advocated the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes on the basis of international law. This idea is rooted in India’s values of peace and non-violence. For instance, India gracefully accepted the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014 concerning the Indo-Bangladesh maritime dispute.

This helped the country to forge closer ties with Bangladesh. The country has promoted mutual cooperation among the maritime neighbours and extended a helping hand in times of distress. India’s role as ‘first responder’ in the Indian Ocean, whether in acting against piracy or providing relief after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, is well-documented.

The Indian Air Force airlifted 30 tonnes of relief material to Mauritius in August 2020 to contain an oil spill that threatened to engulf the island nation’s pristine coast. India now has white shipping agreements with several countries (It is an agreement related to the exchange agreement between the navies of countries on the commercial ships on each others’ oceanic territories).

The Indian Navy’s state-of-the-art Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) based in Gurugram hosts officers from the United States, Japan, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The oceans remain our lifeline. But, they have been overwhelmed by plastic waste which chokes all forms of marine life. This, in turn, poisons the entire food chain. PM’s remarks underscored the importance of preserving the maritime environment and its resources.

The countries should come forward and work in the spirit of the 5 principles given by the Indian PM in the UNSC meeting. India’s initiative will further the prospects for a stable and enduring maritime environment.

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