Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Indian Ocean Region

Article Published  in New Indian Express 
May 6th  2014

Two major discussions that dominate any discourse on maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean region are piracy and the emergence of China as a major naval power and its growing ambitions. Both these issues raise grave concerns for both major and smaller powers in the region and other extra regional global powers. Trade and livelihoods of the people of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, as well as those of the small island nations, are contingent on the living and non-living marine resources of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, several other land locked countries in the region like Nepal, Afghanistan, and Bhutan depend on access to the Indian Ocean for international trading and for the steady growth of their economies.  Transnational and non-traditional threats in this region are increasing and should be addressed with far more diligence than being done at present as they will decide the future balance of power in the region. Maritime challenges of this region extend beyond national strategic ambitions and are far more complex. These challenges may not be perceived as being compelling at present but they will have significant impact over a period of time. It is therefore, incumbent to not only identify these other issues but also to include them while framing national policies and concluding multilateral and international conventions and agreements.
 The Indian Ocean region consists of 26 countries in various stages of social and economic development. There is disparity among these countries in terms of economic growth, social development and societal stability which has resulted in competition for scarce resources among the nations, as in the case of fishing and other living resources. It has also led to the disproportionate exploitation of the constantly depleting resources by some technologically developed countries to the detriment of others in the region.  As the region is rich in mineral resources like uranium, cobalt, nickel, gold and also has 55% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of global gas reserves - foreign powers, too, which are not geographically placed in the region, are displaying their keenness to gain a foothold here. Besides, counter-piracy efforts and counter terrorism measures have approved the naval presence of

these foreign powers in the Indian Ocean region. With the extra regional power like the US positioning itself here, regional powers like China India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan are strengthening their positions and increasing their naval prowess to counter potential strategic threats by US and the US aligned states. Thus, new maritime disputes stemming from geo-strategic interests and new maritime boundary claims are the result of the new players in the region.
There are various other non-traditional threats that exist in the Indian Ocean region that require regional cooperation. Development of port security is essential for healthy sea-borne trade and safe harbours and ports are essential for the economic development of the entire region. However, the spurt of recent attacks in which technologically superior warships have been threatened by low-tech attacks has also raised serious concerns. Many of the ports are vulnerable, as are the various off shore installations in these countries. The island nations and archipelagos are most vulnerable as they can be accessed from any point of exposure. Environmental threats also abound in the region. 40% of the 4 billion people in Asia live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Rising ocean level, changing weather patterns due to global warming will increase the stress in the coastal regions. The island nations face greater threats as the seas close in on them and this will result in demographic changes from migration that will create severe stress and perceivable imbalances in the mainland. Destruction of natural barriers in the seas will also lead to erosion which will adversely affect the population and their lives in the coastal areas as well as in the mainland abutting coastal regions. The overall effects of these factors will be serious destabilisation in the countries of this region creating conflicts among the nations as they will struggle with the new changing realities. Depletion of water resources due to costal salinization will affect not only the life of the people along the coast but also affect food production elsewhere. Land based pollution from sewage and drainage discharges and marine based pollution from spillages, ballast waters and illegal waste dumping affects not just a single nation but has impact on the region as a whole. All these issues are hardly addressed by the countries that place huge reliance mainly on the enhancement of their naval capabilities.

Resources of the Indian Ocean have to be brought under the scrutiny of protection.  Illegal and unregulated fishing by local vessels has led to depletion of stocks in national waters of several countries while similar action by foreign vessels has caused antagonism among nations. The constant engagement of Sri Lanka and India in the fishermen issues is well known but other countries in the region face similar confrontations. Indonesia faces an estimated loss of $ 4000 million annually due to illegal and unregulated fishing.  The link of this component to maritime security issues is that these vessels are also used for trafficking humans, arms, drugs and other illegal activities.
Non-state actors in the Indian Ocean region raise different threat issues. Terrorists groups have attacked oil tankers, passenger ship and off shore installations with impunity. The attack in Aden of USS Cole, of the French super tanker Limburg and several such incidents has underlined these dangers. Weak governments and insufficient border controls along the coast have exposed their vulnerability. The attack that took place in Mumbai in 2008, where the terrorists group chose the sea route to enter India, highlighted the dangers of the unregulated maritime domain. Numerous Incidents of piracy in the Indian Ocean region in recent times has resulted in the creation of private security agencies to safeguard the ships. However, recent incidents especially in the Indian context; namely, the Enrica Lexie case and the Seaman Guard Ohio case have underlined the dangers of the presence of private armed guards aboard ships. Lack of regulations and insufficient coherent policy framework has created more issues and concerns than solved the safety issues .The flouting of norms of international laws by the agencies is the undesirable fallout of these security concerns.
Maintaining good order at sea and constant engagements between the nations of the Indian Ocean region is the only way to address all these issues. International maritime assistance and building strategic confidence will lead to the increased safety of the sea lanes for trade. Transparency in the national maritime policies will reduce maritime coercion and mitigate the tensions created by the strategic placement of large and imposing naval assets. The countries of the Indian Ocean region have to redefine the roles of their navies from that of constabulary and expand it to one of maintaining good order at sea and of protection of maritime resources. 

