India is in the driver’s seat to build new security structures in the region, but it can’t do it alone.
Like Australia in the Pacific, India has been pursuing its own Indian Ocean island step-up, largely driven by concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. This has included increased bilateral aid, investment, and security assistance to the island states. India is also trying to develop regional security structures that focus on maritime and other transnational security threats. India may find that it can gain considerable leverage from working with regional partners.
When he was first elected as Indian prime minister in 2014, one of Narendra Modi’s first international visits was to Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Mauritius, where he announced a new “SAGAR” policy (Security and Growth for All in the Region). The Modi government’s objective was to increase India’s economic and political influence, enhance connectivity and reduce island vulnerabilities against a range of security threats, including climate change. It is also seeking to build regional cohesion as a way of discouraging the further expansion of China’s presence.
India faces some considerable challenges. In the Indian Ocean, Delhi is working with a region that is not nearly as well organised as, say, the Pacific where the Pacific Islands Forum and associated groupings provide a dense web of regional arrangements.
The National Security College (NSC), with the support of the Department of Defence, is leading a two-year research project on Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy in the Indian Ocean. As a part of this project, this paper advocates for a more inclusive and comprehensive Indian Ocean security architecture. This paper first appeared in the Lowy Institute’s ‘The Interpreter’ on 10 January 2022.