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.