by Admiral Sunil Lanba (r.)
A large part of India’s approach to diplomacy and foreign policy is governed by Indian ethos and has strong roots in its culture. India has always approached diplomacy with the concept of a greater good of the world-at-large. Since time immemorial, the deep-rooted beliefs in thoughts like SARVE BHAVANTU SUKINAH, SARVE SANTU NIRAMAYAH, which simply means, “May all be happy, May all be healthy, May all see what is auspicious and May no one suffer in any way”, have shaped the friendly approach towards neighbours as well as the entire living community, a good neighbour is better than a distant relative’.
Further, the age-old Indian concept of ‘Vasudhaivya Kutumbakam’, which simply means, the world is one family forms the foundation to India’s view of the global commons. The simple, yet, deep thought aptly elucidates India’s global outlook, transcending generations and centuries. Since time immemorial, Indian seafarers have looked at seas with reverence. In fact, the Indian Navy’s motto Sam no Varunah meaning ‘May the Ocean God be auspicious unto us”, derives its origins from the ancient Indian Taittriya Upanishad, embodying in itself the reverence for the seas. Seafarers ventured far beyond home shores as ambassadors of peace and prosperity. In fact, in ancient scriptures, the geographical definition of India is with reference to the seas, which literally translates as the land, which lies to the north of the seas.
Referring to the Indo-Pacific region, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking at the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2018 said, “The Indo-Pacific Region is home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges. I am increasingly convinced, with each passing day that the destinies of those who live in the region are linked”. There is a deep intertwining of relationships between countries of the Indo-Pacific and the only way forward is through mutual trust, partnership and most importantly, respect for all.
The IOR is central to the growth of the world economy and this trend is likely to continue. We are witnessing the emergence of a multipolar world order owing to the economic resurgence of nations and diffusion of power amongst countries in the region. Countries aiming to maintain rapid and unsustainable growth rates will strain natural resources, leading to resource scarcity. This will spur nations to attempt harnessing the oceans’ resources in the form of Blue economy ventures. The consequent territorialisation of the sea will challenge the free nature of the ‘Global Commons’.
Both traditional and non-traditional fault lines are bound to widen in the face of increased competition. Conflict between states, especially from regional hotspots will tend to have a global impact. Simultaneously, non-traditional challenges are bound to increase in scope and diversity. The security implications of these challenges will be further exacerbated by the effect of climate change whereby there will be an increase in natural calamities all of which will necessitate a response by maritime forces. At same time, one is cognisant that with problems and challenges, come solutions and opportunities. There is a distinct rise in the general acceptance of like-minded nations that cooperative solutions can be manifested through application of collective maritime power and this is where military diplomacy has an important role to play.
In consonance with the Prime Minister’s vision of SAGAR, which stands for ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ and Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First and Act East Policies’, the Indian Armed Forces have adopted a cooperative approach to meet the attendant security priorities, which also includes enhancing the regional security quotient. The collaborative efforts in promoting regional security in the maritime domain stand guided by an overarching framework which flows from the Indian Navy’s ‘Strategy for Shaping a Favourable and Positive Maritime Environment’, articulated in its Maritime Security Strategy document ‘ Ensuring Secure Seas’ released in 2015.
With the evolving geo-economic and geo-strategic scenario, Indian Armed Forces specially the Navy’s roles and responsibilities have also expanded significantly over the years. Today, the Indian Armed Forces forms an integral element of India’s foreign policy. Furthering our national principles of a peaceful and stable neighbourhood, the Indian Armed Forces actively interacts with partner states in the region and beyond, employing security engagements as a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy initiatives.
There is an array of cooperative and collaborative initiatives have been pursued consistently. The Indian Armed Forces have played a vital role in providing relief in times of calamities, natural or manmade, as was evident during the Tsunami in 2004, which affected several countries in the region. In spite of incurring severe damage at home, the Indian Navy had deployed a large number of ships and aircraft to support the affected countries. Similar, relief operations have been conducted in the wake of natural calamities like Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, floods in Sri Lanka in 2016 and Cyclone Mora in Bangladesh in 2017, have demonstrated a steely resolve to render assistance to the neighbouring states.
India has been at the forefront of rescuing stranded civilians from conflict zones of the region by conducting numerous Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, under severely challenging circumstances. The large-scale Op- Sukoon in Lebanon in 2006 and Op Rahat in Yemen in 2015 represent a few such operations undertaken. During Op RAHAT, in April 2015 3000 personnel were evacuated of which 1300 were foreign nationals from an intense combat zone.
India is committed to promoting capacity and capability building of friendly countries. Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels have been built for for Srilanka and Offshore Patrol Vessels and Fast Attack Crafts for Mauritius in the recent past. Lines of credit have been given to Vietnam, Bangladesh and others to source capabilities.
A cooperative approach has been adopted to strengthen the regional security apparatus, which includes technical cooperation, hydrography surveys and training. The Indian Armed Forces have emerged as a preferred destination for training in the region, covering the entire spectrum of professional military training ranging from various ab-initio, courses to mid-level specialisation, all the way to senior-level courses like Higher Command and NDC. Over the years, the Navy has trained close to 15,000 personnel from over 45 countries. In addition, Mobile Training Teams are also being deputed to neighbouring countries, to conduct specialised training courses, tailor-made to suit specific requirements.
India actively sets up the Coastal Radar Surveillance Systems and promotes mutual sharing of shipping information through the White Shipping Information Exchange Agreements. The fused picture, available to all users because of this agreement significantly enhances the Strategic Maritime Domain Awareness of the region. As a further commitment to promote collective maritime security in the IOR, India commissioned the Information Fusion Centre in 2018. The Information Fusion Centre- Indian Ocean Region is a collaborative construct with friendly countries as also international agencies; to enhance maritime security and safety.
To promote a stable and peaceful environment and to enhance interoperability as well as to develop a common understanding of the region’s security challenges, the Indian Armed Forces actively participates in numerous exercises with the like-minded Nations. The Navy from a conservative figure of eight exercises in 2015, is now participating in close to 30 bilateral/ multilateral exercises and look to take it forward from here, forging new partnerships with navies of the region and beyond. Likewise, training exercises between Indian Army and Air Forces with their counterpart have also increased. The Malabar exercises between the Navies of USA, Japan, Australia and India is the most prominent of the joint exercises. India has been participating in tri services multilateral exercises. The Indian Navy’s initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium – IONS; and MILAN – the biennial gathering of regional navies, have also enabled constructive dialogue amongst navies of the Indian Ocean Region and logistic support agreements have been signed with USA, Japan, Australia, Singapore, France and South Korea.
The geo-strategic significance of India as a stabilising power in the Indian Ocean is increasingly being accepted globally. The uncertain and unpredictable security environment mandates strategic rationales for enhanced regional responsibilities but also the imperatives of India’s own national security needs. This rationale requires a larger involvement in regional stability, trade security and ocean governance. Maintaining a favourable maritime balance for India in the Indian Ocean would require a harmonious mobilisation of India’s military, diplomatic and economic institutions in which the Indian Navy will play a central role.