naval historian and strategist Alfred
Thayer Mahan had
predicted that the Indian Ocean would gain importance in the 21st
percent of the world’s energy resources emanate from the Gulf and
transit through choke points at Hormuz, Bab el Mandab, Malacca and
the Sunda Straits. The Indian Ocean has been likened to a lake,
unlike the Atlantic and Pacific, which are open expanses.
terrorism plaguing the world, a seminal question that engages the
minds of leaders in South East Asia, China and Japan in the East,
and Iran, UAE and Pakistan in the West, was whether the growing
Indian Navy alone could safely police the Indian Ocean or did the
area need a multilateral approach.
week Admiral Thomas Fargo of US Pacific Command unveiled plans to
guard the Straits of Malacca and immediately Najib Razzak
Malaysia’s Dy. Prime Minister and Defence Minister objected as in
his words, “it touches on the question of our national
sovereignty”. The stability of most countries especially Japan and
China is heavily dependant on the assured supply of gas and oil,
from the Middle East.
world experienced the wrath of terrorism on land including the
recently coordinated attacks in Spain, and from the air on 9/11, but
except for the boat laden explosives attack on USS Cole in Aden in
2000, and another attack on a French tanker in the same area, there
had been no disruption of trade at sea, where 90% of the world’s
cargo is transported.
sinking of a large
ship in the
navigable channels of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Colombo or
Shanghai container terminals, if carried out with the precision that
was displayed by the executors of 9/11, could disrupt exports and
imports for weeks from that port. This would cause stock markets to
dive, insurance premiums to rise and tourism to go into jeopardy.
was with this background that two delegations from Japan were in
India last week, including former Coast Guard and Maritime Self
Defence Force Chiefs led by former Vice Defence Minister Masahiro
Akiyama, to dialogue Indo–Japanese Ocean Security. The
bottom line that emerged was that despite all of Japan’s economic
power and its ODA help to India especially in the power,
infrastructure and automotive sector, there was no clarity on how to
safeguard the sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) in the Indian
Ocean and South China seas.
had constraints. The Constitution of Japan professes Self Defence
only, and restricts export of any defence related or dual use
technology item, and its pacifist attitude restricts its Self
Defence Force to a 1000 mile limit. This limitation is now proving
to be its own nemesis. Therefore a silent battle is raging in Japan
between the aspirations of the young who wish to see Japan become
more self reliant, even nuclear, and break away from the American
defence umbrella, that shields it from nuclear China and now
renegade N. Korea. Older Japanese are steeped in pacifism and abhor
appreciates India’s strategic location and is aware that India’s
young and new economy is set to grow with capacity to absorb
Japanese investment and technologies. However, Japan cannot move
swiftly because India has a record of signing over a dozen Defence cooperation
agreements in the last few years, which enable dialogue, and Japan
is constrained to follow that route.
is also watching India’s changing attitude towards China, which is
fast overtaking Japan in volume of trade. Surprisingly one learnt
that there were 70,814 Chinese students in Japan and 13,806 Japanese
students in China despite their prickly relationship. There are only
264 Indian students in Japan and 65 Japanese students in India.
this backdrop of contradictions in India–Japan strategic
relations, and India’s resolve to build up the Indian Navy, the
challenge before strategists is to decide how to effectively police
the Indian Ocean for the sake of world stability. The debate is
likely to accentuate especially if a single act of terrorism takes
place in the Indian Ocean.