Sir Olaf Caroe, the former British civil servant in India, was not much off-centre when (in the mid-1940s) he pro¬pounded the doctrine of ‘Wells of Power’. He emphasized West Asian oil which was absolutely essential for the Western powers and hence should be shielded from the Communist Bear, This, coupl¬ed with the fact that the Indian Ocean does not, like its bigger counterparts, the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, extend northwards into the cold cli¬matic regions, saddles it with paramount strategic signi¬ficance. Further, its seabed is rich with millions of tons of polymetallic nodules such as manganese, nickel, iron, copper, cobalt, vanadium and molybdenum; its littoral states produce about ninety per cent of the world’s rubber, tea and jute, sixty per cent of its tin and oil and have sizeable deposits of gold and diamonds, while its continental shelves provide good fishing grounds. Add to this the global ‘Marx-land vs Freeland’ dispute, against the backdrop of the American domino theory and the regional Sino-Soviet rift, and the picture becomes clear. Sadly, the battleground has been the arena of the non-aligned, developing, and least developed countries.
The security of the Indian Ocean has assumed prominence of late, after the British announced the phased with-drawal of their military pre¬sence east of Suez. This aware¬ness is directly a consequence of the politicization of the ocean, which is itself the sequel to a complex series of develop¬ments and their perceptions by global and regional actors. Apart from the British with¬drawal, the oil factor was soon to merge with the decoloniza¬tion spirit of the littorals to make Soviet involvement a necessary corollary, more so after the Washington-Peking axis.
The fact that America’s introduction into the region of the Polaris-Poseidon submarine fleet prompted the Soviet naval entry is drowned out in the cacophany of alarms about an impending Soviet incursion. What is missed in the argu¬ment, as Smolensky has rightly pointed out, is that the Soviet entry was strongly influenced by its determination to achieve sea-borne nuclear parity with the USA, on the one hand, and the on-going competition between the superpowers for political influence and econo¬mic gains, on the other.
Diego Garcia, a speck of an island in the Indian Ocean, shot into prominence following the Anglo-US decision to set up a major air-naval base on it with a secret clause to hand over the island to the USA for its develop¬ment as a forward support base. This has brought the US-Soviet global conflict pre¬cariously close to the Third World’s heartland. Though most of the littorals have viewed this with alarm and suggested that the Indian Ocean be declared a nuclear-free peace zone, nothing tangi¬ble seems to have been achiev¬ed because of the lackadaisical attitude of the superpowers towards the littorals’ suscepti¬bilities.
The book under review is an attempt to expound at length the importance of Diego Garcia in the context of world politics of the 1970s and 1980s. Jawatkar begins with a brief history of the island and then comes to the heart of the pro¬blem: the US air-naval base. It was late in the sixties that Diego Garcia came to be view¬ed as ‘the Malta of the Indian Ocean’ by American naval strategists. Global interests aside, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which marked a decisive shift of emphasis in US naval strategic priorities, seems to have spurred the USA to renewed activity in the Indian Ocean. The author brings out the contradictions in the pro¬fessed justification of the US presence in Diego Garcia and the underlying reality as borne out in various US Congressional papers, House and Senate Sub-Committee hearings and public debates on Diego Garcia. Each superpower has its own spe¬cious rationale to justify its presence:
While Soviet Union denies that it has any design on West Asia oil or intention of pushing through its warm water ports on the Indian Ocean, it maintains that it would continue to ply all the world’s oceans ‘which are nobody’s private pro¬perty’. On the other, the Americans argue that the Indian Ocean, being of vital strategic interest, calls for regular naval patrol and Diego Garcia must be seen in that context.
The author’s effort at project¬ing Indian public opinion on Diego Garcia in a separate chapter is welcome. However, he informs rather than en¬lightens his readers: a critique would have been appropriate. It would have been still more laudable for the author to throw new light on the topic rather than to restate the obvious. The book turns out to be a mere rehash of various newspaper clippings.
Jawatkar, however, rightly avers that any arms limitation talks on the Indian Ocean are likely to prove to be a very complicated series of negotia¬tions fraught with difficulties of a technical nature, such as problems of measurement diffi¬culties. The Indian Ocean lit¬torals who are witnessing the last struggles of decolonization and resurgent fundamentalism have set in motion various conflicts, tensions and turbu¬lence in this area. Add the Sino-Soviet confrontation as a factor in the latter’s pelagic policy in the Indian Ocean and the USA’s steadfast deter¬mination to buttress Diego Garcia and the picture of turbu¬lence is complete. Jawatkar is quite right in stating that the Indian Ocean Peace Zone idea is only a ‘pipe-dream’ in view of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Soviet inter-vention in Afghanistan. To this we can add the latest: the Sinhala-Tamil carnage in Sri Lanka which, as an observer rightly observed, has pushed Diego Garcia further north. A confrontation between the global power blocs in this area is likely to be greatly desta¬bilizing, with a high probability of wars through proxies and the spectre of nuclear war-heads not altogether ruled out. The East and the West, the North and the South seem to have, for the nonce, rendez-voused here not in cooperative diplomacy but in coercive conflict.
Jawatkar’s book, although lacking an incisive edge, is a welcome addition to the litera¬ture on the much-adumbrated Indian Ocean problem. The annexure, with detailed infor¬mation relevant to the debate on Diego Garcia and a well-selected bibliography is a useful feature.
Sudhansu Mohanty is Assistant Controller of Defence Accounts, Siliguri.