18. NAM, Non Alignment 2.0 and Indian Navy

(Published article in Defence and Security Alert, Mar 2013)

NAM, Non Alignment 2.0 and Indian Navy

 Two events brought Non Alignment in to focus in 2012 in India. One was the 16th NAM summit hosted by Iran and the other to a lesser extent was release of a document Non Alignment 2.0 by a diverse group of analysts and policy makers.

Tehran NAM Summit

The NAM summit demonstrated that with its over 120 members, NAM still holds relevance, even though some of its members have aligned themselves with the United States of America, in the emerging economic and world order. It enabled centre staging of dialogue on Syria and Israel by President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon respectively. Interestingly it also led to General Martin Dempsey reinforcing US opposition to unilateral military action by Israel against Iran, as he made clear that US military chiefs were equally wary of getting ensnared in Syria.[1] 

Professor Vijay Prasad points out that “NAM is just a name for regionalism now, and the future of world politics lies in this regional thinking, not the U.S. State Department.” The solidarity of old may be gone, but in its place is something far more real: power.[2]

 It is evident that NAM has remained significant over decades of its existence irrespective of the changing world order, during and post, cold war. NAM today stands for promoting cause of humanity and economic cooperation. It has been able to influence UN policies to a certain extent due to a large number of its members in the UN. However, it is also true that it has little military or economic clout.  NAM members realise that economic empowerment is essential for political independence, therefore reliance on economic cooperation between countries forms core of the Nam strategy. NAM advocates a three pronged approach to resolve the problems of the world economy; namely reliance on own resources, promoting cooperation between member states, and enhancing cooperation with developed states. This alone can lead to self reliance of NAM members, which in turn would shield their interests from the rapidly advancing technology and economy of the developed world. Thus economic cooperation forms the basis of establishing a just and fair international economic order.

With respect to India and the relevance of economic cooperation with countries, it is sufficient to quote Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh at NAM summit in Tehran, 2012[3] :-

“Nearly two decades ago, India embarked on a “Look East” policy in an endeavour to learn and benefit from and contribute to the evolution of a new Asian economic community to our East. However, the progress, prosperity, well being, political stability and plurality of the Asia to our West has always been of equal historical and civilisational significance for us”.

Given the fact that the cheapest and the largest volume of trade and energy flow over the oceans and that a large number of NAM members are ocean rim countries, the role of a robust merchant marine is implicit in the objectives of NAM. The role of National Navies lies in shaping and securing the ocean trade environment in their spheres of influence, for convenient and trouble free economic cooperation.

Non Alignment 2.0

The Non Alignment 2.0 document is India specific, covers a vast arena of national issues and suggests measures which could be undertaken to enable India to take its rightful place in the world. As far as maritime power is concerned it brings out the advantage India holds in Asia and how it can accrue strategic advantage if the maritime strategy is vigorously pursued. It advocates that India should strive for a dominant position in the Indian Ocean, develop bases in off shore island chains and extensive specialised amphibious capabilities. Major thrust needs to be imparted to development of the EEZ, ship building, port infra structure etc[4]. With respect to economy it advocates active participation in bilateral and multilateral forums and economic integration with the countries of South Asia, East Africa, West Asia and South-East Asia. The fundamental theme is thus attaining economic power as one of the pillars for greater National power.

Focus Indian Navy

“….after nearly a millennia of inward and landward focus, we are once again turning our gaze outwards and seawards, which is the natural direction of view for a nation seeking to re-establish itself, not simply as a continental power, but even more so as a maritime power, and consequently as one that is of significance on the world stage (emphasis added).”

Pranab Mukherjee Jun 2007

Over the past two decades Indian Navy has made extensive forays towards fulfilment of objectives of cooperation in the world order as exemplified by an examination of Naval Exercises and Security arrangements in the Indian Ocean.

Naval Exercises. Indian Navy frequently carries out Naval Exercises with foreign navies. The most common being the passage exercise (PASSEX) with Navies of the countries being visited by Indian Naval ships. Indian naval ships have made port calls in Israel, Turkey, Russia, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga,  Kenya, China and other countries. Other structured exercises are aimed at enhancing interoperability, cooperative security engagement and regional Human Assistance and Disaster Relief. Some of these exercises are conducted annually for example; Malabar with the U.S. Navy, Indra with Russian Navy, Konkan with the Royal Navy, Varuna with the French Navy, IBSAMAR with the Brazil and South African navies and Simbex with the Republic of Singapore Navy. The biennial exercise MILAN is conducted with participation over a dozen navies near Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

In addition to these, Indian Navy carries out naval exercises with navies of Oman, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines, New Zealand, Japan and China. Increased naval cooperation is being sought with Germany, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Indian Navy seeks cooperation and carries out these exercises with navies and maritime security agencies in the Indian Ocean Region with the aim of protection of SLOCS, regional merchant shipping and global shipping in the area.

Security Relationships in Indian Ocean. India has placed considerable emphasis on developing a security presence in the northeast Indian Ocean. There are several dimensions to this: first, India’s direct security presence in the Andaman Sea, second, its bilateral security relationships in the region and third, its aspirations to gain a security role in the Malacca Strait. While India aspires to play a significant security role in Southeast Asia it has given particular focus to the Malacca Strait, the key maritime choke point between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. India’s Andaman  and Nicobar islands, which run north-south through the Andaman Sea form a natural base for projecting power into the Strait and beyond into the South China Sea.

