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Rethinking the Indian Ocean Security Architecture

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Abstract

The regional dynamic fuelled by China’s rise has been the cause of a new arms race in the Indian Ocean and partly drove the emergence of new actors. Local states, regional powers and external players have all increased their presence, generating a frantic search for new partnerships both as an attempt to assuage US concerns regarding burden sharing and a desire to diversify strategic options. Because local and external players still weigh their options in light of the evolution of the US–China–India triangle, ties are not binding and do not equate mutual security commitments. They reflect a trend that could be defined as competitive bilateralism and which could in fact prevent the building or strengthening of multilateral mechanisms to address future challenges in the region as it brings with it capabilities incommensurate with the ones of most local actors.

The dynamics of the new Indian Ocean are leading to the emergence of a multi-layered Indian Ocean architecture in which regional organizations could become one of many different instruments for multilateral cooperation. The US would remain the ultimate security guarantor, but in a posture characterized by the search for indispensability rather than dominance. In between, a coalition of the middle powers, including both resident and non-resident Indian Ocean countries, is gradually taking shape, acting as a federating force of the local actors, while linking them up to the larger strategic problem. External actors do remain the key to the future of the IOR but their relative contribution is diminishing. In the process the nature of Indian Ocean regionalism is changing, moving away from post-colonial concerns to the reappropriation of the region.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The initial 14 members soon became 19. At the time of writing the total membership has reached 23, France having been accepted in December 2020.

  2. 2.

    It should be noted that Several of the initial 14 member states had been left out of Southeast Asian Regional Trade Agreements (RTA).

  3. 3.

    France, which always contested the qualification of “outside power” itself because of its presence in La Réunion, became à full member in December 2020.

  4. 4.

    The Jakarta Concord listed nine main objectives for IORA’s action in the region: Promoting maritime security and safety; Enhancing trade and investment; Promoting sustainable and responsible fisheries management and development; Enhancing disaster risk management; Strengthening academic, science and technology cooperation; Fostering tourism and cultural exchanges; Harnessing and developing cross cutting issues and priority objectives; Broadening IORA’s external engagements; Strengthening IORA’s institutions.

  5. 5.

    One such example was the holding of the International Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise (IMMSAREX) held in November 2017 under the aegis of IONS with the participation of India and China (only an observer in the Symposium), and announced in August of the same year, while tensions between Delhi and Beijing were running high amid the standoff of their respective armies on the Doklam plateau in Bhuttan.

  6. 6.

    French territories in the South-west Indian Ocean include La Réunion, Mayotte, the Scattered Islands (Les Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Bassas de India, Europa) in the Channel of Mozambique, and Tromelin. They also include Adelie Land, the Crozet Islands, the Kerguelen Islands, as well as the Saint Paul and Amstrerdam; Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean.

  7. 7.

    The French sovereignty over Tromelin is contested by Mauritius and Madagascar which also claims the Scattered Island, and over Mayotte by the Comoros.

  8. 8.

    In their 2021 joint statement, Quad leaders described “a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific”, expressing their desire “for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”.

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Correspondence to Frédéric Grare .

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Grare, F., Samaan, JL. (2022). Rethinking the Indian Ocean Security Architecture. In: The Indian Ocean as a New Political and Security Region. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-91797-5_9

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