chapter  9
India’s maritime security ambitions in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific
Pages 10

India’s ambitions to play a direct security role in the Asia Pacific are focused on the maritime dimension. Over the last two decades, the Indian Navy has led the way in expanding India’s role in the region. In coming years, India is likely to increasingly assert a direct maritime security role in Southeast Asia and further into the western Pacific. India’s emphasis on naval power as the primary means of projecting power

into the Asia Pacific is a result of several factors. At one level it merely reflects the inherent capabilities of the navy as a force capable of projecting power beyond India’s borders. Its focus on maritime power is also a consequence of the opening of India’s economy and expansion of its maritime trading relationships, which includes a growing dependence on imported energy. It also reflects India’s geographic constraints. India’s ability to project economic, political or military power on the Asian continent is severely constrained by the geographic barrier of the Himalayas and its difficult relationships with Pakistan to the northwest, China to the north and Burma to the west. To some extent India can only expand its area of influence in the maritime dimension. Finally, an emphasis on naval power is also a question of status. In the late nineteenth century the United States and Japan saw maritime power as a requisite of great power status, as did the Soviet Union in the latter part of the twentieth century, and arguably China in recent years. Some in New Delhi now see maritime power as an essential element in India’s ‘destiny’ as a great power. The Indian Navy’s apparent focus on the acquisition of prestige assets such as aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines seems driven at least in part by India’s search for status. India’s primary maritime security objectives in the Asia Pacific region

involve the consolidation of India’s role as the leading naval power in the northeast Indian Ocean and, in the longer term, gaining a direct security role in the Malacca Strait. India has a secondary objective of gaining a significant role in the South China Sea and the western Pacific generally.