Friday, 21 February 2014


Article Published  in New Indian Express 
Feb 15 2014
Kings and emperors from ancient times have sealed agreements at the end of wars and concluded treaties for restoring peace, for acceding and annexing territories and for trade with each other. Customs have also dictated how emissaries have to be treated, wars fought and peace negotiated at the end of wars. Earliest record is of   a treaty drawn up and sealed in 1283 B.C between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite King after a bitter battle. Romans and Greek kingdoms also signed numerous treaties, most of them at the end of battles, as did the European monarchs in later times. The progression of international treaties in modern times has its beginnings in the 1864 Geneva Convention which dealt with the treatment of wounded soldiers during war, and this was signed by major kingdoms in Europe in the background of extensive political and military upheavals. Placing checks on the brutality of war, the four Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols thereof, sought to regulate armed conflict and limit its excesses as well as protect innocent persons not fighting or caught in the aftermath.  
  Today all major concerns that impact every aspect of human life as well as those that govern State practice are the subject of international conventions. International conventions have also been initiated by countries when specific needs have risen to regulate State behaviour in matters of global concerns. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which deals with all aspects of the use of the sea, the oceans and the deep seabed is one such international treaty. It divides the waters of the world into specific zones and delineates and limits the use in a manner which will benefit all mankind. Similarly,  the ten core international conventions and protocols dealing with human rights which were signed and ratified by countries between the periods 1965-2006 addressed specific concerns ranging from  torture and forms of discriminations to civil and political rights, rights of women and children , rights of migrant workers and rights of  persons with disabilities. Conventions therefore govern and protect national and international interests over land, sea, high seas, air and outer space. There are several international treaties that have been concluded that deal with criminal acts by both states and non state actors like the unlawful seizure of protected persons, or of aircraft and ships. There are also several international instruments that deal with nuclear safety and nuclear liability, with proper and sustainable use of resources and protection of the environment.  It is apparent that the purpose of most of the Conventions is to secure the kind of world envisaged in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter i.e.  to ensure the dignity of the individual and international peace and security. However, sixty eight years thence, various forms of discriminations against people for diverse reasons   and   behaviour contrary to these principles continue by many nations. Nations justify their reluctance to be parties to an international treaties on several grounds most of which arise from the notion of sovereignty  and their unwillingness to limit their authority to global consensus by enacting  national laws in accordance with obligations created by  international instruments i.e. global control over domestic policy.  
 The United States, despite its well-articulated stance of honouring global commitments has proved to be the foremost defaulter in ratifying international treaties. Although it   has initiated several conventions and signed some of them, it has failed to ratify several important and significant conventions.  For example, the most compelling and speedily ratified treaty in human history is the Convention on the Rights of the Child which secures to all children civil, social, political, economic, health and cultural right.  Although signed by the US in 1995 it has not yet been ratified by it. The only other country not to do so is Somalia; an associate in action that the United States would not be proud of. The argument placed by the US for non-ratification is that it would undermine the rights of the parents. It also views it as UN interference in the raising of children. This is significant because a number of states in the US still permit corporal punishment in schools and homes. Furthermore, the resistance to ratification also stems from the fact that ratification of the treaty would interfere with the parent’s choices in religious and sex education. Similarly, the United States signed the CEDAW (Convention Against Discrimination Against Women) in 1980; it has not ratified it along with countries like Iran and Somalia. Similarly other nations that wield great influence in geo politics have often chosen not to become parties to several important conventions. China has not signed or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other instruments relating to human rights.  While the US has been vociferous in backing a Resolution in the UN Human Rights Council on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, it holds a dismal record of human rights violations in the actions taken by it in its war against terror.
India has been a major adherent of innumerable international instruments, signing and ratifying almost all the major international treaties. Several Indian laws have been enacted in accordance with the international obligations.   However, India has strongly opposed the setting up of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It abstained in the vote for the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 and under which the ICC is set up on several grounds.  The arguments for refusal to sign and ratify include the definition of crimes against humanity in the Statute and the inclusion of non-international conflicts in the category of war crimes. These inclusions would lead to all internal disputes in India becoming subject to the ICC and would be a flagrant interference in the domestic policy of the country. Besides the well-structured and robust judiciary under the democratic system in India, it is argued, is well equipped to deal with violations of rights of the individual.

International conventions are based on customary practices followed by nations since the formation of nation states. They are the reflections of the aspirations of the world community to create global consensus about matters that affect all. It is rather disquieting to observe that many of the global disputes and confrontations are the result of nations not accepting the norms of international law With influential global powers shirking the responsibility of strengthening international conventions, issues and disputes are left to unilateral interpretation impelling further conflicts. Without the template of an instrument to guide the interpretation, the stronger nation will enforce its will on other weaker nations.  Far more worrisome is the fact that nations that wield great influence in geo politics often choose not become parties to important conventions and operate outside global indicators. The recent trend of the US to create a series of multi-lateral treaties called  “initiatives” is a bad precedent .These initiatives allow the US not only  to draw benefits from existing international norms but also absolve it of both responsibilities and obligations under specific international conventions. If other nations adopt similar “initiatives” to serve personal objectives, it will lead to the displacement of the norms of international law. Instead, all major powers should reinforce their commitment to global peace and security by supporting international conventions through the process of ratification.