The third edition of India’s maritime strategy, Ensuring Secure Seas- Indian Maritime Security Strategy has just been released by the Indian Navy. The first edition, which was not a public document, laid a 25 year roadmap till 2015 and was published in 1989. The second edition, published in 2008 titled ‘Freedom to use the Seas’ was the first public document in the series. A written strategy engages the myriad actors who contribute to maritime security, right from the industry, the naval planner and the statesmen. It gives them a broad frame work of maritime security and suggests conceptual and material solutions to maritime problems.
This edition, in its forward by Chief of Naval Staff, cites three salient maritime developments that have inspired the revision. The evolution of a new global construct of Indo Pacific, Rise of non-traditional security threats in Indian Ocean region such as the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai and India’s clearer recognition of maritime security, with increased engagement of the IOR littorals.
The new strategy is articulated in a distinct format. Initial chapter offers perspectives, imperatives and influencers for maritime security as a prelude to the strategy, informing the reader about the structure of the book. With that as a back drop it lists strategies for
- Shaping environment
- Coastal security
- Force development.
So, how is this strategy different from previous strategy? One finds it leaner and as a document that has responded to the major maritime and geopolitical developments in the interregnum since the last one was published. Apart from that, there are changes in its structure with several additions and deletions compared to the older version. The previous edition, as the first public maritime strategy document, had dwelled on basic tenets more whereas this document gets straight into the business. The entire historic section that articulated evolution of strategy in Indian context is out from the new edition. Instead the first chapter in the new document says what’s in store in in it, preparing the reader. The rest of the sections list out the strategies per se.
The previous document ‘Freedom to Use the Seas’ envisaged a 15 year shelf life for itself. However this revision, in ‘half-life’ is a most welcome development considering the quicker technological and geopolitical shifts around us. This shorter time frame, incidentally matches with the frequency at which other modern navies review its Maritime Strategy.
Overall there has been a greater thrust on non-traditional threats in the new strategy, when compared to the old one. The most significant maritime event after the publication of previous edition was 26/11 incident.The attacks on Mumbai by Pak sponsored terrorists had reinforced the fact that unconventional threats can always surprise a country and a maritime military strategy tailored for pure ‘Naval Encounters’. In all fairness, Maritime Military Strategy 2007 did account for LIMO scenarios but scale and effect of the 26/11 incident demanded a more comprehensive national strategy involving all constabulary and intelligence agencies. Therefore, new strategy has a complete chapter dedicated to coastal security. In a similar note, piracy too has been given greater thrust in the new strategy.
The erstwhile section on strategy for peace has given way to one on strategy of deterrence. Perhaps, since Navy’s role in peace is indeed to contribute to deterrence. Whilst the chapter’s title has changed there is no substantial change in its content. On ground, the navy has moved forward with the launch of Arihant. Therefore, this is a change in semantics possibly in anticipation of the triad becoming a reality in the near future.
A concept that has found repeated mention in the new document is that of net security. Broadly one can reckon this as the navy being capable to deal with existing threats with surplus reserves to contribute to the international community in the region. As Indian Ocean is more a conduit for global trade, there is certain ‘social’ responsibility to ensure free flow of commerce that runs the engines of global growth. This shift also calls for a surplus in capacity beyond what could be tied down with current threats. Form will have to follow this intended function.
Reflecting the greater national thrust on diaspora, the Overseas Indian finds a place in the document. The document also formally ushers an addition to maritime lexicon- NEO or the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations. With a large number of Indian expatriate populations working in trouble torn nations, this is a valid inclusion. Capitalizing on experience from evacuations from Libya and Yemen, this role has got formalized in the new document.
Freedom of navigation finds a mention in the document. A chief role of the navies is protection of trade which is enabled by the tenet of Mare Liberum- or oceans as global commons. This is the corner stone of global commerce, 90% of which happens via the oceans. This is a much needed inclusion at a time when a threat to free flow of maritime commerce can upset the global system. Though implied indirectly in the previous editions, this edition has made a direct mention of Freedom of Navigation.
Also of interest is recognition of competition and cooperation as an enduring theme in geopolitics. Navies, unlike sister services interact with other navies more frequently. This interaction could be chance encounters or a planned rendezvous. A clearer understanding of the coexistence of both ‘C’s is essential to the often young commander at sea, who operates independently with little options of counsel. More than land and air counterparts he requires the wisdom to discern and act in a given situation in a mature manner. Therefore, this inclusion is significant in the document.
Maritime Military Strategy is at cusp of both Maritime Strategy and Military Strategy. Whilst the document is a ‘naval’ creation, its context is broader, ‘maritime’ canvas of security. The defense and maritime industry, state marine police and other multiple maritime agencies are all stakeholders in maritime affairs. It also shares the ‘military domain’ with sister services which are partners in security. The wide scope of a maritime strategy can be put to practice only with a high degree of synergy and cohesion between myriad agencies that deal with maritime security.
Articulating a strategy is never an easy task, especially when ‘ambiguity’ is often made fashionable for wrong reasons. Navies which are capital and technology intensive take years to evolve and they require a road map to tread on. The bottom line of any strategy is safeguarding national interests. The threats today vary wildly in scale and variety ranging from traditional to the unconventional. This complicates the task of articulating a strategy which is dynamic enough to address that broad spectrum of threats. In my opinion, the authors have done a commendable task of addressing the myriad maritime issues in a most lucid manner. The navy also deserves credit for saying what it intends to do for the second time over.
This is a relevant document that will be useful to the soldier, scholar and statesmen and will serve as a template to follow and even as a point of departure if situation so demands. Navy having articulated its view there is a need to for wider engagement by industry, think tanks, policy makers and scholars with this document where its contents can be deliberated. Only such a feedback process can improve what has been stated therein.
M H Rajesh is a Research Fellow at USI, New Delhi.