Organised by: BITS Pilani K K Birla Goa Campus and Goa Maritime Dialogues in collaboration with Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi.

Date & Time: July 23, 2021 at 05:00 PM

Webinar: Lecture on India and Indo-Pacific Maritime Security: Negotiating Change and Challenges. 

Proceedings Report

About the Event: BITS Pilani K K Birla Goa Campus and Goa Maritime Dialogues in collaboration with Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi organised a discussion on the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security. 

Key Speakers: Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC is a retired Indian naval officer who served as the 23rd Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy. He assumed the office on 31 May 2016 after Admiral Robin K. Dhowan and demitted office three years later on 31 May 2019.

Chaired By: Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM is a former Flag Officer of the Indian Navy. He served as the Chief of the Naval Staff from 31 July 2004 to 31 October 2006 and as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee from 31 January 2005 to 31 October 2006. He is one of India’s most decorated naval officers.

Convenor: Dr R. P. Pradhan, BITS Pilani, Goa campus and Distinguished Fellow (Political Economy) at CPPR.

Webinar Summary

Prof RP Pradhan started the discussion with a short introduction to the importance of Indo-Pacific Maritime border as the entire region has redefined the situation between India and China where the role of India has become critical in terms of security. He also introduced Adm Sunil Lamba and welcomed everyone. Followed CPPR’s Chairman Dr Dhanuraj who introduced CPPR and welcomed the distinguished guests. Dr W Lawrence S Prabhakar, M.A, Ph.D. an Associate Professor of Strategic Studies and International Relations in the department of Political Science at Madras Christian College, India and Adjunct Research Fellow, S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Dr Prabhakar introduced the Indo-Pacific as an emergent linkage from different disciplines to bring in the connection between growing maritime times and economic links. He says that the Indo-Pacific along with an international concern is also an- identity, in terms of constructivism, an idea and imaginary, comprising institutional frameworks and in terms of Regionalism. He stated seven important constructions- identity construction, realist – and balance of power, powership- power transition, strategic autonomy choices, concert of democracies, Egalitarianism- economic strategy and a part of the global maritime challenge. 

Admiral Arun Prakash who chaired the event then introduced Adm Sunil Lamba with a summary of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region as almost 60% of the commodities transit through this. While previously known as Asia Pacific, it brought the sense of feeling detached and excluded from the countries of the region because of which the Realists sought to balance the power. And as the Indo- Pacific has become important with the rise of global economic emergence there has been a disruption in the previously held balance of power. 

Admiral Arun Prakash brings in the Chinese strategy as a major comparative subject to understand the complexities of this region. China has gained high speed development, in not only protecting hegemonic power but their maritime power is the biggest in the world with prolific ship building. Their not so recent disruption of the status quo have reaffirmed the strong expansionist approach to dominate geographically. He says China makes it all more important for us to discuss the Indo Pacidifc Maritime Security now than ever citing Japan and Israel as examples to be ready for a difficult and complex scenario that’s unfolding in front of us and concludes by saying that Adm Sunil Lamba will be better in explaining what lies ahead.

Main speaker Adm Sunil Lamba begins the lecture with the explanation of the current scenario saying that we are traversing challenging times. Indo-Pacific of domestic political situations of several countries are going through significant changes, through global transitions, through a period of strategic complexity crossing through multiple domains and through rebalancing of global domination. As Indo-Pacific today is also home to the 4 of the 10 top economies, they have emerged as the global emerging and manufacturing domain. Indo-Pacific also holds all of international trade, 80% of the tarde from here is extra regional, 40% of oil supplies with unhindered flow of maritime trade assuming significance for the entire world. And due the expansion of regional and global trade has raised  a new set of maritime challenges. 

The challenges Adm Sunil Lamba continues saying that it is the geopolitical fragility, internal political upheavals, sea lane security, territorial disputes coupled with non state actors that has raised strategic competitions. But for him what brings Indo Pacific into light is the transactional trade mechanisms, the vision or shared destinies of emerging economics, the ongoing rebalance of economic powerhouses. With Indo-Pacific region a home for the 10 largest military of the world, this rising military power and defence expenditure, the contest for regional power is significant to ensure the strategic interest. 

Subsequently Adm Sunil Lamba comes to the main concern for the world at large now, the Navy for China. He says no one has grown at the pace the Chinese Navy has grown. Due to which there’s a need for the countries in the region to send more for maritime resources and a need for maritime collaboration for strategic room. As the world witnesses ongoing power and diffusion, the US is on the decline. Growth of chinese navy in the last 30 years and the US navy in the western specifically has remained specific and may have reduced the size in number but China has doubled or tripled. He questions if we can balance the power? If not it will escalate into conflicts. It will be harder to force international binding treaties. 

