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Address by FS on “Maritime Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy”

July 28, 2011

Speech by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao
on "Maritime Dimensions of India's Foreign Policy”
organized by the
National Maritime Foundation
at India Habitat Centre


Admiral Arun Prakash, Chairman NMF

Commodore C Udai Bhaskar, Director NMF

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Young students, dear friends from the diplomatic corps and the media

It is a pleasure to be invited to speak at the National Maritime Foundation, which, under the stewardship of Admiral Arun Prakash and his team, has emerged as the premier institution in the country working on matters relating to the nation's maritime interests and policies.

The question posed by the title of my talk today is what are the maritime dimensions of India's foreign policy? The answer is not far to seek. With any policy that has an outward orientation, as does foreign policy, the overlap with security, land, and maritime frontier dimensions is difficult to ignore. For Peninsular India, the lure of the sea around it, has moulded and set the course of the history of the people who inhabit it. The ocean also brought traders and colonizers. Our vantage location with the Indian Ocean literally at our feet, became in those early times, also a source of vulnerability, laying bare our unpreparedness to face external threat. Learning lessons from the broad sweep of history, Pandit Nehru concluded: "We cannot afford to be weak at sea. History has shown that whoever controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India's sea-borne trade at her mercy and, in the second, India's very independence itself.” We forget this lesson of history at our own risk. All the more reason, therefore, that our engagement and interaction with the world, should internalize awareness of these risks and vulnerabilities and prevent their return, in new forms, to haunt us again and threaten our development and wellbeing.

India is naturally a maritime nation- a coast line of over 7500 kms; the Lakshwadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar chains stretch over 600 islands, with southernmost tip just 90 nautical miles from Indonesia and the northern most tip less than 10 nautical miles from Myanmar. Our EEZ is more than 2.5 million square Kms. The mining areas of over 150,000 sq Kms allotted to India under UNCLOS are about 2000 kms from our southernmost tip. We have significant interests in Antarctica as well. Our inseparable bonds with the Indian Ocean region are not merely geographical but of deeper civilizational significance. Historical, cultural economic and political linkages have been forged between India and the Indian Ocean over millennia.

India is almost an island as far as trade is concerned. In the absence of good regional land connectivity, the bulk of our trade is seaborne. India's global mercantile trade has grown phenomenally and now constitutes 41% of our GDP. 77% of our trade by value, and over 90% by volume is carried by sea. India is now projected to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2020, after China, Japan and the US. Our dependence on sea borne trade is expected to expand exponentially. The maritime dimension is also vital for our energy security. India's oil consumption is expected to rise to 245 million tons annually by 2020, with the country likely to be the world's single largest importer of oil by 2050. Our economic growth would continue to be critically depended upon unhindered flow of oil. The sea borne terrorist attacks on Mumbai- 26/11, focused the need for strengthening maritime and coastal security against threats from sea. Clandestine proliferation networks also use seaways for proliferation activities. It follows that our foreign policy has to focus on these critical aspects for our national development and security.

India has a vision of the Indian Ocean region unshackled from historical divisions and bound together in collective pursuit of peace, and prosperity. As a mature and responsible nation, one of our foreign policy interests is to evolve a regional architecture based on the twin principles of shared security and shared prosperity. India is well poised to play a substantive and formative role in this regard.

We have friendly and productive bilateral relations with almost all the states in the Indian Ocean region. Our bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mauritius, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Oman, Mozambique South Africa and others facilitate access to a wide swathe of the Indian Ocean. Maritime Security is an important dimension of our relations with ASEAN countries, in particular Singapore and Vietnam. Many of these are territorial neighbours but all are our maritime neighbours. We have historical and civilizational ties with many of these countries. Some of these countries have large Indian communities. The broad spectrum of our ties with these countries has a strong economic and socio-cultural dimension. The Indian Navy has contributed towards expanding our diplomatic engagement in the region and beyond. An active Indian naval presence is welcomed in many waters, near and far from our shores. In cooperation with the Indian Navy, we are looking at ways of long term engagement with many of these countries in capacity building including training assistance, refit of ships joint exercises, coordinated patrols, supply of hardware and product support. We are also prepared to assist countries to conduct EEZ surveillance.

Maritime Security is emerging as an important element of our dialogue architecture with various countries, including with the United States. This includes periodic bilateral exercises, information exchanges through maritime domain awareness, sharing of best practices in areas such as search and rescue, maritime safety, pollution control, maritime law enforcement that could cover counter narcotics and counter piracy, training, exercises and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and exchange of views on promoting a regional security architecture that enhances maritime security.

In addition to bilateral interactions, we are actively engaged with almost all regional bodies that are either based in or border the Indian Ocean region- ranging from SAARC, BIMSTEC, EAS, ARF, ASEAN, GCC, SADC to the AU. Prime Minister's participation in the second India-Africa Forum Summit held in Addis Ababa on May 25 2011 was indeed a milestone. Our aim is to build a web of cooperative relations that brings together all the stakeholders based on mutual interest and benefit. India's ‘soft power' attributes give us an advantage that few countries have.

