The influence of other regional factors
While the strategic triangle among India, China, and the United States understandably preoccupies New Delhi, it by no means exhausts India’s list of regional priorities. If Indian strategists follow Alfred Thayer Mahan’s injunction to treat the seas as a wide common, then they must assess the connections and interactions between India’s immediate maritime environment in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea and other bodies of water farther offshore. It is not surprising, then, that New Delhi’s naval strategists speak and write evocatively, in terms of concentric rings rippling outward from the subcontinent, when envisioning the future reach of Indian naval power. Neighboring regions on the edges of the Indian Ocean, such as the South China Sea and the Horn of Africa, demand considerable intellectual and policy energy from Indian maritime thinkers. If India hopes to be a genuine Indian Ocean power, then it needs the capacity to influence events in those two arenas. Extraregional players matter too. Australia, a middleweight regional power equipped with impressive expeditionary forces, bounds the southeastern corner of the Indian Ocean. Canberra’s security doctrine, which calls for defeating potential invaders as far from Australian shores as possible, in theory sketches its defense perimeter well within India’s backyard. Moreover, Australia must strike a delicate quadrilateral balance among the United States, the dominant maritime power to its east, a resurgent China to its north, and an ascendant India to its west. As New Delhi and Beijing march to the seas, Australia may find itself caught in the middle. Japan, a Far Eastern power traditionally inattentive to distant Indian Ocean affairs, has already made its presence and interests known in the region. Not only does energy security beckon Tokyo, but India’s seaward ambitions offer it a strategic opportunity to outflank China, a power whose uncertain – but inexorably upward – trajectory increasingly alarms the Japanese. An examination of how India will cope with regional factors beyond coastal South Asia is thus indispensible to any study of New Delhi’s longer-term maritime posture. We fulfill this analytical requirement by following and assessing sequentially the expanding concentric circles that seem to beguile so many Indian strategists. We begin with Pakistan, India’s perennial competitor as well as a maritime object of continuing import, before moving farther offshore to other regions
and actors that could accelerate or complicate India’s seaward project. Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, Australia, and Japan follow in that order.