Academic journal article Georgetown Journal of International Law

I.O. 2.0: Indian Ocean Security and the Law of the Sea

Academic journal article Georgetown Journal of International Law

I.O. 2.0: Indian Ocean Security and the Law of the Sea

Article excerpt

  I. INTRODUCTION   II. POLITICAL CONTEXT  III. LAW OF THE SEA      A. The Baseline      B. Territorial Seas and International Straits      C. Exclusive Economic Zones and the Continental Shelf      D. Archipelagic States         1. Mauritius         2. The Maldives         3. Seychelles      E. Declarations of States      F. Seabed Mining in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction   IV. STRATEGIC GEOGRAPHY OF THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION      A. Western Indian Ocean         1. Iran         2. Oman         3. Pakistan      B. Central Indian Ocean         1. India            a. Maritime Boundaries            b. Maritime Power         2. British Indian Ocean Territory         3. Southern Indian Ocean      C. Eastern Indian Ocean         1. China   IV. CONCLUSION      A. American Power and Freedom of Navigation      B. A New India 


In his recent book Monsoon, inveterate traveler and political observer Robert D. Kaplan recounts a tour of contemporary Indian Ocean geopolitics. (1) Kaplan journeys from Oman to Pakistan to Burma and Indonesia, highlighting the historical, cultural and geographic features of the region. Piracy, ethnic conflicts, and hostile control of choke points like the Strait of Malacca, are some of the prominent threats. The rivalry between India and Pakistan dominates an arc of instability that stretches from Iran to Burma. As the British liberal inheritance quickly fades in Islamabad, the government in New Delhi vacillates between stagnant socialism and dynamic entrepreneurship.

Thus, while nuclear weapons are the backbone of Indian and Pakistani security policy, strategic deterrence and therefore regional stability on the subcontinent is elusive. The story in Monsoon is one of a precarious region on the edge of a precipice, between religious turmoil coming from the Middle East and a tantalizing model of super-charged economic development from East Asia.

This Article provides a political and legal roadmap of Kaplan's majestic work, analyzing the most pressing issues affecting Indian Ocean security against the backdrop of international law. The Indian Ocean provides a look at regional politics from the maritime perspective, which is a fundamentally different lens than that obtained by focusing on the land terrain. (2) At the intersection of geographic--and therefore geopolitical--dimensions of the Indian Ocean and the international laws--regimes and rules that serve as a backdrop against which geopolitics unfolds--this Article serves as a complement to Monsoon by providing a vision of how the international law of the sea will help to shape strategy.

The central narrative arc in this drama involves a collision of two rivalries--the India-Pakistan security dyad, and the gathering competition between China and the United States. These two adversarial security relationships may be thought of as two concentric circles that overlap in the Indian Ocean, with China supporting Pakistan and the United States moving closer to India (even as it moves farther from Pakistan). India, Pakistan, China, and the United States dominate the politics of the Indian Ocean region, even though China and the United States are located outside of the maritime terrain.

This Article argues that the international law of the sea has served to help alleviate, as well as in some ways facilitate conflict in the Indian Ocean. In Section II, this Article outlines the political and historical context for the current state of geo-politics in the Indian Ocean region. Section III continues by examining the international law of the sea by drawing on examples from interested parties in the Indian Ocean. Finally, Section IV examines the contribution of the law of the sea to the complex strategic geography of the Indian Ocean region.


The strategic and historical context shapes the legal environment. Beginning with the break-up of the British Raj in 1947-48, India and Pakistan have fought three wars. …

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