The scourge of piracy off the Somali coast poses a serious problem for safety of maritime traffic as well as the well-being of crew members. The Gulf of Aden is a major trading route for India. Approximately US $ 110 billion of our trade passes through it. India contributes around 7% of the world's merchant mariners and thus has an abiding interest in their safety and security. In the UN and other multilateral fora, India has urged greater international cooperation in anti-piracy efforts, including welfare of the hostages. It was at India's specific instance that the UN Security Council, vide resolution 1976 of April 11, 2011, for the first time strongly condemned the growing practice of hostage-taking by pirates operating off the coast of Somalia, expressed serious concern at the inhuman conditions hostages face in captivity, recognized the adverse impact on their families, called for the immediate release of all hostages, and called upon States to cooperate, as appropriate, on the issue of hostage-taking. On India's intervention, the Contact Group in its Communiqué, issued at the latest (9th) Plenary Meeting on 14 July 2011, expressed outrage at the suffering of innocent seafarers held hostage by pirates, including reports of increased violence and even torture, and called for continued international focus on comprehensive counter-piracy efforts and sustained contribution to them. In addition, India is engaged with other countries on capacity-building and consultations in the area of anti-piracy to devise measures for keeping open access points to avoid choking international trade.

The Indian Navy commenced anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden from October 2008. Since then, 25 Indian Navy ships have been deployed in the Gulf of Aden to provide point to point escort to merchant vessels passing through the 490 nautical miles(nm) long and 20 nm wide Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden. In addition to escorting Indian flagged vessels, ships of other countries have also been provided protection. Since October 2008, Indian Navy ships have escorted more than 1500 ships, including more than 1350 foreign flagged vessels from different countries. Indian ships thwarted more than 26 piracy attempts; no ship under Indian escort has been hijacked by pirates. Indian Navy and Coast Guard through their effective vigilance have successfully thwarted attempted piracy attempts in our EEZ.

With increased presence of naval forces off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, pirates have moved to other areas and increased pirate activity has been witnessed in the larger Indian Ocean area outside the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), including close to the West Coast of India. As the piracy prone area has expanded eastwards, the Indian Navy has made additional deployments off the Eastern and North Eastern Arabian Sea.

India, as a founder-member of the ‘Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia' (CGPCS), established in January 2009, has been fully engaged in the efforts of the group to share information, coordinate actions of navies in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, raising public and merchant marine awareness and, examining legal and criminal justice issues with respect to apprehended pirates. Further, the Indian Navy has proactively cooperated with other navies through the SHADE (Shared Awareness and De-confliction) mechanism and otherwise. Our Navy deserves high commendation for the professional manner in which it has conducted anti-piracy operations.

Questions have been asked as to the judicial process for handling captured pirates. In principle India does not support establishment of any international judicial tribunal under Chapter VII as such action would interfere with the national legal sovereignty of States. On basis of legal opinion, India is inclined to support the establishment of a special chamber within the national jurisdiction of a State or States in the region, with UN participation. This option is considered suitable besides being cost effective, as it would strengthen the existing jurisdiction with the established procedures. It also provides opportunity in capacity building for countries in the region. Further, this arrangement provides proximity for the purpose of transfer of suspects by patrolling naval states and also the transfer of those convicted to third States for imprisonment. We in MEA are also at an advanced stage of drafting a new bill on piracy that would help in the prosecution of captured pirates.

Let me turn to some of the multilateral initiatives which are of significance for maritime security.

The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was launched in February 2008 as a cooperative maritime security initiative following a meeting of Chiefs of Navy of nearly all littoral States of Indian Ocean in New Delhi. The Charter of Business of IONS is to provide a framework to promote shared understanding of maritime issues facing the littoral States of the Indian Ocean region; enhance regional maritime security and stability; establish and promote variety of cooperative mechanisms and develop inter-operability in terms of doctrines, procedures etc. IONS, an inclusive and consultative regional forum provides a platform for all IOR littoral navies to periodically and regularly discuss issues that bear upon regional maritime security.

As per the charter the membership of IONS will be open to any country whose territory abuts or lies within the Indian Ocean. Other countries can become Observers if they meet the agreed criterion. The Chairmanship of the IONS initiative will be rotated every two years. The text of Charter of Business has incorporated suggestions by various countries including India, Australia, France etc. Member States are expected to approve the Charter during next meeting of IONS scheduled in 2012 to be hosted by South Africa. It would then come into force and guide the future activities of IONS initiative. The Navy and MEA have worked closely on the IONS initiative.

