Connecting the World to the IOR.
You know, the Indo of the Indo-Pacific
You know, the Indo of the Indo-Pacific
This is our last IOR Bulletin until fall 2021. It's been a great first few runs. We have two great contributions from LTG Wolff and ADM Shekhar Sinha, as guest writers, on observations and trends regarding the Indian Ocean Region.
As the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the land-locked Central Asian country may become a critical node of competition shaping the contours of the larger Indian Ocean Region and even larger Indo-Pacific security environment. Basically, America may think it is leaving Afghanistan, but Afghanistan may not be done with America.
Afghanistan is not the only land centric issue that will impact the security and economic environment of the Indian Ocean Region. In this release, we learn more about the need for India to seriously balance its border conflict with China in a manner that does not create strategic gaps in the maritime environment.
Outside the head-line grabbing activities, there is just a lot going on around the region. From Kenyan concerns about plastic in the Indian Ocean to the attempted assassination of the former Maldivian President, the region continues to be quite dynamic. Finally, while the China-US-India competition tends to draw our attention to the eastern Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, let us not forget the Red Sea (Egypt and Ethiopia will be interesting to watch) and East Africa, especially the development of military deployments to Mozambique by African countries to secure a critical Indian Ocean oriented province from ISIS affiliated extremists.
Hope you enjoy the read below, and we'll se you back in fall 2021!
The IOR and Why It Matters – A Few Observations.
LTG (ret) Terry Wolff, Director, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies
When requested to offer a few thoughts on the Indian Ocean Region, it took me a while to collect my thoughts. Not because of the complexity of the region – though it is complex. Not because most Americans do not know much about the region – they don’t. It took time to collect my thoughts because I have learned so much about the IOR through the perspectives of the nations that are IOR littoral states and those with security and economic interests tied to the IOR.
Consequently, my perspective of this region continues to expand as I have opportunities to listen to regional experts and security practitioners who are dealing with the daily challenges the region presents.
Here is what I have learned studying and thinking about all of this.
First, problems that start on the land transition into the maritime domain quickly and generally cannot be segregated easily. These maritime issues involve individuals, groups, non-state actors and sometimes nations. Consequently, these maritime challenges will be taken back to land for resolution. Thus, the problems and the domains merge and overlap and cannot be divorced from land, the littorals, EEZs or at times blue water.
Second, the IOR actors understand the nature of the security environment – in others words those maritime and security professionals understand the challenges and security issues in the IOR and littoral areas incredibly well. They know where illegal fishing occurs, how smugglers move contraband as well the types of contraband they move. Whether smugglers are moving drugs, fuel, arms, humans, terrorists, to name a few, illicit trade occurs via remarkably simple methods as well as via sophisticated smuggling networks and trafficking chains. The “bad guys” who do this are innovative and use technology to their advantage. Finally, the “good guys” are overwhelmed by data coming in from many places. Helping them turn data into information and that into knowledge is a task we all can help with.
Third, nations respond to these IOR challenges based on their own assessment of their vital national security interests (VNSI) including security and economic interests. Ideally, debates happen inside of the IOR governments regarding littoral challenges and how to deal with these issues. That discussion should generate decisions about national security and economic goals, objectives, and end states, and further discussions about the ways and means applied to tackle the security and economic challenges. Often outsiders merge these issues into policy and academic discussions about “Great Power Competition” or “Strategic Competition”. I firmly believe this is a bit too broad when thinking about “brown water” and “blue economy” issues. At times, I believe that folks from the U.S. and those from the littoral states talk past one another.
Fourth, the IOR actors recognize what needs to be done in these spaces. They do not want anyone to solve their problems, but they do want help. This is where bilateral arrangements, multi-lateral efforts, and public-private partnerships can and need to assist. I would argue that there are plenty of resources available but individuals, ministries within governments, nations, ministries between governments, multi-lateral organizations, and private organizations need to share more and better. I have been in many forums where people generate new solutions to old problems which always involve standing up something new when something old already exists but may not be working or working well enough. I often argue what we need is to do is to fix the exiting problem with a “plumbing solution” – get the existing architecture, process or systems better connected. Do not create a new system that forces us to start over.
In closing, the IOR is too important to ignore for all the reasons that we all recognize. At the same time the security professionals in the region understand the threats and challenges and have recognized the importance of collaborating. That effort takes many forms, but we know we need to “expand the tent” to include as diverse of a group of regional practitioners as possible. Together organizations, nations, and dedicated professionals need to help the IOR practitioners develop their solutions by focusing on being additive and collaborative.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the official policy or position of the NESA Center, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
An Accounting of Trends (MAY- JUNE 2021)
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha
The conventional maritime security situation is monitored by various agencies who have interest in the Indian Ocean Region. Maritime security reporting in the IOR is broadly subdivided into eight different groups as is the case across the maritime globe.
(1). Environmental Issues
(2). Illegal Unreported Unregulated Fishing (this is in large numbers by all accounts).
(3). Natural disasters which have larger implications on future security.
