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Q 58- Explain the relevance of India's efforts to shape the strategic and military dynamics of the Indian Ocean region while discussing the strategic significance of Indian Ocean islands and the challenges they face. (250 words)

  • Paper & Topic: GS II à International Relations
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  • Model Answer:
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  • Introduction:
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  • As global power dynamics change from west to east, regional powers, especially China and India, have altered their geo-strategies and foreign relations focus to an ocean-based strategy.
  • The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is becoming increasingly important to the global order in general and the Indian subcontinent in particular.
  • The security of India's national interests depends on a secure IOR.
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  • Body:
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  • The following are the main reasons for the increasing importance of Indian Ocean islands:
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  • Their strategic location, which is critical for building a regional naval presence, as well as their proximity to sea lines of communication (SLOCs), which makes patrolling in the region easier in both peace and war.
  • The presence of these big countries in the Indian Ocean region, in the form of naval bases, trade, and infrastructure development aid, legitimises their status as security providers, allowing them to exert more influence in the region.
  • Islands in the Indian Ocean are strategically placed near vital transit routes, giving them access to and control over key chokepoints and waterways, and so their key geographies have the potential to affect geopolitical competition.
  • To the west of India, the islands of Socotra (Yemen), Madagascar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, which lie at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and South Asia, have gained strategic importance.
  • While Socotra is strategically placed at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Maldives, and the Seychelles have maritime zones spanning over one million square kilometres, giving them more rights in ocean waters.
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  • Challenges:
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  • India faces a challenge from China's fast rising presence in the northern Indian Ocean, as well as the deployment of Chinese submarines and ships in the area.
  • Traditional risks include belligerent nations' military presence and the resulting strategic rivalry, as well as terrorism, piracy, and illegal smuggling; non-traditional threats include climate change's challenges, such as rising natural disasters and the loss of traditional livelihoods.
  • As a result, tight cooperation between these island nations and bigger coastal countries becomes a practical requirement, and it is important to the region's stability.
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  • India's efforts are significant:
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  • As part of strengthening its marine engagement, India has increased its cooperation with Indian Ocean littoral states and maritime neighbours.
  • The Navy conducts Joint Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance with the Maldives, Seychelles, and Mauritius, as well as Coordinated Patrols (CORPAT) with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia, as part of the 'Neighbourhood First' policy.
  • Search and rescue, as well as capability building, have emerged as important topics.
  • In addition to escorting Indian flagged vessels, other countries' ships have also been protected.
  • India's Indian Ocean policy, enshrined in "SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region," articulates the country's vision for constructing a secure regional architecture, which includes "safeguarding mainland and islands, strengthening maritime neighbours' capacities, and advancing peace and security" in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • For a country like India, the Indian Ocean's island states have enormous strategic relevance in shaping the region's geopolitical contours and guaranteeing maritime security and order.
  • The Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar, as well as Lakshadweep, have aided the country in improving its maritime capabilities tremendously.
  • This allows India to keep a close eye on military and economic activity in and around the Strait of Malacca, as well as the western Pacific countries' maritime entrance point into the Indian Ocean.
  • The Indian Navy has helped the islands of Mauritius, the Maldives, and the Seychelles chart ocean waters in order to secure marine security.
  • India has also spearheaded the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which aims to strengthen maritime security through naval cooperation among its 35 members, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which brings together 21 countries to work on security, governance, blue economy promotion, and cultural tourism.
  • The inclusion of the Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar in these multilateral forums demonstrates India's attempts to foster security and development by incorporating all players, regardless of their economic or naval capabilities.
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  • Conclusion:
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  • India has charted the path to becoming a "influential" and "responsible" leader in the Indian Ocean region, echoing Alfred Mahan's comments that "whoever attains control of the Indian Ocean, will dominate Asia."
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