Before knowing Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean and South Asia let us understand what is Geopolitics? The formation of political strategies based on geopolitical facts to obtain special political or economic benefits is called Geopolitics.
South Asia and the Indian Ocean realm have become geopolitically important because of their strategic location.
Geopolitics of Indian Ocean
a) India has a long coastline in the Indian Ocean, it is also the biggest littoral country. These two factors reinforced India’s dominant position in the Indian Ocean region.
b) India in the past as well now concerned about peace, how to prevent unauthorized invasions in the Indian Ocean and protect the exploitation of mineral resources in other countries.
c) The growing naval ambitions of China and the increasing presence of Chinese naval bases pose military challenges to India.
d) The presence of neighboring countries with nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan and China, is forcing India to establish a sophisticated nuclear defense system. India must develop the secondary attack capability of nuclear weapons.
e) India’s growing dependence on Oil and Gas Resources in Western Asia requires the participation of India in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
The geographical as wells responsible for the geopolitical importance of the Indian Ocean can be grouped into 3 headings.
- The strategic location of the Indian Ocean
- Dynamics of Cold-War
- Concerns in the Post Cold-War era
1) The Strategic Location of the Indian Ocean and its Importance
a) It is located at the confluence of the three Oceans and has many coastal states along its banks. It has been surrounded by 46 Countries(27 literal including Australia, 12 Landlocked and 7 Island countries as recognized by UN)
It acts as a bridge between east and west. It is the link between Europe-Asia, Asia-North America and Asia-Africa.
b) The Indian Ocean extends over Antarctica, which is a continent with enormous potential. Antarctica has always been an untapped continent and offers huge opportunities for the future.
c) The proximity of the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and potentially rich in Hydro-Carbons strengthened its geopolitical importance.
d) The marginalized people of Bab-el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz in the west and Strait of Malacca in the east of the Indian Ocean, where it also places a geopolitical challenge in the region.
Also read: International Boundaries of India
2) The Indian Ocean became a region of Geopolitics due to Dynamics of the Cold War
a) The first phase of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region began with the division of the world according to the ideological factors of Capitalism and Communism.
The emergence of superpowers such as the USA and the USSR dwarfed the importance of colonial powers like the British UK, France, Netherlands in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.
The British Indian Ocean Treaty (BIOT) of Deigo Garcia has been leased to the United States, which has developed a fully-fledged naval and airbase with the intention of securing the oil resources of West Asia and preparing for defense during the period of the Cold War.
Both the USA and USSR sought as many bases as possible in middle West Asia and North Eastern Africa to prevent each other from gaining strategic and military superiority in the world.
b) The next phase of Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region during the Cold war era began after superpowers developed new weapons systems such as Ballistic missiles launched from submarines.
As a result, in the 1960s, both the USA and USSR began acquiring new naval and air bases to complement their global defense strategy based on these new weapon systems.
The growing presence of super-power politics in the Indian Ocean region led to the concept of ‘Zone of peace’ in the Indian Ocean region proposed initially by Srilanka in 1971 and endorsed by the United States General Assembly.
The superpowers have defeated the concept by demanding the coastal states in the Indian Ocean region to comply with the peace zone agreement thereby creating difficult conditions for countries like India to develop nuclear weapons and sophisticated missile systems.
Few coastal countries did not support the ‘Zone of Peace’ assuming India’s growth as a superpower without existing superpowers in the region.
c) Another factor that contributed to the geopolitical/strategic importance of the Indian Ocean was the growing military and economic might of China, especially in the 1980s. This posed a treat to southeast Asian countries which insisted on US presence in the region.
ASEAN was created primarily to counter the Chinese military threat. Thus, the rivalry of the Cold War and Oil security of the Middle East played a fundamental role in the geopolitical era of the Cold War of the Indian Ocean.
3) Concerns in the Post-Cold War Era
a) China’s military positions – The spoiling relations between former USSR and USA, as indicated by the START-1 treaty of 1987, the end of the cold war in 1990 and disintegration of the USSR in 1991 has changed the geopolitics over the Indian Ocean.
Following factors have become important in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean in the Cold War Era:
i) The military postures of China in the Taiwan Straits and Spratley Islands pose a threat to Southeast Asian countries, such as the Korea peninsula and Japan. The countries in this region have insisted on the US presence to counteract the military power of China.
ii) Energy security of the West and increasing dependence of Industrialised countries like Japan on Oil and Gas resources of the Middle East demand peace in the Persian Gulf and neighboring regions.
Carter Doctrine has led to the creation of a rapid development force with sophisticated and versatile military force to intervene directly in response to any crisis in the Gulf.
iii) The growing presence of international terrorist groups in the South Asian region, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, has also reinforced the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean.