Indo-Pacific formulation and ‘sea-changes’ for India

In the light of the Indo-Pacific gaining significance in geo-political conception governing strategic choices of countries within and beyond the geographical expanse of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it is no doubt that India has been gaining an increasing role in the security architecture involving the region. With its predominant maritime thrust, Indo-Pacific merits an analysis of its effects upon its eponymous ocean and the role of India.

Growing salience of Indo-Pacific is a result of, among other things, the changing strategic, security and economic interactions in the region with a pivotal role accorded to India and the Indian Ocean. Historically, Indian Ocean has been a major site of competition and contestation among different stakeholder countries for political power and economic resources. During the colonial times, the Western imperial powers controlled vast majority of the Indian Ocean littoral, deciding much of the internal political and external defence policies of the colonies. A case in point is the role of the Royal Navy’s control of Indian Ocean and their extended influence on all the entry and exit points, reducing the Indian Ocean to a British lake.

The end of the colonial era heralded a new geopolitical order resulting in the entry of new players in the field. The British withdrawal from the East of Suez in 1960s generated a debate about the supposed power vacuum in the region. The Afro-Asian countries’ call for maintaining the Indian Ocean as a peace zone was ineffective in restricting the entry of United States and Soviet Union’s into the Indian Ocean. Great power presence and their politics in the Indian Ocean during the cold war period assumed competitive dimensions, which may be considered a transformative event. The end of Cold War, the emerging multi polarity in Asia and the resultant power shift from West to East further pushed a reconsideration of geo-politics in the region with an initial focus on Asia-Pacific and a gradual shift to Indo-Pacific. While ostensibly, the reconfiguration of Asia-Pacific into Indo-Pacific accords India and the Indian Ocean a central role in global security, bringing India into the foreground is a direct outcome of the strategic calculus of different stakeholder countries’ with their security and economic interests tied to the region. The recent transformation is also reflective of India’s potential as a counterweight to a growing China.

It is clear from the above that contingent on political, strategic and economic imperatives, geopolitical frameworks have undergone transformations throughout history and countries around the world resort to various mechanisms to strengthen their reach in a region of strategic prominence.

While the nomenclature and general functioning within the framework of the Indo-Pacific points to a significant economic and military role played by India in the strategic grouping/theatre, the significance of the Indo-Pacific is also a function of domestic and international politics and economic considerations of other nations in the region. The responses of two major powers in the region, Russia and China, is crucial in determining the future course of action within the geo-strategic set up as any alterations in the balance of power in any sub region will have a direct bearing on the rest of the grouping.

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