In out diplomatic engagement with the ASEAN, the ARF has recognized that maritime security is an indispensible and fundamental condition for the welfare and economic security of the region. India is supportive of international and regional cooperative efforts in this regard. We are already working with ASEAN and other ASEAN Regional Forum members to ensure security of sea lanes against threats posed by piracy and other transnational crimes, and also to build capacity in the field of maritime security. Maritime security issues are one of the core focus areas of our navy in bilateral and multilateral interactions with other navies. The Indian Navy has been hosting the Milan series of biennial exercises since 1995 for building friendship and mutual understanding among participating navies of ARF countries. Cooperation and exchange of best practices on the maritime security issues were the core theme of Milan 2010 held at Port Blair in February last year.

India and ASEAN trade relations have expanded in recent years to over 46 billion dollars. Nearly 50% of India's sea borne trade is east bound- heading towards markets in ASEAN (with which we have an FTA in Goods that came into force in July 2010), East Asia, the United States and Canada. India has also invested in off shore energy development projects in partnership with Petro Vietnam. The South China Sea is an important shipping route. India supports the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. At the recent ARF meeting in Bali, India noted that the parties concerned were engaged in discussions to address the South China Sea issue and welcomed the recently agreed guidelines on the implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties between China and ASEAN.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is the first regional Government to Government agreement to promote and enhance cooperation against piracy and armed robbery at sea in Asia. To date, 15 states have become Contracting Parties to ReCAAP. The ReCAAP initiatives have contributed significantly towards maritime security in the region. The ReCAAP has been recognized as a model organization by IMO for cooperation of regional governments to combat piracy and armed robbery. India is a founding member of ReCAAP and contributed financially towards the running of the Information Sharing Centre (ISC) of the ReCAAP ISC. Our contributions in ReCAAP have contributed towards enhancing our stature as responsible maritime state in the region. In addition, it has also helped our ongoing regional engagement initiatives.

The ASEAN+8 Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM Plus) Plus is a significant milestone in the evolving security architecture in the Asia Pacific region. The ADMM Plus has identified five areas of cooperation – maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), military medicine, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations. India is seen as an important stakeholder in the ADMM Plus activities.

We expect maritime security to be an important issue that would be discussed in the context of the East Asia Summit which will be held later this year. During my visit to Japan, it was agreed to establish an India-Japan-United States trilateral dialogue on regional and global issues of shared interest. Maritime security would be one important issue that will be discussed in this Initiative. In fact, the evolution of the Asia-Pacific Security architecture will depend to a large measure how states are able to pull together interests and capabilities to address common threats and preserve and protect the Global Commons, including maritime security.

A word about neighbourhood policy particularly with maritime neighbours. Issues like coastal security consolidation and fisheries cooperation are also very much within the domain of our foreign policy concerns, as any analysis of neighbourhood policy would indicate. The salience of creating a fisheries management policy in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar through cooperation between India and Sri Lanka is receiving considerable focus of late. This involves close coordination with the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the State Governments concerned. The issue of maritime boundary delimitation with our neighbours is also dealt with in the Ministry of External Affairs. Competing demands for natural resources, including energy sources, can come into play. The challenge is to find solutions that are mutually acceptable. Conserving and protecting precious marine biology and the oceanic environment through cooperation between littoral states is another important aspect of this maritime dimension. The effects of global warming and climate change on sea levels can have critical human security related repercussions on low lying countries, and the small island developing states. All this falls within the ambit of foreign policy concern.

The development of port and harbour infrastructure both on our coastline in order to improve our global trade turnover, cannot be divorced from the steps being taken in our neighbourhood to develop ports or modernize them with foreign assistance. The economic and security repercussions of such moves have been the subject of intense scrutiny and analysis by our strategic and security experts. The naval outreach and capability of a number of countries has been growing in the Indian Ocean region. Our own capability to be infrastructure builders in our immediate neighbourhood and region needs to be enhanced significantly. Our naval cooperation in the neighbourhood needs further stepping up. Capacity building, training, equipment and vessel supply are all areas that need further attention. With the region, we need to build a common vision of maritime security, conflict prevention, the unhindered passage of trade, counter terrorism and piracy, disaster prevention and humanitarian relief, and the peaceful settlement of disputes, in a balanced and inclusive manner that safeguards these regional and global commons.

It goes without saying that our ability to shape our maritime security environment will require the development of a credible naval presence with adequate assets commensurate with our defence and security interests as well as those required to discharge the role and responsibility expected of India by the international community. As a diplomatic instrument, the Navy has key attributes- access, mobility, reach and versatility. We need to embed these attributes within the larger vision of India's role in the global arena. A flexible but proactive maritime doctrine is essential to safeguard and project our national interests overseas. The Navy and our foreign policy establishment need to establish closer coordination in this regard. I am confident that the National Maritime Foundation will continue to play a leading role in shaping such a doctrine. I wish Admiral Arun Prakash and his team the very best in their endeavors.

Thank you.

Address by Foreign Secretary Smt. Nirupama Rao on "Maritime Dimensions of India's Foreign Policy” organized by the National Maritime Foundation at India Habitat Centre

New Delhi

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