19 Jul 2019
GS Paper 2
India needs to look at its Neighbourhood First Policy beyond South Asia towards maritime neighbourhood. Examine. (250 words)
- Introduce by showing India’s growing stature in international geopolitical landscape.
- Explain India’s Neighbourhood first policy and why it needs a relook.
- Mention about increasing Indian geopolitical interests in neighbouring maritime region.
- Suggest a course of action for Indian foreign policy towards its maritime neighbourhood.
Since the time of Pt. Nehru, the architect of India’s foreign policy, we can discern the long term ambition nurtured by India to gain the rightful place in the comity of nations. Today the status of India as an emerging power is being recognized in the world. India is seen as the ‘net security provider’ in the Indo-Pacific.
The “neighborhood first” policy is the striking feature of New Delhi’s diplomatic approach. It actively focuses on improving ties with India's immediate neighbouring countries. Till now it is primarily focused on land-borne neighbourhood countries of South Asia.
However, with the failure of major regional groupings of South Asia like SAARC and lackluster growth of BIMSTEC, India needs to engage with its maritime neighbourhood like countries of ASEAN and island nations of Maldives and Seychelles.
Importance of Maritime neighbourhood for India
- Geo-strategically: Indian ocean has now become the theatre of great power rivalry:
- Growing China's assertiveness in the Indian Ocean in its Maritime Silk Road component of BRI (Belt and road initiative) project.
- China building its naval bases in the name of the commercial centre like Gwadar port of Pakistan, Hambantota port of Sri Lanka, etc considered as string of pearl’s theory.
- India’s agreement for naval cooperation with powers like USA and France in the Indo-Pacific region triggering a base race in the Indian ocean. India performing naval exercises like MALABAR exercise with US and Japan.
- India is also developing a deep sea port at Indonesia’s Sabang. It is strategically located near the Malacca Strait which is a major choke point and has huge potential for improving connectivity links with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well.
- Geo-politically: Indian Ocean is one of the world’s busiest sea lines of communication.
- It serves as an important commercial trade route but it is strategically important too.
- Maritime boundary conflicts in the region like India-Sri Lanka fisheries dispute, Chagos Archipelago sovereignty dispute, and the South China Sea dispute makes the region vulnerable to geo-political rivalry.
- With the failure of SAARC, countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka align their geopolitical interests with the rising China. Hence, India has renewed interests in showing its maritime superiority in the Indo-Pacific by alliances like QUAD with US, Australia and Japan.
- Geo-economically: Indian Ocean harbours massive resources of the blue economy:
- Fisheries, Rare earth metals, unexplored oil and gases etc.
- The region has huge scope for marine tourism and trade opportunities. Strategically important passages like Strait of Malacca and Strait of Hormuz are part of India’s extended maritime neighbourhood.
- The regional connectivity projects in India’s land-borne neighbourhood like the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal), India-Myanmar Trilateral Highway, etc are moving ahead at a snail’s pace.
- On the other hand, countries in India’s maritime neighbourhood proposes huge investment opportunities for India like Oman (Duqm port), Seychelles (Assomption Islands), and even Iran (Chahbahar port).
Therefore, the above analysis shows that India’s maritime neighbourhood has huge strategic potential which is still unexploited. India needs to continue its approach of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and gain diplomatic advantage wherever possible.
As India’s capacities have increased, its interests and stakes have also increased. As an emerging power and as an aspirant for the permanent seat in the UNSC, India cannot afford to play the traditional stance of its foreign policy often described as ‘sitting on the fence’ and ‘knee jerk reactions’.