DPG Policy Brief

The Changing Contours of Indian Ocean Maritime Security

Date: January 24, 2024
India unveiled its Indian Ocean outlook, SAGAR, in March 2015.  It followed up by enunciating its broader Indo-Pacific vision in 2018.  But while cooperative institutional structures and power balances at both the western and eastern ends of the Indian Ocean have developed substantially since then in response to the changing geopolitical environment, those within the Indian Ocean itself have lagged behind, even as the security outlook in the region is becoming more challenging.

Twin challenges to Indian Ocean peace and stability are looming on the horizon: China’s growing maritime power and stranglehold over the South China Sea, and the expansion of Houthi military activities to disrupt the global east-west shipping routes.  The impact of both will increasingly be felt in the Indian Ocean.

In this brief, the author analyses developments across the Indo-Pacific in four broad sections.  The first encompasses the South China Sea, the eastern gate into the Indian Ocean, where he sees China’s control as near complete, enabling its use both as the springboard into the Indian Ocean as well as a secure bastion into which Chinese forces can retreat if required.  The second covers the western entrances to the Indian Ocean, where vital energy and trade lifelines have been endangered by developments that also impact India’s burgeoning interests in the Arabian Peninsula.  Both have resulted in the deployment of substantial maritime forces by India.  The third section covers the broader Indo-Pacific, where a stable balance necessitates India’s direct involvement.  The fourth section covers the Indian Ocean, where the relatively underdeveloped nature of collective structures makes the region ripe for exploitation by external forces.

The author concludes by observing that the developing Indian Ocean situation demands refocusing of India’s attention to actualise the SAGAR vision, while maintaining steady engagement with the broader Indo-Pacific as well as the Western Indian Ocean. 

To read this Policy Brief Volume IX, Issue 4, please click “The Changing Contours of Indian Ocean Maritime Security”.