Thursday, July 25, 2024

Integrated Ocean Governance

By Admiral Sunil Lanba (r)

Adm. Sunil Lanba (r), Former Chief of Naval Staff

‘Integrated Ocean Governance’ is reflective of the growing realisation in the world that a rules-based order is essential for judicious management of oceanic commons. It is widely acknowledged that the fortunes of a nation are determined, largely, by its geography. The peninsular landmass, jutting into the vastness of the Indian Ocean, affords India tremendous opportunities to harness the seas.

Long coastlines, numerous islands, ports, proximity to important shipping lanes and abundant ocean resources certainly provide ample avenues of trade and resource management. Equally important are climatic conditions, critical to agrarian heartlands, are strongly influenced by the surrounding oceans. The seas are strong enablers in the pursuit of holistic national development. 

11% of India’s hydrocarbon needs are being fed from the domestic offshore fields while the balance comes through sea routes. In addition, Indian companies export refined petroleum products and have invested heavily in oil and gas exploration in foreign waters. These assets form an important component of our energy security construct. However, it is not just India’s energy security that is dependent on the ocean, several other economic aspects involving external trade, fisheries, import of raw materials and goods, are largely dependent on secure seas.

While these geographic and economic aspects of the Indian Ocean are important for India, they are of equal importance for all countries in the region. Littorals of the Indian Ocean as well as the Western Pacific, which are home to more than 60% of the world’s population, have emerged as the cradle of the global manufacturing and service industry. The oil and gas produced in this region feeds the growth engines of Asia and numerous consumers across the globe.

It is not surprising then that an unprecedented amount of global wealth is being committed to this region. However, financial investments of such magnitude would not be forthcoming unless there exists a concurrent belief that an environment conducive for growth would prevail and the oceans would remain free and secure for the legitimate use of every nation. This is where the security paradigm comes into prominence.

Such is the confluence of geographic, economic, security and many other related aspects in the maritime domain that dealing with the innumerable sub-components of all these aspects would entail involvement and cross-linking of multiple domestic as well as international agencies. While each agency has a clear charter of its own, every link of the chain should be strong enough to be able to withstand the tension generated by this complex environment. It is equally important to understand that ‘shared ownership’ is not a term for loose interpretation or ambiguity.  

Preserving the fragile ecosystem, ensuring its sustenance for common good and respecting the territorial sovereignties is a collective responsibility. The High Seas or the global common also needs rules for governance regarding fishing in a sustainable way and pollution of the oceans. Fish stocks need to be managed and not fished to extinction. Pollution of the oceans is a growing problem, which needs a high degree of attention urgently. Needless to mention these issues need global agreements for monitoring arrangements to work smoothly.  

Managing varied governance issues is certainly a challenging task requiring forthcoming participation from all stakeholders for policy formulation and enforcement. This is precisely the reason why ‘Integrated Ocean Governance’ is increasingly being deliberated among all international stakeholders in the context of ‘Rules Based Global Order’.

The effective role played by maritime military and law enforcement agencies would be essential for ensuring compliance of the collectively evolved rules. This would help accrue optimum benefits from the oceans.

For ensuring security, the expectations from India and the Indian Navy are very high. The global reckoning of India’s emerging stature has also led to a sense of assurance that India would contribute to facilitating ‘net security’ in its maritime sphere of influence.

Since the traditional maritime security challenges essentially have a State vs State character, the solutions can be arrived at through established conflict resolution mechanisms. However, narrow and over-nationalistic attitudes, at times, tend to undermine such mechanisms as seen in parts of the South China Sea or in the Korean Peninsula. This remains a cause of concern for all. Dealing with such threats would primarily be a military-diplomatic function. 

Non-traditional threats, on the other hand, are quite different. As witnessed in the well-publicised case of apprehension of a vessel registered in Panama with an Indian crew-carrying contraband from Gwadar to India via Abu Dhabi, the tracing and prosecuting illegal activities at sea involves several intelligence, law enforcement and judicial agencies from multiple countries.

A sinister nexus also appears to be emerging between various forms of maritime crime such as maritime terrorism and piracy with drug smuggling or gun running, human trafficking. Large scale illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has caused severe ecological consequences, especially in waters of countries who do not have requisite capabilities to check such activities. The adverse impact of climate change on human security is also highly relevant in the context of maritime nations, owing to the high density of coastal population.

An analysis of maritime challenges points towards a commonality in their distinct hybrid and transnational character. Therefore, tackling such challenges would require the concurrent application of several governance tools which demands a well-regulated framework not just within a nation but most importantly, amongst nations. In order to obtain the desired output from such collaborative frameworks, the Indian Navy is working concurrently at various levels including domestic, bilateral, multilateral and regional. 

In the aftermath of the tragic terror attacks in Mumbai, the Indian Navy was entrusted with the overall responsibility of maritime security, including coastal and offshore security. A process of evolving a functional structure for coastal security was immediately kicked off and a working protocol was established between 15 different agencies functioning under six ministries of the Government of India looking after diverse aspects of maritime law enforcement and security in coastal zones. Setting up a chain of coastal radars and AIS stations and integrating them through the National Command Control Communication and Information (NC3I) Network has now enabled seamless Maritime Domain Awareness.  

India is constructively engaged with its neighbours through bilateral and multilateral structures. India’s wholehearted assistance to friendly nations to help capacity building and capability enhancement is not only limited to military hardware but also extends to training, hydrography and technical support. The expertise achieved in the domestic model of Coastal Radars and AIS chains are shared with several IOR nations. White Shipping Information Exchange agreements as coordinated patrols and EEZ Surveillance of smaller island nations are undertaken at specific requests, which support the pursuit of superior MDA. 

The Indian Navy pioneered the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in 2008, which has now grown to a strength of 23 members and 09 observers. Through subject-specific Working Groups on Maritime Security, Information Sharing and Interoperability as well as HADR, IONS has been delivering on its promise of evolving a common understanding and cooperative solutions in the maritime domain. 

Oceans are a universally shared resource, cooperative governing structures and voluntary compliance of international laws are essential for deriving sustained benefits from this medium. A stable and secure maritime environment makes up for a rules-based global order and any pursuit of economic growth undoubtedly needs to be adequately supported by cooperative measures to enhance maritime security. 

About The Author

Former Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy 


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