The Bay of Bengal region has attained renewed attention in recent years with the emergence of Indo-Pacific (IP) as a significant theatre of geopolitics.  Given its proximity to the Malacca Strait, the region is a geostrategic lynchpin to the securitization of the sea lanes of communication (SLOC). The region is home to around 20% of the world population with a combined GDP of 2.7 trillion USD and hosts vast reserves of natural resources which would be game-changer for the region’s political economy.

For India, the Bay of Bengal is also the regional gateway in our Act East and Look East policies. In March 2022, during the virtual summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indian PM Narendra Modi emphasised translating the region into “a bridge of connectivity, a bridge of prosperity and a bridge of security”. Given that India has a coastline of 7,500 kilometres, India and the other Bay of Bengal littoral states have common marine-origin issue areas that can be addressed through intra-regional cooperation.

Increasingly, the region is subject to a myriad of challenges on both conventional and non-conventional security fronts. India being the most powerful country regionally and the largest democracy in the world is the lynchpin to the security architecture in the Bay of Bengal. In this regard, rather than a New Delhi-centred perspective, coastal Indian outlook on security of both traditional and non-traditional nature is pivotal to fashioning out a national security and defence policy for India.  Here, India must leverage the experience of its Southern Indian states in managing the challenges and opportunities offered by its 7,500 kilometres of coastline.

Sessions and Themes at the Conference

Strengthening regional cooperation in the Bay of Bengal: A southern Indian perspective

This session will explore the Peninsular India perspective to regional cooperation in the Northern Indian Ocean. It will discuss areas of deepening engagement between the littoral countries in the region and coastal Indian states who share similar experiences in lieu of the vast coastline. Some possible sectors to explore include issues related to fishing, environmental sustainability, marine debris, plastic pollution, disaster management during floods and cyclones.

This session will bring out various regional outlooks on the security and prosperity of the regional countries. The session will bring together scholars from Southern India, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the island territories of Lakshadweep and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.

Blue economy: Prospects and challenges

Blue economy is a recurrent theme among Bay of Bengal stakeholders. The tussle between environmental sustainability and growth imperative is a domain that the national governments of the region should address through urgent policy initiatives. Marine governance has to take cognizance of rising opportunities and challenges, the Bay waters offer while nurturing government-to-government contact at national and sub-national levels. This session will shed light on:

a. the need for integrating development strategy for blue growth in the region

b. governance challenges that the various stakeholders face in bringing out policy initiatives to address the question of sustainable development.

Conventional Security challenges in the Bay of Bengal

The region faces several conventional threats to its regional security architecture. This session will also dive into engagements on a multilateral level that are already in existence to tackle security threats. Military and defence engagements in joint patrolling initiatives and maritime domain awareness will also be discussed.

The session will explore the areas of

  1. rule of law in the oceans,

  2. piracy and armed robbery,

  3. illicit trades,

  4. maritime enforcement capacity,

  5. long-term economic sustainability

Non-traditional Security challenges in the Bay of Bengal

This session will focus on the various non-conventional security issues that challenge the stability and prosperity of the Bay of Bengal. As the largest military and economic power in the region, India could take a leadership role in mapping the challenges and taking initiatives to address these through cooperation at various levels. The session will also give plausible solutions that could be undertaken in order to rebuild the non-traditional security ecosystem at a regional level.

The session will discuss the following areas:

  1. maritime mixed migration

  2. climate change and rising sea levels

  3. plastic pollution and marine debris

  4. overfishing, IUU fishing, deep sea trawling

  5. food and water security

Strengthening Supply Chains and securing Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC)

Even after trade and investments in the Bay of Bengal were recognised as a priority area for the BIMSTEC, the intra-regional trade only forms about 6% of the total trade undertaken by the regional countries. To take advantage of the maritime trade opportunities offered by the important SLOC to Southeast Asia and the Western Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal has to prioritise resolving supply chain bottlenecks and investment challenges.

The following points could be discussed during the session:

  1. Geostrategic importance of Bay of Bengal in the larger network of Indo-Pacific SLOC.

  2. What are the various supply chain bottlenecks suffered by the region in taking advantage of the SLOC.

  3. Measures to be undertaken to improve the merchandise flow from the region’s industry output.

Deepening regional connectivity

Connectivity among the littoral states of the Bay of Bengal is a prerequisite to economic development in the region. The recent undertakings of multi-modal connectivity projects in the region are a step in that direction. However, several roadblocks hinder the full functioning of these initiatives. This session will look into the state of current projects, as well as deliberate on the need for integrating regional connectivity initiatives to link regional economies to the global networks. This will also give a fillip to people-to-people contact and tourism which is a significant part of the local economies, and iron out policy hindrances.