Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 05 March 2109
AN ANNUAL REVIEW OF INDIA’S OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION
- Admiral RK Dhowan, Chairman National Maritime Foundation, Adm Arun Prakash, Former CNS,
Adm J Colombage Former Commander Srilanka Navy,
Adm S Jayantha Perera Former Commander Srilanka Navy, Flag Officer, esteemed veterans, luminaries of the academic and industrial sectors, friends from foreign countries, representatives of the media, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
- A very good morning to all of you.
- It is indeed a pleasure to welcome you to the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2019. This Dialogue allows the Indian Navy, along with its knowledge partner, the NMF, to discuss important issues of significance with some of the world’s leading experts and thinkers. The outcome of these deliberations provide some invaluable inputs to us for policy formulation and re-calibration.
- There is a renewed focus of the world on the seas. This is driven principally by the immense geo-economic and geostrategic importance of the maritime domain. India is a maritime nation and recent times have witnessed increasing attention being devoted to harnessing the maritime domain for our nation-building as well as for regional developmental programmes.
- The Indo-Pacific Regional dialogue, accordingly, seeks to identify and contextualize the numerous challenges and opportunities which lie in these waters, and evolve solutions for inclusive benefits for all stakeholders.
- It is widely accepted that the Indo Pacific Region has been growing in its geo-political significance in recent years for a number of economic, political and other reasons. For India, this region has always been important.
- The Ancient Indian civilisation shared links with nations across the region, from Korea in the East, to Egypt in the West, and beyond. Vibrant trade and cultural relations with peoples across this expanse made the Indian subcontinent immensely prosperous.
- Today, countries in this region have some of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world as well as significant energy reserves, untapped natural resources, and young populations. Commercial and cultural relations among the nations in the region have increased significantly in recent years. This has allowed for a firm foundation to be established for sustained growth across the region.
- Consequently, it is widely recognised that the Indo Pacific Region is likely to drive global growth in the coming decades.
- The seaways of the Indo Pacific host a major share of all international trade that includes hydrocarbons, bulk and container.
- It is pertinent that a major share of the goods shipped through the region are destined for ports outside it.
- The unique maritime geography of the region necessitates concentration of marine traffic through ‘choke points’. Responsible maritime powers have collectively worked over the last few decades to keep these routes open and choke points secure, for the common benefit of all.
- A re-alignment of national priorities in some countries, dilution of long-standing international arrangements and changes in the global geo-economic balance have resulted in a perceived change in the global order.
- The Indo-Pacific Region particularly has seen the most active and assertive manifestations of strategic manoeuvring which defines such transition. Revisionist powers, in particular, have embarked on major geopolitical missions to gain influence in the Region. In the politico-military context, this has translated into concerted efforts to establish capabilities which enable dominance over the region’s shipping lanes and choke points.
- In this context, India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific region acquires great significance. As our Hon’ble Prime Minister has said and I quote
‘India envisions the Indo Pacific as a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces all in the common pursuit of progress and prosperity. unquote
- We seek to work with all stakeholders to evolve a common rules-based order for the region, which respects sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations irrespective of their size and strength. We seek to work alongside partners with shared values and interests, bilaterally or multilaterally to establish a stable and peaceful region’.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, the Indo-Pacific Region holds great promise but its future is mired in the ‘shifting plates of global politics and the fault lines of history’. The growing competition among nations, if conducted in a ‘principled manner’, with respect to the core ideals of the international order, can unlock the immense untapped potential of the region for benefit of the entire world.
- However, at present, this does not appear to be the case.
- A unique blend of strategized financial aid, creeping territorial accretion, information operations, legal ambiguity and military assertiveness is being wielded by aspiring great powers to establish regional dominance. This is putting the region’s historically delicate stability under renewed pressure.
- Let me highlight a few key aspects which bear consideration.
- Most of the countries in the region are developing countries. They have achieved higher growth rates in recent years through economic reforms supported by hard-working populations. Accordingly, there is growing aspiration among the people of the region, which requires to be supported by large-scale and wide-spread developmental efforts by States. However, the capability to do so may not always be available within these countries and consequently, foreign assistance is often required.
- On multiple occasions over the last few years we have witnessed such assistance being offered for projects with suspect financial viability, limited local participation, and unequal benefit for the recipients. Some projects have also, arguably, been undertaken solely to support political and strategic designs with almost no benefit to locals. Such projects have been further enabled by the lack of any credible alternatives.
- It is, therefore, necessary to establish an environment where multiple options are available to countries seeking financial assistance, helping them to avoid getting ‘entrapped’ by those with unscrupulous designs.
- The effect of this increasing strategic footprint has also been seen in the political domain. In more than one nation, individuals who have lost the democratic mandate have sought to undermine political stability. The support to such individuals from certain quarters is well known. This trend all-but confirms the long-term intent of these nations.
- Although the resilience of democracies has been affirmed in the incidents witnessed thus far, one must neither assume that these tactics will not be repeated, nor presume that they will continue to be ineffective.
- There have even been some overt actions by some nations in order to accrue territorial gains. These actions have been supported by ambiguous interpretations of international law, backed by demonstrated asymmetry of power, to make incremental changes to the status quo in certain regions both on land and at sea.
- Unilateral actions in direct violation of international arbitration mechanisms have furthered undermined security and stability in some regions. While it is acknowledged that there may be a case to revisit the rules and mechanisms which define the existing international order, it is also re-iterated that independent efforts to establish a ‘new set of rules’ within any sphere, based on asymmetry of power, will inevitably erode stability and undermine peace.
- Last, and perhaps the most significant challenge of our times, is terrorism.
