Progressing Maritime Security Cooperation in the Indian Ocean

Article excerpt

The theme of the second Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), hosted in Abu Dhabi by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Navy on 10-12 May 2010, was "Together for the Reinforcement of Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean."1 Navy chiefs of service and senior maritime security officers or their representatives from thirty of the thirty-two Indian Ocean region (IOR) navies and maritime security forces gathered for this significant event. Participants from the diverse Indian Ocean littoral came from the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia.2 Pakistan, which had declined an invitation to attend the first IONS meeting, in New Delhi in 2008, was represented by the local air attaché. In addition, extraregional maritime force participants included the U.S. Navy, represented by Commander, Naval Forces, U.S. Central Command, Vice Admiral William Gortney, and the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral BruceW. Clingan; the Italian Navy, represented by its chief, Admiral Bruno Branciforte; and the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which sent a senior delegation. Notable was the absence of participants fromthe navies of other external countries with significant and growing interests in the IOR, for example, China, Russia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

The opening ceremony saw India, the founder and inaugural chair of IONS, represented by Admiral Nirmal Verma, the Indian Navy chief, pass chairmanship for the next two years to his UAE counterpart, Brigadier Naval Staff Ibrahim Salim Mohamed Al-Musharrakh. Admiral Verma spoke of the vision of IONS bringing regional navies together for the greater collective good: to enhance safety and security, to share knowledge, and to support disaster relief and humanitarian assistance for "the larger benefit of mankind." Brigadier Al-Musharrakh noted that the concept of security had changed, that it was no longer simply about territory but now encompassed issues like water availability and the environment. He stated that trade protection, law and order, regional stability, and the effects of climate change were key collective-security issues for the region. He emphasized the need for regional naval forces to work together to ensure that the IOR continued to be a source of growth and well-being in the face of common threats and challenges.

Indian Ocean regional maritime security has become a key factor as the IOR transitions from an international backwater, a mere thoroughfare for maritime trade, to status as amajor global nexus of resource, human, economic, and environmental issues. The IONS theme suggested a regionmoving toward maritime security cooperation; there was considerable convergence of views on related issues and recognition of the need to take collective approaches.

Moving froma common understanding of issues and aspirations to cooperation to effective action presents enormous challenges. This is particularly the case for the Indian Ocean, which does not have region-wide security architectures, a common regional identity, a history of regional cooperation, or accepted regional leadership frameworks. Significant problems are also posed by the need to recognize the interests and accommodate the involvement of regional powers, as well as of extraregional powers, like China and theUnited States.Nonetheless, emerging strategic and security circumstances in the medium and long terms dictate a compelling need for effective IORmaritime security cooperation. This article analyzes the prospects of, and offers ideas for,progressingmaritime security cooperation in that region.


The international system is fundamentally anarchic, with states acting in accordance with their perceived national interests.3 If progress is to be made toward effectivemaritime security cooperation among nation-states, there needs to be a strong sense that commonly held interests are threatened, at risk, or vulnerable and that cooperative action among states will help to protect them. …