Event ReportsPublished on May 18, 2019
The Maldives preferres a multilateral regional approach to ensuring security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that is collaborative, rules-based and inclusive.
India ties ‘solid rock’, says Maldives Foreign Minister
“The stability of the Indian Ocean Security Architecture hinges on the partnership between Maldives and India,” remarked the Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid while initiating a discussion on “Maldives and Indian Ocean Security Architecture” at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai on 15 May 2019. He said “Maldives’ relationship with India is rock solid.” India was always the first respondent whenever Maldives required external support, whether it was to defeat foreign terrorist mercenaries in 1988 or in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami in 2004, he noted. “Maldives takes its geo-strategic location very seriously,” said  Shahid. “We aim to maintain good relations with all countries, but importantly excellent relations with India and its neighbours in the Indian Ocean.” The ‘Eight Degree Channel’ between India and Maldives is a sea lane of great strategic importance, he pointed out. Containing critical sea lines of communication and carrying more than 65 percent of world’s oil trade, approximately 36 billion barrels per day, the importance of the IOR is now widely acknowledged in the international community. Referring to the Indian Ocean as the highway of global maritime trade”, Shahid went on to explain how the power of the sea in connecting peoples was particularly significant for an island-nation like Maldives. “The Indian Ocean is our source of sustenance,” he emphasised. Freedom of seas Tourism and fisheries were the two vital industries of Maldives, and both of them were enormously dependent on the stability of the Indian Ocean and freedom of the seas. Any shift in the existing security architecture of the Indian Ocean will have enormous consequences for Maldives, pointed out Shahid. In this regard, the Maldives preferred a multilateral regional approach to ensuring security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that is collaborative, rules-based and inclusive. “We believe that the security architecture of the Indian Ocean should be one that can bring every country in the region to the table,” he said. Shahid applauded the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Galle Dialogue for their efforts in confidence building measures, information sharing and increasing transparency. “These are important platforms for bringing together policy makers, naval officers and practitioners that will help regulate maritime activities in this region,” he said. Shahid mentioned in particular the efforts of the Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security. Having been a long-time observer of the activities of the IORA and IONS, Maldives is now keen to contribute to their efforts, the minister added. Reflecting on the recent Easter day attacks in Sri Lanka, Shahid said, “What happened in Sri Lanka is terrible. These events have shaken us all. The threat of terrorism is a serious concern to the Maldives as it should be to all countries in the IOR.” He felt that the most important message to convey to the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan people was one of solidarity. “Maldives stands ready to work hand in hand with the Sri Lanka government and the intelligence community to address the threat of terrorism. We need to fight terrorism across this region together,” he said. Non-traditional threats On the non-traditional security threats affecting this region, Shahid spoke about the transnational crimes of arms-smuggling, human and drug- trafficking. However, the most serious threat came from climate-change.  “Climate-change is a serious security issue for us. It is an existential threat to the Maldivians,” he explained. With the highest land-point in Maldives being no more than 2.5 m above sea-level, climate-change is a serious threat to the very existence of the island-nation. “In terms of climate-change, the future looks bleak for us and perhaps for the rest of the world,” he observed. “We need the entire international community with us in dealing with this issue.” In connection to this, Shahid mentioned he was due to speak at the UN Security Council and the Berlin Climate and Security Conference. It was important to remember that “Maldives is more ocean than land” he remarked. In conclusion, Shahid said, “The security architecture that is emerging in the Indian Ocean holds promise.” He was particularly encouraged by the work done by IORA and IONS and their strong commitment towards “establishing a formal set of mechanisms for a multilateral approach in maintaining order in the IOR.” Shahid went on to add that India was key to these initiatives in the role that it plays, leading the way for “a regional approach in security policy coordination”. He believed, it was in the national interest of Maldives to join India in both IORA and IONS, and give shape to a regional security-architecture. He ended by saying that “Maldives will always be alongside India in contributing to the efforts in upholding order in Indian Ocean.
This report is prepared by Dr. Vinitha Revi, Research Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai
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