Event ReportsPublished on May 09, 2014
Observer Research Foundation, with support from the Ministry of External Affairs, hosted the Indian Ocean Dialogue 2014. The event witnessed participation of delegates from the far corners of the Indian Ocean and beyond, capturing the vastness and diversity of the region.
Indian Ocean Dialogue 2014

Observer Research Foundation, with support from the Ministry of External Affairs, hosted the Indian Ocean Dialogue 2014. The event witnessed participation of delegates from the far corners of the Indian Ocean and beyond, capturing the vastness and diversity of the region.

Secretary (DPA & ER) at the Ministry of External Affairs, Amb Sujata Singh, highlighted how the growing need for raw materials and other natural resources, including the energy to fuel development in the countries in this region, has given an added strategic perspective to the trade that traverses the region. There is now a comparatively faster pace of economic activity in Asia, which encompasses enhanced flows of labour, goods and capital. It has also contributed to the shift of global focus towards the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, the Indian Ocean region has simultaneously been confronted with the threat of piracy and other maritime security challenges, including the need to protect sea lines of communication that today must include ensuring global broadband connectivity through undersea cables.

The Indian Ocean region has been dominated by external powers for 500 years. This led to the development of non-regional rivalries and competition in the region, along with the subordination of local tensions as well as their isolation from the whole. The domination of the region by regional actors such as India therefore means that the nature of rivalry itself, and its dynamics, will change. The geopolitical dimensions of the Indian Ocean have been changing, at its core caused by maritime disputes and strategic competition among traditional powers. The Indian Ocean region at present is marked with four T’s: Turbulence, Turmoil, Tension and Transition. The session debated the emergence of India, the rise of China, The shift in the role of the US as part of their deliberations and agreed on the need to reform regional security architecture to stabilise the Indian Ocean.

Because of the economic growth of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the waters of the Indo-Pacific have become central to the region’s economic future. Unlike the continental disposition of the past, the nature of trade (being sea lane dependent) has made us more interdependent, forcing some of us to turn towards a maritime mindset. But coinciding with this maritime focus, the waters have become vulnerable to new threats. The contestation over these waters has also significantly increased. This makes issues of maritime security particularly salient. The discussion on the specifics of these threats revolved around the following themes, featuring a strong focus on the need for more information exchange: Piracy, Maritime Terrorism, Information Sharing, and the Capacity Gap

The session on enhancing regional cooperation called for a viable institutions to be created in the region based on economic dialogue and cooperation with the objective to promote sustainable growth and balanced development in the Indian Ocean Region, and to create common ground for regional economic cooperation amongst its Member States. IORA initiatives in this regard were lauded as they do not compete with or undermine existing bilateral regional or multilateral arrangements of the region, and accordingly it endorses the principles of mutual cooperation, non-intrusion, and consensual decision-making. In spite of this great potential, the IORA as an organisation gained little traction due to a combination of lack of direction, competing interests, sparse resources, and most of all the absence of homogeneity.

The session on information sharing in many ways added specificity to the requests for greater information sharing by littoral countries voiced in the session on maritime security. That session had discussed in detail the nature and consequences of sub-state threats in the IOR. The point made was that since most maritime security threats emanate from land, a robust system of information exchange is required to make maritime operations effective. The discussion revolved around several themes, including the success and failure of pilot projects thus far such as the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). It also delved into the political bottlenecks to greater cooperation.

The fifth session of the Indian Ocean Dialogue 2014 focussed primarily on the threat of natural and manmade disasters in the IOR, and how cooperation among the Member States can help in disaster management and relief operations. The session also concentrated on the need to study the ecosystem of the IOR and create early warning mechanisms to better prepare populations against such disasters. The discussion also briefly dwelt on the demographics of the region, due to which such disasters have a greater impact than they would on other parts of the world.

The final session focussed on trade and voiced a strong desire to consciously promote trade between IORA countries, both in imports and exports. Homogeneous standards across the region’s ports are necessary for trade to be effective; this standardisation must occur at the policy level. The challenge lies in bringing a convergence of standards for such studies as well as the identification of technical barriers. There is a need to bring landlocked countries and the hinterland into the IOR trading and economic systems so to as to maximise the potential of the market and create economies of scale. Furthermore, infrastructure development (especially port infrastructure) remains a challenge for the IORA. However, there are some grand plans on the way. Given the scale and nature of diversities, it would be optimal for IORA to start agglomerating the work of sub-regional trading systems and structures that emerge, and slowly start integrating them as its understanding of the dynamics increases.

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