- The Indo-Pacific Region has witnessed multiple forms of terrorism in recent years, and few countries in this part of the world have been spared by this scourge. The global nature which terrorism has acquired in recent times has further enhanced the scope of this threat.
- India, however, faces a far more serious version of terrorism State-Sponsored Terrorism. You have all witnessed the horrific scale of the extremist attack in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir just 3 weeks ago. This violence was perpetrated by extremists aided and abetted by a state which seeks to destabilise India. We also have reports of terrorists being trained to carry out attacks with varying modus operandi including through the medium of the sea.
- We have seen how quickly terrorist groups evolve across the globe and this particular ‘brand’ of terror may well become a global problem in the near future. The Indian security establishment is continuously working to address this menace. It is imperative that the global community acts in concert to contain and eliminate terrorism, in all its forms.
- To address these diverse challenges, and harness the potential of the Indo-Pacific Region, there is a need for countries to evolve collective and inclusive solutions. The maritime domain, in particular, offers a wide array of opportunities for such efforts. Let me touch upon a few.
- Enhancingregional connectivity, includingpeople-to-people and cultural exchanges, is an important aspect that requires collective action. In such endeavours, enhancing maritime connectivity will inevitably gain prominence.
- The Indo-Pacific Region is naturally defined by its maritime continuity and several initiatives have been put in motion by countries across the region to improve regional connectivity over the sea. It is, however, important that all such efforts address the aspirations and concerns of all stakeholders, adhere to established international business practices, and do not impinge on the sovereignty of any nation.
- There is also a case for aligning various efforts at national, sub-regional and regional levels, in concept and execution, to maximise the value accrued from each. Such an endeavour could also, potentially, assist in eliminating financially unviable efforts, allowing countries in the region to get the best from their investments. While this may seem difficult to achieve, platforms like this dialogue allow such aspects to be discussed and identify the possible ways ahead for further consideration by our respective countries.
- The immense potential of the Blue Economy in the Indo-Pacific Region offers another set of opportunities. Most countries in the region have limited experience and capability to harness their economic resources. It is, therefore, important to enable skill and capability development across the region, which allows nations to expand their maritime economic footprint, in a sustainable manner. In this, leading maritime powers can make invaluable contributions through regional partnerships, tailored to the needs of the region’s countries, and designed to yield profitable outcomes for all concerned.
- In most such efforts, a common requirement would be employment generation, as there are young and growing populations in most parts of the region. Consequently, in the age of automation and digitisation, countries will need to identify a model which balances the efficiency provided by technology with the imperative need of job creation for local communities.
- Finally, as maritime economic endeavour increases across the region, there is need to enhance maritime security, both individual and collective. Given the wide range of threats at sea, from piracy and crime to maritime terrorism, it is important that all stakeholders work together.
- Enhancing regional security cooperation will allow us to optimally coordinate efforts to counter common challenges, optimise responses to shared situations and continuously learn from each other’s best practices.
- In this regard let me briefly outline the Indian Navy’s approach.
- As the principal manifestation of India’s maritime power, the Indian Navy has adopted a cooperative security strategy aligned to the national vision of SAGAR or Security And Growth for All in the Region. Incidentally, SAGAR is the Hindi word for ‘Oceans’ which epitomises the centrality of the seas in our regional outlook.
- The Indian Navy’s task forces are continuously deployed in key parts of the region, mission-ready to address a wide range of contingencies. In recent months, our forces have successfully undertaken operations against maritime piracy, as well as provided HADR support in several places across the region.
- In addition, we patrol the maritime zones of friendly nations on their request, and also undertake Coordinated Patrols with some neighbours along our shared maritime boundaries.
- We have also recently operationalised the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). The endeavour would provide a high degree of shared maritime situational awareness to all our regional partners. This is aimed at ensuring that all emerging threats are identified early, and the concerned agency apprised in time to enable an effective response.
- Through a combination of our independent and collective efforts, we seek to contribute to keeping the maritime domains of the region ‘free’ and ‘open’ for all.
- Furthermore, we have increased the scope, scale and complexity of our engagement with friendly navies. This includes professional interactions at various levels, joint training, high level visits, port calls and experience sharing programmes.
- The most visible aspect of this growing engagement are the exercises we conduct with our partners.
- In recent years, we have participated in a number of complex exercises with leading maritime powers, which have included high-end warfighting aspects such as coordinated anti-submarine operations and fleet air defence, as well as coordinated SAR and HADR operations.
- These exercises allow us to build trust and mutual confidence with our maritime partners, as well as develop a high level of interoperability. These are the key enablers for an effective response, in sync with our partners, in the event that any future disruption, affects the peace and security of the region.
- Let me broadly outline the way we intend to move forward in pursuit of our objectives for regional maritime security:-
- Firstly, we will continue to enhance the transparency and situational awareness of the region’s maritime areas, for all stakeholders.
- Secondly, we will partner with our maritime neighbours to establish the required capabilities and capacities required to secure their maritime zones.
- Thirdly, we will continue to engage with like-minded maritime forces through information exchanges and logistics sharing arrangements, to enable sustained ‘capable and effective’ presence wherever required in the region.
- Lastly, we will continue to train together with navies across the region, to exchange best practices and enhance interoperability in all aspects of maritime operations.
- To conclude, I wish all participants and attendees the very best for insightful and meaningful discussions over the next two days.
- I wish the organisers the very best for the event and I am confident that the outcomes from the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2019 will provide the Indian Navy as well as the Government of India valuable inputs to recalibrate our policies and initiatives.
- I encourage all members of the audience to make the most of the interaction sessions. I assure you that our eminent panellists will welcome your perspective and shed new light on aspects under discussion.
Thank you and Jai Hind.