Next, the rise of conflict can be seen with the increasing quest for resources, the need for global power leads to more interstate and interstate conflict. Adm Sunil Lamba says that the increasing competition, increasing instability, East China Sea or our LAC itself, politically, bilaterally, institutionally, is challenged, citing Taliban as an example. For him the quest of gaining access to resources, even the cyber world and maintaining the freedom of , the impact of Climate Change , will play an important role where Indo-Pacific will be accepted in the larger global debate. He mentions Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inclusive Indo-Pacific rule based order, a collaborative order which seems to be supported by the like minded for the rest of the global leaders and rightly so because now the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security attracts a plethora of risks for which convergences should be identified and analyzed for proper growth and be addressed critically.

In addition, Indian’s regional and global outlook is supported by Adm Sunil Lamba, he continues the lecture with India’s Mission Sagar as an outreach which can be applied anywhere. He praises India’s approach for a free, open and inclusive initiative, safe, secure and stable Maritime domain that conserves and sustainably uses the domain, fairly shares resources, reduces disaster risks and provides free maritime transport. It has several central pillars- maritime security, econology, resources, capacity building and resource sharing, disaster management, science, tarde connectivity and maritime transport. 

The lecture concluded with Adm Suni Lamba stating that Indo Pacific Maritime Security cannot do without discussing China. With their aggressive, their approach on south-east and LAC is clear indication to change the scope, they cherry pick the rules and regulations, consistent in maritime supremacy so we see a strong emphasis on guarding their maritime construct, they’re looking beyond the offshore defence, trying to build maritime pepper, build on combined maritime power. For which, India will continue to have a main presence in the sea area as we are on the other end of the spectrum with our ships sinking. Furthermore, India’s Indo Pacific Ocean Initiative is mentioned next as a holistic maritime security- it encompases all the multifaceted posibiltiy of interests of all nations, stable secure and peaceful maritime environment. And as Indian navy has always taken the neighbouring navies at their heart and soul, the LAC has forced us to take more security steps. Japan, Australia, Us, Singapore, close to signing with Russia, dialogues will sustain our navies, product of like minded approaches, enhance stability and approach peace. 

The lecture was followed up by a few questions from the audience. The first question was on the Indian Army’s competency to meet the technological upperhand of China to which Adm Sunil Lamba answered – we are the largest resident navy in the Indo Pacific so the balance of power rests in India’s favour over china and pakistan, the deployable forces of china, 20-25 platform, rests with India. But in the South China Sea, the power rests with China. At best we will fight a defensive war on the land near the South China Sea but the chinese economy is five times larger than India’s  making the military capacity questionable. 

The next question was posed on the threat of ‘non-state actors’ especially ISIS in the Indian ocean region. Adm Sunil Lamba assures that India is much better prepared after the attack in Bombay. Multiagencies and the coastal security issues are better addressed and better organised. India right now has a perfect system but issues of domain remain. While it stays effective, the threat from the sea is not large but not xero.

Following this was the insight regarding the geopolitical importance of the North East Region regarding Indo Pacific relations and of Africa specific role of Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. Adm Sunil Lamba informs that there are works to join the North East with the South Asian region and the Government of India is focused on that to better connect them. Additionally, he mentions that there are historical linkages of Africa with india. Indian navy has worked to build capacities or capabilities. Eg- Mozambique, Tanzania, Mauritius. In Mauritius India is working to expand reach, investing in infrastructure there, deployment of Indian forces and logistics with France give us an opportunity to use french infrastructure. All these have expanded India’s reach and sustainability providing hardware and providing a large training capacity.  

Additionally, Adm Arun Prakash provided an endnote where he thanked Adm Sunil Lamba for giving a comprehensive overview of the vast canvas, almost all the issues of concern and the opportunities of India-Pacific Maritime Security. But he notes that there is a lot to be done, even if there’s Sagar, we don’t know how much the country can do because it is at threat right now. We have to be better prepared at all times. 

Prof RP Pradhan concluded the entire discussion by first thanking Adm Sunil Lamba and Adm Arun Prakash and by also pointing out a few concerns regarding the maritime domain. First, is the lack of research centres for maritime forces, and no serious research institutions in india. Second, we must also think of Indian Ocean bank, which might connect to several countries in terms of development. Third, was to keep a good record of the data as the Indian Navy does a lot of good work, but the data is very difficult to find. He suggested marketing the activities, the data, and teaching it to the students. Fourth, to take advantage of the Blue Economy to create jobs. 

This event report was prepared by CPPR Research Intern, Aastha Hazarika

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