(4). Human migration.
(5). Narcotics and other contraband trafficking with possible terror financing linkages.
(6). Maritime Terrorism.
(7). Piracy/ Robbery.
(8). Other incidents at sea.
(9). Naval exercises.
There was marginal increase (9%) in the piracy/ robbery incidents in the Gulf of Guinea in the month of May 2021 compared to previous month of April 2021, though compared to last year (2020) during same month there has been significant decline. This decline is attributed to larger presence of warships from the EU. The GoG incidents are followed by Straits of Malacca and Singapore.
If we look at the overall situation a total of 264 incidents have been reported during the month of May 2021 by the Indian Ocean Information Centre. Of these nearly one third are cases of human migration (for economic reasons) followed by IUU fishing, contraband/narcotics smuggling and other maritime incidents.
Incidents also need to be seen in comparison to total traffic through the IOR which stood at 145,000 vessels operating through the month of May 2021 of which 21000-22000 vessels were observed at any given instance. It is important to note that with in this kind of traffic, apprehending smaller vessels engaged in illegal activities is daunting task for law enforcement agencies. Also, these numbers give a sense of overall security and the necessity of warship deployments for safe and secure seas for unhindered flow of trade.
Contraband smuggling points to 28% increase in the month of May 2021 compared to the previous month of April. Drug smuggling contributed the most, recording 14% increase followed by fuel and tobacco products which violate local laws.
There was 3% increase in IUU fishing in May 2021 compared to April whereas poaching increased by 14%. To minimize these incidents off the coast of Bangladesh, the country has imposed a 65-day ban on fishing whereas India has a standing ban of 61 days for the east and west coast.
The most disturbing trend though has been in the category of illegal migration which was 18% higher than the previous month. Of these, 75% were observed in the Mediterranean. The travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19 could also have led to this increase. While it is not difficult to conclude that better economic benefits continue to attract migrants, the trend line is also connected to medical security/provision in destination countries.
The incidents of SAR following the capsizing of vessels witnessed marginal rise. Cyclones contributed to a fair share of medevac cases by shore authorities.
Extremely Severe Cyclonic Circulation Tauktae and Very Sever Cyclonic Circulation YAAS lead to large scale devastation of littorals located in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Though better preparation for the cyclones by the coastal states prevented major casualties. Three floating storage & offloading tankers beached on shore in Pakistan which contained hazardous residue. The importance of accurate weather reporting and cooperation amongst various agencies located in different countries cannot be overemphasized.
Technology plays an important role in analyzing the raw data obtained from sensors. There is necessity of international network connectivity if we are to prevent loss of lives and vessels at sea.
The month of June 2021 reflects certain trends. While various challenges to maritime security are on a declining trend, which is to be expected during the monsoon months, contraband smuggling and human trafficking appear to be surpassing previous figures. By mid-June, contraband smuggling reports 48 incidents as against 54 cases in all of May 2021. Similarly human trafficking recorded 45 incidents in the half month of June as against 68 in all of May.
In the overall analysis, seafarers and their governments must get on the same page to lift the global GDP and thereby improve prosperity for better human security. Oceans provide a cheaper and safer medium of transit and more laxed regulatory mechanism. Coastal states necessarily adopt and enforce UNCLOS as well as come to common regulatory framework or else countries and lawbreakers will continue to find and exploit loopholes.
Social disparities and declining growth due to pandemic is a recipe to increase human migration and contraband smuggling. These two forces can push the vulnerable towards maritime piracy, stealing at anchorage and in the worst-case scenario terrorism.
Another worry linked to these activities is terror financing. The sea provides a medium which obliterates money trails thereby making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to book.
The United Nations can play a prominent role by providing leadership in generating common laws for all coastal nations and ensuring compliance through actions such as sanctions. Bilateral and multilateral naval exercises provide for identification of new methods of maritime misuse and development of ways to overcome such challenges. Often VBSS and live engagement fears prevented a crime at sea from happening. Sheer presence of warships has a salutary impact.
1. Outside the expected Chinese negative messaging toward a U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan, Beijing is asking some questions that will have follow-on effects for its strategic considerations in the Indian Ocean Region.
2. The U.S. is marching out of the Middle East and to the Western Pacific to counter China, ignoring China’s growing attempts to gain a more secure foothold in the Middle East.
1. India’s challenge: manage the immediate crisis along its disputed border with China and modernize its military presence in the Indian Ocean to prevent China undermining its political and security position.
2. Ladakh has provided India an opportunity to gain further strategic insight into China.
Virtual Event on Bay of Bengal Strategic Competition:
Please note that not all articles shared under the listed name are the authors of the pieces.
The News Wrap-up
Maldives: Former Maldives President Mohan Nasheed flown to Germany for treatment
Sri Lanaka: Sri Lankans face up to "immesurable" cost of cargo ship disasters
New Indo-Pacific Partnership: Building Australia-Bangladesh Security Ties
The Australia National University, National Security College, Policy Options Paper, No. 20.
