India’s Needs and Naval Capabilities: A Symbiotic Relationship

AuthorNeetika Verma,Baljit Singh
Published date01 April 2015
Date01 April 2015
Subject MatterArticles
00_AIA2_1_i-vi.indd Article
India’s Needs and Naval
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
Capabilities: A Symbiotic
2(1) 52–74
2015 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797014565294
Baljit Singh1
Neetika Verma2
The change in India’s strategy of economic development since 1991 has made
the Indian Ocean critically significant in its strategic thinking, demanding atten-
tion beyond its elementary maritime security needs. Accordingly, India changed
its security strategy to realize the goal of high economic growth through the
medium of sea that required the augmentation of its naval capabilities. This article
argues that the improvement in India’s naval capabilities has been driven by its
maritime security, developmental and power-projection needs—as they share a
symbiotic relationship. The improvement in India’s naval capabilities has added
to its national power and enhanced its profile as a sea-faring nation and thereby
strengthened its position in the international community. Notwithstanding that,
further improvements—both qualitative and quantitative—are required to real-
ize its strategic and economic goals and power projection aspirations.
Indian Ocean, Indian Navy, national power calculus, naval capabilities, sea power
The Indian Ocean has always been a significant element of India’s strategic
calculus in its post-independence era. Indian strategic thinkers have historically
viewed the Indian Ocean as India’s backyard and so have emphasized the need for
India to play a greater role in underwriting its security and stability. As K.M.
Panikkar correctly observed, India’s colonial era began with traders who arrived in
India via the sea—a fact that makes the Indian Ocean a legitimate area of interest
1 Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu, Jammu, India.
2 Doctoral candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu, Jammu, India.
Corresponding author:
Baljit Singh, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu, Jammu, India.

Singh and Verma 53
to it. To that extent at least, the origin of India’s modern maritime tradition can be
traced back to his writings. He wrote a seminal essay, titled India and the Indian
Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea-Power on Indian History
(1945), with the
explicit purpose of changing Indian attitudes towards sea-power and demonstrat-
ing its relevance to India’s overall security strategy. Panikkar argued for a strong
maritime orientation for India, asserting that it has had a powerful naval tradition
and had enjoyed the command of the seas around it until the beginning of the six-
teenth century. Peninsular India’s maritime contacts with the Mediterranean and
the Pacific are widely known (Mohan, 2009, p. 3). He also insisted that the neglect
of sea power was at the root of India’s loss of independence, decline and global
marginalization. Influenced by the thinking of Alfred Thayer Mahan, he advocated
remedying India’s permanent geographical weakness on the continent by exploit-
ing its protrusion into the Indian Ocean (Panikkar, 1945, p. 45). India’s first Prime
Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru also recognized the significance of the Indian Ocean
for India’s maritime security. While addressing officers and sailors of INS Mysore
in March 1958, Nehru stated that history has shown that whichever power controls
the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea-borne trade at its mercy and,
in the second, India’s very independence (Singh, 2008, p. 1).
Despite that, the Indian Ocean did not get the attention it deserved in India’s
strategic thinking, security policy and operational strategy for a long time because
of New Delhi’s pre-occupation with continental security threats. As India was
busy with its territorial consolidation and import substitution model of economic
development, the Indian Ocean did not find a place in its strategic priorities except
for the realization of elementary maritime needs. An inward-oriented strategy of
economic development and lack of resources prevented India from changing its
maritime perspective from the sea as a frontier to a vital territorial area.
The change in India’s strategy of economic development from inward to out-
ward oriented since 1991 has made the Indian Ocean critically significant in its
strategic calculus, demanding attention beyond its elementary maritime security
needs. India’s increasing economic growth rate has become its core national inter-
est. Accordingly, Indian Ocean has become increasingly significant to India
because of its increasing volume of trade with other countries through the Sea
Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) over the last two decades. As a growing
economy, India had to increase its maritime capabilities in order to serve three
major objectives: its basic security requirements, its developmental requirements
and its power projection requirements. Due to that New Delhi has redefined the
Indian Ocean as its legitimate area of interest. Consequently, India required
maritime power to protect its varied interests by making the sea a force multiplier
in its national power calculus.
This article will address the fundamental question of how India’s elementary
security, developmental and power projection needs are fuelling an improvement
in its naval capabilities. It also examines how improved naval capabilities have
enhanced India’s status internationally, thereby helping it to attain its rightful
place in the international community. This article further argues that India’s
elementary security, developmental and power projection needs and its naval
capabilities share a symbiotic relationship as they reinforce each other.

Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 2(1)
Elementary Security Needs
Historically, India’s security thinking was primarily preoccupied by continental
threats. This was reinforced by India’s experience of security threats after inde-
pendence, when first Pakistan and then China individually and then jointly posed
security threats to New Delhi. The ongoing security threats on India’s western and
northern borders and from domestic insurgencies have led the Indian Army to
hold an undeniably dominant position in the Indian military establishment
(Brewster, 2010, p. 1). During the Cold War period, the Indian Navy (IN) remained
restrained and unassertive because of its limited capacity, due to the nation’s non-
aligned posture and lack of sufficient resources for the exploration and utilization
of sea power. Besides this, the external players’ involvement in the Indian Ocean
during the Cold War years further crippled India’s ability to shape developments
in the Indian Ocean region. India’s security scenario has changed over time. At
present, India has to deal with five fronts that include China, Pakistan, maritime
threats, space and cybe space. In order to deal with Chinese and Pakistani missile
threats, India is already working with Israel to develop anti-missile measures. It is
also showing a growing interest in cyber security, evidenced by its agreements
with the USA relating to the matter. To handle its maritime security threats, the
Indian Navy’s role assumed critical signi ficance. Hence, naval power has emerged
as a critical component of New Delhi’s strategic thinking, security policy and
strategy over the last couple of decades.
Necessity of Naval Capability
India is a littoral state of the Indian Ocean, with a coastline of 7,516 km and an
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1.55 million sq. km. India has an especially
large EEZ because of the geographic distance of the Andaman & Nicobar and
Lakshadweep Islands from the mainland. Together with the Andaman & Nicobar
and Lakshadweep Islands, its EEZ is 2.013 million sq. km, which is almost two-
thirds of its land area (Khurana, 2008, p. 11). India has jurisdiction in its EEZ over
the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures for oil
exploration and exploitation, marine scientific research and the protection and
preservation of the marine environment under the award of the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) 1982 (Lawrence and Prabhakar,
2006, p. 5). It has nine states and four Union Territories that border the Indian
Ocean. India has 12 major ports, 185 minor ports, more than 250 fishing harbours
and more than 100 off-shore platforms. About 50,000 merchant marine ships visit
Indian ports annually and another 50,000 traverse its territorial water based on
international freedom of navigation conventions.
As a maritime nation, India has huge responsibilities because sea frontiers are
as significant as land borders. Managing sea frontiers is a difficult task given the
host of varied non-conventional and asymmetric threats that have emerged over
the years. India has more maritime borders with other countries than it does

Singh and Verma 55
with its land borders. India’s maritime boundaries necessitate delimitation with
seven countries on adjacent coasts: Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,
Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. The much-awaited verdict on the dispute
regarding the delimitation of the maritime boundary between India and Bangladesh
was delivered on 7 July 2014, when a United Nations tribunal awarded
19,467 sq. km of the claimed 25,602 sq. km of the Bay of Bengal to...

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