In his seminal work, “The influence of Sea Power on History”, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, considered the greatest American geopolitical thinker, argues that control of the sea equals command of the world.
Ours is an oceanic world. The seven seas, covering nearly two-thirds of the earth, have long been regarded as international property by nations, who had the need, the will, and the strength to use them for economic, political military, social or cultural purposes. The oceans will continue to be the main highway of trade and the meeting ground of nations, with their interests and ideologies sometimes in accord and sometimes in conflict with one another.
The four great continental masses give the oceans a distinctly three-part form, the Atlantic, the Indian and the Pacific oceans, all three joining together into one around Antarctica.
The Indian Ocean was once called the British Lake, because there was no other naval power to challenge its strength until World War II.
Being the smallest of five oceans, with land around three sides, the Indian Ocean is often called the ‘half an ocean’.
Geographically and also geopolitically, the countries around the Indian Ocean may be divided into: littoral countries, the shores of which are washed by the waters of the ocean; the hinterland countries, the maritime trade of which passes through the littoral countries; and the user countries, which, though located outside the Indian ocean region, make use of the ocean for maritime trade. There are, according to these definitions, 37 littoral countries and 16 hinterland countries.
The geographic location of the Indian Ocean, its sea routes and natural resources of the countries that touch the Indian Ocean are the main factors for its strategic importance.
Even before India’s independence, the political leaders and strategists of India advocated a long term policy of establishment of Indian supremacy in the Indian Ocean. India wanted to turn the Indian Ocean into an Indian lake, and that there should be no one to challenge its supremacy in the ocean. The Indian aims in the Indian Ocean are a threat to all regional players because of its dream of becoming the Asian Tiger, and this dream also reflects in its maritime strategy. Undoubtedly, India is acting like a great regional hegemonic warlord, underestimating the other regional powers.
The Indian objectives in the Indian Ocean are to maintain and project her status as a regional maritime power, to develop an effective naval capability, get an offensive maritime strategy, to enhance her status in the Indian Ocean through power projection, and subdue Pakistan through naval advancement. Therefore, with any naval induction, the Indian pundits, full of lust for power and the lust to dominate the land and ocean, they issue fanatic statements, overemphasizing their acquired capability and totally underestimating other powers in the region.
The way India is portraying their maritime strategy, the Indian presence in the Indian Ocean is a threat to China’s sea lines of communication, SLOCs. The Indian maritime experts and, recently, their Rear Admiral Raja Menon has said, ‘instead of pouring money into raising a force that can hardly address the Indian Army’s drawbacks at the border, our decision makers should have focussed on addressing China’s weaknesses in the Indian Ocean’, therefore, through this statement India has played its part in destabilizing the whole region and the world. The admiral, after the induction of two vessels, Vikrant and Arihant went to the extent of saying that today, they are merely SLOCs; tomorrow they will be the Chinese Jugular.
India, through these statements, is underestimating other regional powers like China and Pakistan, which also have their interests in the Indian Ocean; and to protect their interests, they have acquired the requisite capability.
India considers China as its main rival, in its quest to become the regional superpower, and this self-imposed rivalry will prove India as a regional test balloon by its going against China.
The Indian designs for the Indian ocean are based on deception; thinking about the blockade of China, or attacking Pakistani interests in the Indian Ocean, will severely hit back India. Chinese PlA Navy has emerged from a Navy that can defend its shores to a Navy that can go to waters unknown to her, and can eliminate any threat or challenge, hundreds of kilometers away from its shores.
On the other hand, Pakistan is located in a strategic region; as an important bridge between South Asia and the Middle East, its geographical proximity to the Strait of Hormuz makes it a strategic backyard of the Persian Gulf. Also, being sufficiently close to the Gulf of Oman, Pakistan acquires a special monitoring capability vis a vis the Persian Gulf mercantile traffic. Pakistan’s location is also not too far from the Red Sea. Due to its location, Pakistan can dominate the crucial stretches and vital routes of the Arabian Sea. At present Sino-Pak presence in the Arabian Sea is being seen by naval experts as the strongest presence in the region. So any misadventure by India, or its dream of policing the Indian Ocean, can turn its sweet dreams into a nightmare.