Brewster, David. 2021.
Beyond Forever Wars and Great Power Competition: Rethinking the U.S. Military Role in the Middle East
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
1 June 2021
“Nuclear deterrence and stability in South Asia: perceptions and realities”
IISS Research Papers, 20 May 2021
Levesquest, Antoine, Desmond Bowen, and Jack Gill.
India’s Worst Offshore Disaster was Avoidable
Bhaskar, C Uday
21 May 2021
The U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean: India’s ‘Goldilocks’ Dilemma.
War on the Rocks
11 May 2021
China sends a new naval fleet to the Gulf of Aden for escort mission
15 May 2021
NIICE Global Conclave 2021
Bay of Bengal Maritime Workshop – Challenges Emerging Out of the COVID Environment
NESA Center and National Maritime Foundation Event
The State of Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean
Defence and Security Alert
MENA Regional Waters: a Workshop on the Red Sea/Arabian Sea Smuggling Conundrum
The Arctic Is No Substitute for Suez. We Should Keep It That Way.
6 April 2021
UN envoy: Study other options to prevent Yemen tanker spill
Lederer, Edith M
15 June 2021
In Search of the Sea
ORF, Issue Briefs and Special Reports
Houthis Lay Sea Mines In Red Sea; Coalition Boasts Few Minesweepers
Iran’s biggest navy ship sinks after fire in Gulf of Oman
2 June 2021
United States Department of Defense FY22 Budget Request
China Looks to East Africa for Second Indian Ocean Foothold
To Tighten India's Grip in Indian Ocean Region, Cabinet Approves RS4077 Crore Deep Ocean Mission
Kenya: Coast Guard Alarmed by Plastic Waste Pollution in Indian Ocean
Container ship hit by suspected missile attack in Indian Ocean
Modi speaks with Vietnam, PM says both nations share vision of rules based Indian Ocean Region
Times of India
China in the Indian Ocean, an Essential for Strategic Balance
India US Navies Hold Complex Air and Sea Drills
India Seeks more Cooperated Integrated Future for the Indian Ocean Region
HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH ....
Transits Suez Canal
Japan's MSDF to hold joint drill
IOR Bulletin Perspective
We opened this year of inaugural IOR Bulletin activity with three view points from guest contributors. The writers noted several larger trends worth watching: an uptick across the region of illicit activity risking the forward progress made on climate, blue economy, and counter piracy; the seemingly inevitable maritime competition between India and China; and the role of small states and other actors in shaping the geopolitical contours of the Indian Ocean Region.
Those within the community took us on a journey through several facets of the issues highlighted by our guest contributors. We learned about cross-purposing vessels by trafficking organizations in order to avoid detection and the implications of the International Court of Justice’s Chagos Island ruling on Mauritius and the Maldives to name but a few items. India came up in many contexts. One of the most pressing points repeatedly discussed for India was domestic economic considerations’ impact on its ability to meet China in the Indian Ocean naval arms competition.
Geostrategic and maritime competition between India, China, and the United States played an obviously large role, but so too did the agency of small states, especially island states. This small states matter line of argument will be interesting to watch now that India, China, and the United States have successfully matured their relationships into one of strategic competition. A question we are wondering is: will small states’ responses to this competition and the increased presence of European actors act as a spoiler to the greater competition between India, China, and the United States or is it merely a side-show, interesting but not all that geostrategically relevant to the shaping of the 21st Century?
While the evolving role of Europe in the Indian Ocean is rising to prominence out of Germany, the Netherlands, and France all articulating Indo-Pacific strategies, we must not forget about the Middle East. Maritime security issues are growing around the peninsula, expanding into the Red Sea. Several incidents involving Iran and Israel combined with increasing island state engagement activities by Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Turkey - to name a few - in the broader Indian Ocean suggest the traditional land-centric, proxy war nature of the region may be transforming before our eyes. Where does this take the Indian Ocean Region – will the Northwestern Indian Ocean become more unstable with piracy, terrorism, and state maritime conflict? Worth considering, will Israel become a small-state with big Indian Ocean aspirations?
Another major trend this year was the environment. From SAFER, Chinese and Japanese oil spills off Mauritius, to the recent disaster in Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean’s environment sustained several hits. Can these incidents lead to a broader discussion across the region on environmental resiliency, and how will the above noted competition influence the environmental dialogue that may emerge across the region? The QUAD has stated climate change is on the agenda, but will this agenda meet the needs of the region or simply subsume the region’s related maritime safety, resiliency, and development needs to the security and geostrategic interests of the QUAD?
Finally, there is everything else. As we noted in the April 2021 IOR Bulletin, from Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ethiopia – Eritrea to Myanmar there is a lot of uncertainty. The question post summer worth exploring might just be, where is there positive trajectory and how might the region build on that trajectory?
Next IOR Bulletin – November 2021. Inputs always welcome early.
Check out -- www.iorbulletin.com for this and previous editions of the IOR Bulletin
See you in fall 2021!