The Indian Ocean spans from the east coast of Africa and south coast of Asia to the west coast of Australia and down to the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean isn’t always recognized as an official ocean, so some sources extend the Indian Ocean all the way down to Antarctica.
The Importance of Indian Ocean for India
Indian occupies a central and strategic location in the Indian Ocean area. Its national and economic interests are inseparably linked up with Indian Ocean. Hence to keep the Indian Ocean as a zone of Peace free from superpower rivalry and increasing cooperation among littoral countries in the region has always been India’s foreign Policy’s goal for example Look East policy, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, BIMSTEC and Ganga-Mekong Cooperation etc.
Writing in the 1940s, KM Pannikar argued that
No industrial development, no commercial growth, no stable political structure is possible for her unless her shores are protected. Most of the conflicts since the end of the Cold War have also taken place in or around the Indian Ocean region.
As a result almost all the world’s major powers have deployed substantial military forces in the Indian Ocean region.
A major concern of India in the Indian Ocean is energy. India is fourth-largest economy in the world, which is almost 70 per cent dependent on oil import, major part of which comes from gulf region.
Although continental Shelf of Mumbai High, Gulf of Khambat and Krishna-Godavari basin are rich in petroleum and natural gas. Inspite of this India’s economic security demands that all the sea lanes leading to the Indian Ocean, particularly the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca be kept open at all the times.
Apart from this Indian Ocean has an important role to play in keeping the moderate climate of the Southern India. Along with strategic importance. Indian Ocean is the only fishing ground for coastal fisherman is India. Due to huge marine recourses it spreads prosperity in coastal plains of India.
Factors which Affected the Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the only ocean named after a country and it is named so on account of the dominant position of India in this region from ancient times.
Until recently, it was considered a neglected ocean. However, the Indian Ocean which has 36 littoral and 11 hinterland countries, has become one of the most important zones of geopolitical activity after the Second World War.
The root of this emerging situation can be seen in Mackinder’s Heartland Theory, which led this region into a zone of conflicts between super power countries.
Indian Ocean which was referred to as inner crescent by Mackinder and “rim-land” by Spykman occupies a strategic position on the world map. It was believed that the control over it would lead to acquiring a dominant position in the world politics.
Neocolonialism of US:
The desire of the USA in collaboration with Britain to control the sea-lanes of the world has led to super power rivalry in the Indian Ocean.
To gain control over Afro-Asian countries in their imperialistic zeal, the US converted Diego Garcia into a nuclear base reportedly to keep the oil lines in the Indian Ocean operative in 1973, but in fact no oil goes to the USA or UK through Diego Garcia. The US and UK have raised several times the fear of communism.
Now, when communist USSR has disintegrated into independent states and the communist world has gone through tremendous changes, the USA and UK do not need to use this ‘fear plank’ to develop their bases in the Indian Ocean.
The USA and UK and several other countries have many bases in the Indian Ocean which are in fact meant to control trade in the region and for subjugating the resource rich areas of Afro-Asia.
One more reason for developing bases in the Indian Ocean is that through its presence the US can pressurise the Indian Ocean states. The presence of the US in the Indian Ocean is a direct threat to the sovereignty of the native states and is a part of neocolonialism strategy of the US.
The Indian Ocean’s strategic significance attracted the attention of the great powers with the discovery of oil wealth of the Persian Gulf region.
The Indian Ocean, due to this fact, has special significance for the West in general and the US in particular. This ocean is termed as “oil line of the West” as most of their oil requirements depend on the native states of the Indian Ocean. OPEC countries, from time to time, have put some pressure on the western countries. For the West it is necessary that oil reaches them without any hindrance. The US policy through its presence regulates the price of oil. Also West Asia is not able^to use oil as a weapon against the West in case of any confrontation.
The US and its allies have vested interests in this region. But in the case of former USSR, the reason was a little different. It wanted to have control over some areas for defence purposes.
Other factors which affected the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean are as follows:
1. Indian Ocean has a great importance because it is the vital sea route between the West and the East.
2. Many unexploited lands lie on this route. Probability of exploitation of sea-bed resources which has become feasible after the recent international sea-bed treaty is another factor.
3. The world is changing fast and new political interests are emerging rapidly. The changing scenario has attracted the direct or indirect involvement of western of countries. The conflicts in the Gulf region are cited as justification of US presence in the region.
4. The native states and countries of the Indian Ocean are varied in their international political ideology and behaviour. To balance the power, grouping of the countries is a common phenomenon which has led to militarisation of the Indian Ocean.
5. Unstable political conditions and deteriorating relations amongst the countries of the Indian subcontinent has led to the presence of the US and its allies in the region.
India has realised the strategic implications of the presence of super powers added to the fact that it also has to face hostile neighbours. Keeping these dangers in mind, India has taken the most appropriate stand of keeping the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.
Bulk of India’s foreign trade, oil- mining, salt production etc., depend on the Indian Ocean. It has to think for the safety of the islands in the Ocean also. Different native countries also depend on the Indian Ocean in different forms. In fact, India is one of the pioneers to raise the demand of maintaining Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and has strongly advocated for it at all the international forums.
On the other hand, India has also been trying to promote friendly relationship among all the native states to reduce tensions and has been working to get strong support of all for maintaining the ocean as a zone of peace.
The Indian stand combined with that of the native states has resulted in restriction of the military race in the region.