Emerging maritime challenges for India:
- Recent developments in the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca help reveal India’s emerging challenges and opportunities on the maritime front.
- Every year, nearly $500 billion worth of trade passes through the Straits of Hormuz.
- The value of commerce flowing through the Malacca Straits annually is estimated at more than $3 trillion.
- To the west:
- To the west, international shipping is on high alert amidst the escalating tensions in the region between Iran and its neighbours on the one hand and between Iran and US on the other.
- According to some estimates, at least 17 countries have been affected, either directly or indirectly, by the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region.
- To the east:
- To the east, China has put its commercial shipping passing through the Straits of Malacca on a high alert.
- The three littoral states of the Malacca Straits — Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore — say they see no evidence of a real or potential threat.
- There are suspicions that this alert could be a prelude a larger move by China to establish a significant naval presence at the Malacca Straits that is seen as Beijing’s economic “life line”.
US is not taking the responsibility of maritime security in Asia anymore:
- Threats to the shipping in the straits of Hormuz and Malacca are not new.
- What is new, though, is the US insistence that Asia pay for its energy security in the Gulf.
- The US has long been guarantor of maritime security in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
- But now the US President has asked the Asian countries to protect their own ships.
- With the US no longer dependent on oil imports from the Middle East and itself becoming a major hydrocarbon exporter, it no longer has to have the traditional American commitments to the Gulf.
US seeking international coalition to secure the Gulf:
- The US officials and Secretary of State have unveiled plans to build an international coalition to secure the Gulf.
- Japan and South Korea are reportedly considering participation in such a coalition, that will incur additional costs to secure their oil imports.
Gulf countries are looking for partnerships to secure the shipping lanes:
- Meanwhile, the countries in the Gulf region are looking to diversify their security partnerships as an insurance against potential downsizing of American security commitments.
China is well placed to take larger responsibility in the Gulf:
- China is better prepared — in terms of capabilities as well as ambitions — to take larger responsibility for security in the Gulf.
- A decade ago, when piracy threatened international shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, China initiated naval deployments that have turned into a permanent military presence in the region.
- Since then, China has set up its first foreign military base in Djibouti.
- Beijing has intensified its military engagement in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea littoral.
- The US’s demand that Asians do more for securing the flows of energy, provides China with an unprecedented opportunity to carve out a larger role for itself in the Gulf.
India should also use the opportunity for greater role in the region:
- Indian Prime Minister has informed the US that Indian Navy into the Gulf will escort the Indian oil tankers to protect them.
- The public debate in Delhi is focused rather narrowly on the implications of the Gulf crisis for its planned investments in Iran’s Chabahar port and on finding ways to appear neutral.
- However, the opportunity to carve out a larger role for itself in the Gulf should be equally attractive to India, as it is for China.
- After all, India is closer to the Gulf than China and is in a better position to raise its maritime profile in the littoral.
- It has big stakes in the Gulf as well as a longer tradition of providing security to the region.
- A historic churn is shaking up Gulf oil-rich region and its relationship to the world, while the US is rethinking its role in providing public goods in the Indo-Pacific.
- The Indian government must think a little more boldly about India’s strategic possibilities in the Gulf.
- Delhi must aim to do more for maritime security on its own as well as through coalitions of like-minded countries.
- An India that aspires to become a “leading power” must take greater responsibility for regional security in India’s neighbourhood.
GS Paper II: International Relations