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AMBASSADOR'S ADDRESS AT THE CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSIS-NAVAL MARITIME FOUNDATION ROUND TABLE

Washington, DC

1. Thank you very much for having invited me to speak at the Center for Naval Analysis-Naval Maritime Foundation Bilateral round table.  It is indeed a privilege for me to speak at this gathering. 

2. India’s destiny has always been intricately linked to the Indian Ocean. Maritime trade across the Indian Ocean was a constant feature in Indian history. It was also through the seas that Indian cultural traditions, including Buddhism, spread to South East Asia and beyond.  The pattern of Indian maritime activity in the Indian Ocean through the ancient, medieval and modern periods has been reflected in her economic performance and political landscape.

3. Recognition of the linkage between India’s maritime activity in the Indian Ocean and her place in the world led Sardar KM Pannikar, the doyen of maritime strategic thought in India, to argue that “while to other countries the Indian Ocean is only one of the important oceanic areas, to India it is a vital sea. Her lifelines are concentrated in that area, her freedom is dependent on the freedom of that water surface. No industrial development, no commercial growth, no stable political structure is possible for her unless her shores are protected.” The waters of the Indian Ocean have been vital to India’s interests.

4. This remains the case today; and not just for India but also for the world. The Sea Lines of Communication which criss-cross the Indian Ocean are crucial lifelines for the economic growth of the region and beyond. Some estimates indicate that 90% of global commerce and 65% of all oil presently travels by sea. Of this half the world’s container traffic and 70% of the total traffic of petroleum products is accounted for by the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean Region is home to one of the major oil producing regions of the world. One-fifth of the world’s energy supplies now travel across the Indian Ocean, largely from west (Persian Gulf) to east (China, India and Japan). Apart from the energy supplies that cross the Indian Ocean, major trade routes also pass through this region. Container ships carry manufactured goods from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Maritime trade routes in the Indian Ocean are vital for global trade and global energy security. Indeed globalisation owes much to the increase in maritime trade and traffic.

5. As India has progressively opened up its economy since the early 90s, it has also benefitted tremendously from globalisation. Our global trade in goods has increased significantly and today contributes to 41% of the GDP. Of this trade over 70% by value is carried through sea lanes of the Indian Ocean. Similarly our energy supplies, most of which are imported such as oil and natural gas, reach Indian shores by such routes. The figures for our sea borne trade and energy supplies are only going to increase in the future as the Indian economy grows with concomitant rise in demand for energy. As our Prime Minister has often said, our primary task remains social and economic transformation of the country. A necessary condition for us to achieve this objective is to maintain our economic growth which in turn would depend on a stable and predictable flow of energy supplies. The Indian Ocean will therefore continue to remain crucial for India’s growth and also for peace and prosperity of the region at large.

6.  The Indian Ocean Region represents a wide diversity of countries. It includes some of the fastest growing economies of the world on the one hand, and on the other is also home to some economically less fortunate countries. A number of countries in the region also face severe challenges due to ineffective governance not the least of which is the rise of non-state actors who subscribe to extremist ideologies and today constitute the greatest threat to peace and stability. In fact most of the security challenges that the world faces today can be found in this Region. And this has a bearing on maritime security such as the increase in the incidence of piracy off the Horn of Africa. The Mumbai terrorist attack showed that the same sea routes which have contributed to economic growth and prosperity can also be used by terrorists for launching barbaric attacks on civilians.

7. This region is also at the centre-stage of international geo-politics, at a time when regional and global balances of power are shifting and the distribution of power across the world is increasingly getting flatter. This is evident more so in Asia. The recent economic crisis seems to have accelerated this process. The consequent effects of this process are also finding a reflection in the maritime domain. The increase in expression of concerns related to continuation of free access to and stability of the global commons particularly in the maritime sphere is an example. The recent developments related to the South China Sea, Yellow Sea or the Sea of Japan only add to such concerns.

8. The imperatives of trade and economics, energy and security are inter-related in the context of maritime security. As India’s development is predicated on a stable geo-strategic environment, we have an interest in the architecture of maritime security based on the principles of shared security and shared prosperity.  What could be done to develop the road map for such an architecture is a question that confronts us.

9.  The experience in dealing with the problems of piracy off the Horn of Africa seems to provide a useful pointer. In this case naval forces of several countries in the region and also of those outside have come together to deal with the challenge. The concerted and coordinated action by various countries has resulted in some decrease in the incidents of piracy though it cannot be said that the menace has been completely eliminated. There will perhaps always be a limit to what can be achieved by military action alone. The problem of piracy in the region is linked to the instability in some of the countries in the region. What this suggests is that we would need to evolve a broader and more comprehensive framework to deal with such threats.

10. It is also clear that the issue of maritime security, like all other contemporary global challenges, cannot be dealt with by a single country. Furthermore, the issues at stake are such that they affect the peace and prosperity of all countries in the region as well as those outside. For instance the energy security of not just India but also of the U.S. and Japan as well as China all depend on our ability to keeping the sea lanes open in the Indian Ocean. This underscores the need to initiate a discussion with all the stake holders to develop a suitable framework for enhancing maritime security in the region and beyond. Such a framework should not only discuss threats from pirates, terrorists, and proliferators but also work towards enhancing stability in the maritime commons. In this context it is our belief that evolution of a stable, open, inclusive and balanced security and cooperation architecture based on broad consensus of all the powers who have a presence in the region and can contribute to enhancing security, including in its maritime dimension, would be in the interest of all of us. In fact cooperation on issues related to maritime security could in time pave the way for establishing a broader security architecture.

11. India is willing to play an active role in this regard. We have friendly and productive bilateral relations with almost all states in the Indian Ocean region.  Some of the countries in the region are territorial neighbours but all are maritime neighbours and we have historical and civilisational ties with many of these countries. Some have large Indian communities. Maritime security thus gives us a new perspective to our bilateral relations with these countries. We are also engaged in most of the regional bodies in the Indian Ocean region including SAARC, BIMSTEC, ARF, EAS and IOR-ARC.

12. As two leading maritime powers in the region, India and the US, have a responsibility to work together to evolve such a framework. Given the growing maritime cooperation between our nations, I am confident that we can progress towards this objective. Indeed during the recent visit of President Obama, our two countries have affirmed their shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region and have committed to work together, and with others in the region, for the evolution of an open, balanced and inclusive architecture in the region.

13. During the visit our two countries also agreed that the stability of and access to, global commons including in its maritime domain is vital for our security and economic prosperity. In this context, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Obama reaffirmed the importance of maritime security, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation. We believe that a vision for maritime security needs to be developed in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes. We have, in fact, launched a dialogue that covers the maritime, air, space and cyber domains to explore ways to work together with the U.S. as well as with other countries for developing such a vision. The challenge before us is to harness the shifts in geo-politics in a positive way for developing a cooperative security architecture. While some analysts have suggested that there is likely to be more competition in the future, I would argue that evolution of a paradigm of security based on competition is neither inevitable nor desirable in this interconnected world. Of course, whether we succeed in this endeavour will be as much a function of our cooperative efforts as also the responses from other major powers in the region. But given the stakes involved for all of the countries in the Indian Ocean, it should be possible for us to work towards this.

14. I would be well beyond my depth to suggest measures on how the contours of enhanced cooperation at sea need to be shaped and strengthened to an eminent group of mariners.  I am confident that roundtables such as this forum between the Center for Naval Analysis and the National Maritime Foundation will go a long way in promoting a greater understanding of the region and in identifying specific areas where a collaborative effort would be beneficial to both our maritime services, our countries as well as to the larger region.  I wish you all the very best, fair winds and following seas.