Net Security Provider: Concept, India’s Potential in Indian Ocean Region

The phrase Net security provider was first used by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the Indian context at the 2009 Shangri-la Dialogue. The US considered India as the pivot in the Indian Ocean and using such phrase for India could explain the US zeal to sell its military components and seek joint patrols with India in the Indian Ocean Region. In recent times also, the US Congress has passed Section 1292 of the 2017 National Defense Authorisation Act, which wants India to be capable of tackling the growing security threats in the Indian Ocean region. It also wants the capabilities to come from the industries of the US and US-India industrial partnerships. Further, India Navy in its 2015 maritime strategy had also made a commitment to serve as “provider of net security in the region”.

The topic should be analyzed in the light of below questions:

  • What is meaning of Net Security Provider?
  • Is India a net security provider in true sense?
  • What are security imperatives for India in South Asia / Indian Ocean region to play role of net security provider?
  • What are major Challenges for Indian Navy to be a Net security Provider?
  • What is the Way forward?

What is meaning of Net Security Provider?

There is no fixed definition of a net security provider. The definition is contextual and very subjective. In most basic sense, a net provider of security is the nation which can address the security concerns of not only itself but also other countries in the vicinity or beyond. A net security provider can address the security concern of other countries in several ways:

  • It can provide them training support to enhance their capacity by providing trainers. {capacity building}
  • It can provide them support of its armed forces in operations other than war to achieve mutually beneficial foreign policy objectives {Military diplomacy}. This includes military visits and mutual exercises.
  • It can help them in their defence efforts or in maintaining control over their own territory {military assistance}
  • It can directly deploy its own forces to aid or stabilize a situation. {Direct Deployment}

Is India a net security provider in true sense?

We can objectively analyze it in the light of above four mentioned four ways:

Capacity building

  • India has a very good track record of providing capacity building to other countries in region.
  • For example, India has continuously trained Afghan National Army. Indian Army not only trains the Royal Bhutan Army, but also conducts joint patrols along the Bhutan-China border.

Military Diplomacy

  • India engaged in plethora of military visits and exercises. In Indian Ocean region, India has been engaged in various activities such as Milan {Biennial exercise of Indian ocean region countries}.
  • Further, India’s bilateral / multilateral exercises of last two years are shown in below table:
Name Participating Country Date Location
Mitra Shakti Sri Lanka 29 September Pune, India
Hand in Hand China 12 – 22 October Kunming, China
Indra Russia 8 – 18 November Bikaner, India
Surya Kiran IX Nepal 8 – 21 February Pithoragarh, India
Lamitye Seychelles 15 – 28 February Port Victoria, Seychelles
Multi-national FTX ASEAN plus 2 – 8 March Pune, India
Garuda Shakti IV Indonesia 11 – 23 March Magelang, Indonesia
Nomadic Elephant Mongolia 25 April – 8 May Mongolia
Maitree Thailand 15 – 29 July Krabi, Thailand
Prabal Dostyk Kazakhstan 7 – 17 September Karaganda, Kazakhstan
Yudh Abhyas United States 15 – 23 September Chaubattia, India
Indra Russia 23 September – 1 October Vladivostok, Russia
Mitra Shakti Sri Lanka 24 October – 6 November Ambepussa, Sri Lanka
Surya Kiran X Nepal 31 October – 13 November Saljhandi, Nepal
Sampriti Bangladesh 5 – 18 November Dhaka, Bangladesh
Hand in Hand China 16 – 27 November Pune, India
Ekuverin Maldives 15 – 28 December Laamu Atoll, Maldives
Khanjar IV Kyrgyzstan 20 February – 5 March Kok Jhangak, Kyrgyzstan
Surya Kiran XI Nepal 7 – 20 March Pithoragarh, India
Al Nagah-Ii Oman 7 – 10 March Bakloh, India
Bold Kurukshetra Singapore 4 – 21 March Madhya Pradesh, India
Nomadic Elephant XII Mongolia 5 – 21 April Vairengte, India
Maitree Thailand 3 – 17 July Bakloh, Himachal Pradesh
Surya Kiran XII Nepal 3 -16 September Saljhandi, Nepal
Yudh Abhyas United States 14 – 27 September Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

Military Assistance

  • India has generally shown reservations in providing arms and ammunitions to other countries. It ranks much below the top arms exporters. There are two main reasons for this. First, India has been traditionally an opponent to exports of deadly weapons because such thing would conflict with its own self-perceived role as a land of peace. Second, India itself is among the largest arms importers and its own domestic arms industry is not able to produce many marketable weapons and military components.

Direct Deployment

  • The direct deployment of troops towards stabilizing a situation arising out of war, conflict or disaster is most controversial. Such activity is less controversial if the troops are deployed for some humanitarian relief. However, use of military outside the country’s territory always gets negative attention.
  • For wartime, India has deployed its troops so far only in Sri Lanka {IPKF} and Bangladesh {during 1971 war}.
  • Further, India is one of the largest providers of troops for UN peace keeping missions. Indian troops have frequently provided humanitarian relief in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives etc.

We have said earlier that definition of net security provider is contextual and very subjective. On the basis of the above discussion, we can conclude that India is a net security provider in terms of capacity building and military diplomacy. However, there are some structural and institutional impediments in providing military assistance and direct deployment of the military.  Thus, taking all four kinds of activities together, India is not yet a net security provider.

What are security imperatives for India in South Asia / Indian Ocean region to play role of net security provider?

India is considered to be a benign dominant power in South Asia and is generally regarded as a net security provider to this region as well as north-east Indian Ocean. In Indian Ocean, India has several security imperatives. First, Indian Ocean represents key space for the defence of India against potential threats that may emanate from or through the region. Second, the ability to control the sea lines of communication that cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea and enter the Pacific Ocean through the Malacca Strait would provide India with a bargaining chip in dealing with rival powers, particularly China. Third, the area is affected by numerous non-state security issues that may either directly threaten India’s interests or otherwise require it to act as a regional maritime security provider, including piracy and smuggling, maritime terrorism, the activities of separatist movements and territorial disputes over offshore energy resources. Fourth, is the desire by India to expand its strategic role in Southeast Asia and further into the Pacific in order to balance China’s growing influence.

What are major Challenges for Indian Navy to be a Net security Provider?

To be a net security provider, Navy has to address a huge number of challenges. The challenges range from conducting Maritime Military Operations (MMO), to protecting India’s vast coastline, to protecting Sea Lanes of Communications. The MMO by itself requires Indian Navy to address a large number of threats such as piracy, smuggling, drug-trafficking, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, UN peace support operations and search and rescue operations etc. Already, the coastal and offshore security role of the Navy is eating into its blue water role. Indian Navy has been given the responsibility to keep India’s vast coastline secure. This responsibility comes without any due authority. The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard do not have any authority to coordinate various departments and agencies which are functioning under 16 different ministries.

Second, Indian Navy does not have the requisite defence-industrial base to support its blue water ambitions. Most of the Navy’s requirement’s are procured from abroad. This makes Navy to function with lot of operational and maintenance handicaps. With these handicaps, it might be difficult for Indian Navy to pursue its Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) and the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), which aims to have 200 warships by 2027.

Third, the growing presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the Indian Ocean region is alarming. Since 2008, China has forayed into the Indian Ocean in the name of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Under the cover of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, China is trying to drag the littoral states away from India’s influence. From bases in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives, PLAN is all over the Indian Ocean region. In this context if we compare PLAN warships with Indian warships, the warships of PLAN have demonstrated far greater endurance and agility.

What is the Way forward?

First and foremost, in order to play an enhanced role in the Indo-Pacific, Indian Navy should address its operational and maintenance handicaps. It should also need to upgrade its military capacity. As the lack of trust among the nations are causing tensions in the region, the way forward will be to overcome the “existing trust deficit” and enhance the level of engagement to evolve robust maritime governance structures and a combined approach towards resources, resolving maritime threats and challenges. In this context, the regional organisations can work towards fostering better cooperation through operational exchange, information sharing etc. This would make the countries to inculcate a sense of collective responsibility and ownership. This will not allow the interference of third countries with the claims of mediation. In conclusion, it may be stated that India’s efforts to emerge as a “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean has made it as a reliable friend of regional maritime forces. However, at the same time, India should also be prepared to address the operational handicaps of its Navy to deter challenges to its strategic primacy.

GS Question for Mains

What is meaning of Net Security Provider? Is India a net security provider in true sense?  Discuss the key security imperatives for India in South Asia / Indian Ocean region to play role of net security provider.

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