Maldives is a large but sparsely populated atoll nation in the Indian Ocean. Its idyllic beaches are paradise in the winters but the global financial crisis has greatly affected tourism, the principal earner of foreign exchange for it’s over 300,000 people. Maldives is also an important outpost in the Indian Ocean for global trade security. Thus it is strategically vital for the global community to ensure security of the Atoll nation on priority. The Indian Ocean littoral is emerging as a major area of strategic significance given the large quantum of trade passing through the same. Maldives is strategically located astride the major sea lanes and the North South configuration of the atolls which occupy a vast space render it all the more important for securing trade passing through the area. However the country lacks the resources to ensure safety of this vast maritime commons.
Maldives is highly vulnerable given its large number of atolls and many of them unpopulated. These are ideal for rogue regimes, piracy groups and other malcontents to occupy. Enlarged this may even see a rogue regime attempting to take over in Male as it happened in the 1980’s. A strong stable presence is essential to shore up defences of Maldives particularly its peace loving people who only now taste the fruits of democracy.
Thus India as the only major littoral state has a responsibility to the global community to ensure that this flow is not interrupted. With growing danger of piracy and the large number of unpopulated atolls in the Maldives, it is particularly important that this area is fully secured for which India is best placed. Thus it is in overall global interests given the large quantum of trade passing through this region which is likely to grow exponentially once the present financial crisis recedes that these sea lanes are secured by a cooperative grid established by India and the Maldives.
This month India and Maldives agreed to establish just such a security grid which will ultimately ensure that the global trade passing through the Indian Ocean is free from piracy attacks as seen off the Somalian coast. This global trade safety net through the Indian Ocean will be led by India in partnership with Maldives given their strategic location and large naval presence.
Skeptics also see this as a part of the maneuver-counter maneuver on going between India and China in South Asia. If China is building a port in Hambantota, India outflanks the same by a strong presence in Male and so on, what could even be termed as a great game in the Indian Ocean which will be seen in the years ahead.
But this assumption is flawed for it is physically impossible for China to have a major presence in the Indian Ocean in the near future given that its area of influence is in the Pacific and the South China Sea. Operating on exterior lines of communications without viable bases, the Chinese fleet would be heavily hampered logistically.
More over in the era of global commons, all nations have to come together to fight the challenge from extremism and its manifestation, terrorism. Under these circumstances, it is important for us not to see a country’s presence as an attempt to influence the region. Ideally India being the biggest littoral country in the Indian Ocean has the responsibility to ensure that the global commons is safe and secure. If nations further away from the region show their presence it would only add to their logistics and operational challenges operating far away from home bases. Better strategies for such countries would be to seek assistance of countries in the region.
Thus India and Maldives having a very fruitful partnership in all spheres and not just security can undertake the same task with greater ease and secure the vast amount of global trade that passes through the Indian Ocean given the Indian Ocean.
Viewed from the perspective of a power game as is being envisaged by some in the Indian Ocean today this will lead to more insecurity rather than security and hence needs to be obviated. For the only beneficiaries would be the pirates and maritime criminals who will ensure that the vulnerability of the Maldives is exploited to advantage.
Now with a safety grid in the offing, such a possibility can be avoided. For the countries in East and South East Asia, this would be a major boon as a large quantum of their energy and trade passes through these vital sea lanes. The global commons approach adopted by the Indian Navy and the Maldives Defence forces would therefore provide substantial gains for all countries in the region