The ice free Indian Ocean on which 3 continents abut occupies approximately 28 millions square miles which is l/5th of the world sea area and cradles the peripheries of Africa and the Orient in two separate geo-political horse-shoes in which l/4th of the world’s population live and operate at different levels of political consciousness ranging from military dictatorships and monarchies to communism, tribalism, fundamentalism, and the world’s largest practising democracy. The area can be split up into 23 distinctly different ethnic segments containing all the major religions of the world and subjected to outside pressures effecting their internal and external interests as this highly fragmented region still contains a modicum of residual colonialism.
With the liberation of over 43 maritime states after World War II together with increasing cost effectiveness of utilizing sophisticated technology to explore and exploit both living and’ non-living resources of the seas and seabed upto a distance of 200 miles of the Exclusive Economic Zone, the relationship between the seas and the state is inevitably undergoing a change.
Further due to historical disputes, internal insurgencies, drugs and arms sales, competitive trade and concentration of oil, multi-faceted tension points have emerged which has made this ocean an ‘object’ rather than a ‘subject’. This in turn has ushered in the concept of Zone of Peace, Non-alignment, Nuclear free zone and recently the formation of SARC which has resulted in focussing world attention on this highly endemic region.
The proceedings of the International Seminar on the Indian ocean at Allahabad University in 1983 is a collection of the views and perceptions of well-known pundits of this ocean area and encompasses strategic, political, economic and regional issues. Admiral Kohli in his inaugural address conducts a tour d’horizon of the interests of both external and regional powers. He highlights the necessity for nonalignment, keeping out external pressures, building up economic interdependence and the necessity for a more equitable international order.
Professor Burrel, the distinguished scholar of maritime strategy and geo-politics of the Indian Ocean from the University of London has highlighted the economic, strategic and military deployment stressing the part played by oil. Rodney Jones from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, emphasized the US interest in this region with the need to ensure free access to the Gulf and the requirement t& maintain the geo-political balance. Stephen Cohen, Director of South Asian Project in the University of Illinois, analyses the present diverse and increasingly destructive conflicts in this area which he puts in five categories— Indo-Pak, national consolidation, periphery vs centre, regional vs non-regional and lastly the nuclear perceptions of India and Pakistan. He further summarizes the images of war in South Asia and focusses attention on the conflicting interests on the sub-continent.
From the Soviet point of view, Dr (Mrs) Lebedev of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Moscow, stresses the need for peace in this area in order that the littoral countries could exploit their national resources which is contrary to USA’s interests. Professor Kasyan from the Institute of Law and State of the USSR points out the importance of this densely populated link ocean and the efforts of outside powers to form blocks such as ANZUS, and US Central Command which are contrary to the UN efforts to implement a zone of peace as a follow up to the new laws of the seas.
The African states washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean have been brought into focus by Professor Anirudha Gupta of Jawaharlal Nehru University who analyses the arms aid given by USSR to Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Yemen and the USA counter supply of weapons to Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Zaire, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and above all South Africa which makes a mockery of the efforts to structure the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. Professor Ramchandani of the Centre of East African Studies, University of Bombay gives a table of statistics regarding the military and economic assistance given to countries of this area because of super power rivalry which prevents the creation of a Zone of Peace which is so vital for nation building and economic growth of the fragmented African countries who are still trying to shake off the residual effects of colonialism. General Vas, an avid contributor to strategic studies, ‘pin-points the struggle for power in the Horn of Africa, with Somalia’s internal problems and Ethiopia’s external interests.
The politics of compromised littoral states of West Asia are highlighted by Bharat Karnad of the Hindustan Times whose perception is that although the superpowers are only too glad to create dependencies by transferring arms and military technologies, the littoral countries of West Asia are using it to further their own narrow national interests. Professor Abidi of West Asian Studies of JNU, New Delhi points out that the areas which have been either colonies, dependencies or protectorates are now an amphitheatre for a four-tier conflict management—intra-regime; inter-regime, local and foreign and between exclusively external powers whose global interests are conflicting. Hence they take advantage of the weakness and bickering among the Indian Ocean states for promoting their own interests which has received some set back after the fall of the Shah of Iran and the advent of Islam as a revolutionary ideology and a political weapon.
