Saturday, 28 May 2011

India Navy Modernization Program (Part 2 of 2)

Read Part 1
Bruno Alexander de Paiva, Perth, Western Australia

India’s economic and energy security also stands to benefit from its regional engagement. India’s demand for oil has risen sharply over the last decade as its economy continues to grow rapidly. Between January and October 2010, India imported US$82.1 billion worth of oil, the majority of which was sourced from the Middle East.

India, like China, has also invested heavily in Sudan’s hydrocarbon industry and has established an Exim Bank of India credit facility worth $640 million for the development of Ethiopia’s sugarcane/bio-fuel industry.

Overall trade between India and Kenya increased to $1.5 billion in 2009-2010, making that country India’s sixth-largest trading partner. India also agreed to give Mozambique $500 million of credit in 2010 and both nations have stated a goal of increasing two-way trade to $1 billion by 2013.

Many of India’s newfound economic, energy and strategic interests are thus well entrenched in Indian Ocean states. A revamped navy will help India to strengthen these interests well into the future.

While the West may welcome India’s naval expansion and modernization as a counterweight to China’s growing influence, India’s main rivals China and Pakistan have responded with growing unease and have reacted by enhancing their own naval capabilities.

While China has used its expanding political and economic clout to gain influence in the Indian Ocean region, there are indications that it is also responding to India’s overtures by fast tracking the development of its own blue-water naval aspirations.

Given the strategic competition that exists between India and China, the development of blue-water capabilities could put the two nations at greater odds with each other in the future.

Just as for India, the need to ensure continued access to energy reserves and mineral deposits, maritime trade and new markets is key to China’s desire to secure influence in the Indian Ocean region.

China, like India, remains heavily dependent on access to oil, natural gas and mineral deposits in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East to enable its economy to prosper.

The prospect of serious naval rivalry in the Indian Ocean, if left unchecked, could indeed become a reality in the years ahead. As the third-largest body of water in the world, the Indian Ocean has much less operating space than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and risks becoming increasingly crowded.

China has responded to India’s growing naval capabilities by enhancing its relations with countries along India’s borders, such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In 2008, China overtook Japan to become the largest national donor to Sri Lanka. China has also become a principal arms supplier to Sri Lanka after the US stopped selling arms to Colombo in 2007.

China has built a deep-water port in Myanmar at Kyaukpyu on the Bay of Bengal coast and has assisted in the construction of a naval base in Sittwe, also on Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal.

In 2007, China donated an aid package worth $10.5 million to Bangladesh and has assisted it in building an anti-ship missile launch pad near the Chittagong Port, which was completed in 2008.

In March 2011, the Chinese government announced a $19 million military aid package for Nepal, largely in the form of medical equipment, logistics and engineering equipment.

Such initiatives indicate that China intends to rival India for strategic influence in what New Delhi sees as its backyard. For New Delhi, that makes India’s naval modernization program crucial to ensuring control of its sea lines of communication.

India’s naval modernization plan could also trigger a response from its traditional archrival, Pakistan. India already enjoys strategic leverage over Pakistan through its relations with Afghanistan and presence at Tajikistan’s Ayni Air Base.

Pakistan’s small coastline and comparatively inferior naval force makes it easier for India to blockade it. Such a situation would increase any sense of insecurity in Pakistan’s government and armed forces. Pakistan has undertaken a modernization of its own navy in response to India’s plans.

In March 2011, Pakistan’s Defense Ministry asked the Cabinet to approve the purchase of conventional Chinese submarines. Pakistan has also undertaken a plan to build four F-22P class frigates with the help of China; the first entered service in 2009. Given the traditional rivalry between Pakistan and India, the modernization of both their navies has the potential to further inflame tensions in the region.

The writer is a researcher for the private organization Future Directions International, based in Perth, Australia. He is currently completing his Master’s degree in International Relations at Curtin University. His primary areas of research include Chinese-North Korean relations and geopolitics in the Indian Ocean.

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