What are the major factors that contribute to the geopolitical significance of the Indian Ocean? Critically examine in the light of current geopolitics and implications of the same for India.

Published: July 24, 2017

The Indian Ocean is the only ocean which is named after a country and it is primarily due to the strategic position of India in the region. It is endowed with 36 littoral and 11 hinterland countries which qualify it for the most important zones of geopolitical activity of the world map. It has been referred to as ‘inner crescent’ by Mackinder and ‘rim-land’ by Spykman. It is a known fact that anyone who controls the ocean will have a dominant position in the world politics.
The significance of the Ocean:

  • It is known as the “Oil line of the West” as bulk oil demand of the Western nations is heavily dependent on the native states of the Indian Ocean. This is the chief reason why the US is pursuing its neo-colonial strategy in the region. Its presence regulates the price of oil.
  • It is a powerful maritime-littoral region with a mighty concentration of resources, sea-lanes, economies, population etc. which has enhanced its geopolitical, geoeconomic and geo-strategic significance.
  • It is an indispensable sea-route between East and the West.
  • In addition, there is a vast which is unexplored and has huge possibilities of untapped and valuable sea bed resources. Moreover, the Asian and African nations which are directly connected to it have rich resources.
  • The Ocean has many choke-points namely Straits of Hormuz, Straits of Malacca, Lombok and the Sunda Straits and any kind of disturbance of the flow of traffic, energy can spell devastating consequences for the littoral states as the majority of their energy lines are based on the sea. The growing energy demand from India, China and Japan have made these SLOCs (Sea lines of communication) highly strategic and inevitable.
  • The region also earns its importance from the fact that it is home to 1/3rd world population, 25% land and more than 40% of its oil and gas reserves. India and Pakistan-the youngest nuke nations of the world also lie in the same region.
  • Its strategic significance for extra-regional forces cannot be undermined.

The region is constantly changing in the geopolitical sphere with China spreading its presence by its “String of Pearls” policy under which it has built quasi-naval bases in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Horn of Africa. It is also reviving its maritime silk route in addition to conducting research on polymetallic nodules found on sea-bed.
Impact on India:
China’s growing presence is a matter of serious concern for India and it has to take concrete steps to the same on the international front. Indian initiatives to build security grid with the littoral countries to prevent the militarization of the Ocean is a laudable effort in the right direction.  

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