Professor Kakkar, Head of Defence Studies, Allahabad, brings into focus the geo-strategic importance of the Indian ocean which is at the cross-roads of two cultures—India and China and the competitive aims of the superpower which needs to be neutralized by the concentrated efforts of the littoral countries by emphasizing nonalignment and thereby promoting the Zone of Peace and con-verting the area into a ‘cooperative zone’.
Dr. Bhabani Sen Gupta, the well-known commentator highlights the US profile in this region and concludes that the threat to its oil routes is not military but entirely political. Mr. K Subramaniam, former Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, under the caption of the ‘Zone of Peace’ which he adds is a logical extension of non-alignment analyses the continuing interest of external powers who have fathered the concept of ‘sea power’ Which they exploited for spreading their interests such as operating nuclear submarines with Polaris missiles which in turn has not only heightened super power rivalry but also encouraged the support for South Africa and fanned the conflicts in Afghanistan, Gulf and Southern Africa. He concludes with the plea for restraining the military rivalries of external powers in this region and reversing expenditure on armaments which will result in the establishment of the Zone of Peace.
Professor KR Singh of West Asian Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi who is a specialist in arms poliferation has emphasized the need to usher in a spirit of detente to check arms sales and restrain ‘coercive diplomacy’ which otherwise may lead to the Indian ocean becoming the battlefield for several types of conflicts.
Captain Inder Bedi of the Indian Navy summarizes the role of the Navy under four traditional objectives—deterrence, safety of sea lanes, safeguarding the exclusive economic zone and winning friends and influencing people. The proposed laws of the seas have been spelt out by Dr (Mrs) Rama Purl of the Law Department in the University of Delhi who briefly explains the concept of territorial waters, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, seabed and archipelagos, which need to be supported by all nations as this will encourage a new international order which in turn will be of advantage to the Third World. Manmohan Krishna of the Department, of Economics, University of Allahabad, has brought into focus the need for regional economic cooperation, possibility of forming smaller groups such as African States, Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia, the necessity for monetary agreements, better transportation, effective investment planning and concludes that the economics of cooperation is synonymous with the economics of friendship and peace. C.K. Karunakaran of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission amplifies the role of oil and mineral resources in the development of this region as also their effects on global politics. He further brings out the ramifications of high technology in this developing area and has also added tables showing the balance of payments, world trade in energy and the physical presence of seabed resources. He concludes by stating that the successful exploitation of the seas and seabed is linked with the requirement for a more equitable international economic order. The seminar, however, has not stressed the continuing abuse of the Indian Ocean which is becoming a dustbin for human refuse such as sewage and industrial wastes which may jeoparadize the survival of many of the species in this area. Perhaps the measures to prevent oil spillage and waste dumping which has international repercussions on the relations between the states and the seas could have formed an important segment in the collection of percepts and concepts for this region. It is the enormity of the challenges of both development and conflict that requires a multidisciplinary ocean agency to coordinate and manage a nation’s maritime interests, particularly, with the advent of sophisticated ocean technology.
This new literature on the Indian Ocean is a useful book of reference as it combines in one volume the compressed perceptions of various well-known scholars of the Indian Ocean. However, its late publication will confine it to a book of reference of ‘yesterday’ as emerging interests such as the US, UK, French and Italian naval presence in the Gulf, Chinese Silkworm missiles, Afghanistan, the spineless RDF, the creation of SARC, the events in Sri Lanka and Fiji, US-Soviet accord on limitation of arms and the brittle Indo-Pak relationship regarding AWACS and nuclear policy notwithstanding the Reliance cricket trophy are of more recent happenings in this Ocean of tension.
Notwithstanding the vintage of this seminar, a wide spectrum of new relations between the seas and the state have been identified on this water planet paradoxically called ‘Earth’ and will be a handy book of reference both for its contents as also for the background of participants which makes a strong case for urgently structuring a ‘Society for Indian Ocean Studies’ preferably in the capital which will be an on-going forum for understanding the seas around us.
Mihir K. Roy is a retired vice admiral of the Indian Navy.