India has deep links with Singapore, which now acts as India’s primary economic, political and security partner in Southeast Asia. Singapore sees India as having an important security role in the region, acting as a balance to other extra-regional powers, including China, the United States and Japan. India and Singapore have extensive security cooperation, including broad-based security dialogues, joint exercises, intelligence sharing and cooperation in defence technology.

India has also been developing its security relationship with Indonesia; a Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2001. There are biannual “coordinated” naval patrols between the Indian and Indonesian navies in the Six-Degree Channel at the northern entrance to the Malacca Strait to keep extremist groups from using these routes. These patrols comprise Indian and Indonesian vessels and aircraft, co-ordinated out of India’s Joint Operations Command in the Andaman Islands.

At the invitation of the United States, India took a security role inside the Malacca Strait through the provision of naval escorts for high value commercial traffic, as part of the U.S. led Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then, India has been careful to position itself as a benign security provider in the Strait, and to ensure that any naval presence was seen as “non-intrusive, cooperative and benign” by the littoral states. However, the littoral states (and in particular, Malaysia) have resisted giving India a formal security role in the Strait, either on a bilateral basis or in the various cooperative security arrangements that have been put in place.

It is evident that India’s interest in the Strait is primarily motivated by a desire to enhance its role as the leading maritime security provider in the Indian Ocean and potentially control access to the Indian Ocean.

In November 2009, Australia and India concluded a joint security declaration, providing a framework for increased cooperation, security issues such as maritime policing (piracy and maritime terrorism, illegal fishing, people trafficking etc), disaster management and anti-terrorism.

In August 2009, a security agreement was formalised with Maldives that will significantly enhance India’s capabilities in the central Indian Ocean. India has been granted use of the former British naval and air base on Gan Island, part of the southernmost group of islands in the Maldives (lying around 1,000 km south of India and around 700 km north of Diego Garcia). A system of 26 electronic monitoring facilities across the Maldives archipelago is being built by India.

Since 2003, India has entered into several defence agreements with Oman dealing with training, maritime security cooperation and joint exercises. The Indian Air Force uses the Thumrait air base for transit purposes and Oman has offered the Indian Navy berthing facilities in support of anti-piracy patrols. In 2008 India also entered into a security agreement with Qatar. The agreement, deals among other things with maritime security and intelligence sharing.

The south western Indian Ocean forms the gateway between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. India’s security relationships in the region are anchored by its close relationship with Mauritius, the island territory that lies around 900km to the east of Madagascar. India has long-standing and close political, economic and security associations with Mauritius. Mauritius has acted as the primary gateway (originating from the United States, Europe and elsewhere); largely due to favourable tax arrangements for international investment into India the Mauritian elite see India in largely benign terms and appear to have accepted India as having a special role in Mauritian security. Since 2003, the Indian Navy has also provided maritime security through periodic patrols of Mauritian waters including anti-piracy patrols in 2010.

The Indian Navy has assisted Seychelles with maritime security in the EEZ under a 2003 defence cooperation agreement under which it provided anti-piracy patrols in early 2010. In July 2007 the Indian Navy opened an electronic monitoring facility in northern Madagascar at the head of the Mozambique Channel and reportedly has also been granted “limited” berthing rights in Madagascar for Indian naval vessels. The Indian Navy has also acted as a maritime security provider for Mozambique, in 2006, India and Mozambique entered a defence cooperation agreement that envisages joint maritime patrols, supply of military equipment, training and technology transfer in repairing and assembling military vehicles, aircraft and ships. India’s maritime security relationships in the south western Indian Ocean are also reinforced by growing maritime security relations with France and South Africa. Since 2001 the Indian Navy has conducted annual exercises with the French navy, which operates out of Reunion and Djibouti. India also has a growing presence in Antarctica, with two active research stations and a third one due to open in 2012/13.

 Indian Navy has thus taken a collaborative approach in developing cooperative relationships, which has been relatively successful. It emphasises its ability to provide maritime policing, antipiracy, anti-terrorism functions and humanitarian relief functions. It also enhances position of India as a facilitator of economic growth in the region.

The above discussion brings out the modest development of the Indian Navy in to a regional security provider and a catalyst for economic growth. This viewed together with the goals and objectives of both NAM and Non Alignment 2.0 brings out the fact that, in a small way, the Indian Navy has taken the path of fulfilling its designated role in facilitating an equitable economic order as well as towards achieving economic power.

The path to a great maritime nation lies in facilitating vibrant bilateral and multilateral trade over the sea by removing policy level impediments, which in turn would give an impetus to merchant marine and the growth of the Indian Navy.


[1]Richard Norton-Taylor , 30 August 2012, The Guardian, Israeli attack on Iran ‘would not stop nuclear programme’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/30/israeli-attack-iran-not-stop-nuclear

[2] Ishaan Tharoor, Sept. 10, 2012, Back to the Future: Why the Non-Aligned Movement Isn’t an Anachronism, Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2123279,00.html

[3] Statement by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the XVI Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, http://pmindia.gov.in/speech-details.php?nodeid=1211

[4] Sunil Khilnani, Rajiv Kumar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta,Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Prakash Menon, Nandan Nilekani, Srinath Raghavan,Shyam Saran, Siddharth Varadarajan; NONALIGNMENT 2.0,A FOREIGN AND STRATEGIC POLICY FOR INDIA IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY,