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Full text of Keynote address delivered by Inspector General Rajan Bargotra at International Conference “The Indian Ocean Great Game Unfolding: Interests, Determinants and Perspectives”,October 28 2017

Article No. 0092/2017

(The following is the full text of the Keynote Address delivered by Inspector General Rajan Bargotra at the University of Madras on 28 October 2017 at the International Conference “The Indian Ocean Great Game Unfolding: Interests, Determinants and Perspectives” organised by Institute for Transnational Studies,  Germany; Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S); National Maritime Foundation- Chennai Chapter (NMF) and the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras.)

1.Air Marshal Matheswaran (Retd), Dr Ramu Manivannan from University of Madras, Ms Klara Knapp, Convenor,  Institute of Transnational Studies Germany, Commodore Vasan, Regional Director, National Maritime Foundation,  Prof Suryanarayanan, Eminent speakers, Officers of the Armed Forces, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to all of you. At the outset, I thank Commodore Vasan and the organizers of the conference for extending me the invitation for delivering the keynote address in this conference on one of the most the important and trending subject amongst the strategists and maritime policy think tanks- The Indian Ocean Great Game Unfolding: Interests, Determinants and Perspectives.

  1. To say the truth, today I am overwhelmed by the presence of most eminent maritime thinkers, strategists and futurists. However, as a Coast Guard Officer who straddles between two spheres of influences such as naval doctrines based on military thinking, and the Civilian part of law enforcement aspects at sea, I have privilege of having front row view of many maritime issues that require critical consideration, so as to establish our firm strategic foothold which we are trying to imprint in the Indian Ocean area.
  2. As the new center of economic gravity has shifted to the Indian Ocean area and the economic fortunes of emerging Asia are taking shape, our country is rightly taking its share and projecting its prerogatives and responsibilities. This aspect is mostly facilitated by the Indian Navy which has emerged as resurgent maritime power and a net security provider in the IoR and beyond. The Indian Coast Guard is developing its assets, resources and capabilities, and marching ahead to support our national endeavour on all fronts. Sustained economic development requires continuous protection of trade from disruptions, maintaining order at sea and fostering peace in the Region. The peninsular nature of our country provides ample scope for maritime development and our country can become a vital cog in the maritime trade and its allied services. This in turn will provide employment opportunities and areas for higher investments.
  3. I’m happy to note that today there is a greater understanding and acknowledgement amongst the public that India’s long term growth plans and future are intrinsically linked to the seas, and the issues that surround the use of sea are discussed and deliberated in great detail not only at the Apex level policy think tanks but even at the University level. I am conscious of the fact that, serious issues relating the perspectives and determinants of the great game played in the Indian Ocean will be touched by experts today and tomorrow, hence I intend to focus my address on the issues relating to non-traditional security threats and the responses being made by the maritime players. Some may term these aspects as Military Operations other than War (MOOTW) which focus on deterring war, resolving conflict, promoting peace and supporting civil authorities in response to crisis. The phrase and acronym were coined by US Military during the nineties when the conflicts were characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians. MOOTW are not limited to use or threat of force but involve deterring potential aggressor by other means and requires much greater skill sets than traditional war fighting as many underlying issues related to utilization of naval assets or law enforcement assets, the use of force, jurisdictional limits and liabilities will come into play. To claim jurisdiction and to respond to the range of maritime threats, the most fundamental questions are raised as to what law should be applied while seeking to respond to a particular threat. It may be convenient for any government to direct its military vessels for high risk operations at sea, however, it will be prudent to understand the underlying legal issues and the international treaty provisions prior taking suitable course of action which may be purely a case of law enforcement. Even international terrorism has been more traditionally viewed through the lens of law enforcement powers, rather than as question of armed conflict.
  4. Shipping forms a significant maritime activity in India as almost ninety percent of goods are transported by sea mostly by ships flagged in other countries and manned by crew of various nationalities. Hence it has an important bearing on the maritime security. A range of complex jurisdictional issues may emanate with respect to the vessels that may exercise innocent passage or freedom of navigation in our waters, when it clashes with our Coastal State rights especially with regard to application of norms for security matters, since UNCLOS articles do not adequately spell out clear provisions regarding the security matters. Ship owners and ship operators find ingenious ways to keep their businesses underway and the international shipping practices and laws permit them to operate with a cover of confidentiality.
  5. International lawyers referring to questions of maritime security may seek to invoke UNCLOS as a point of reference for defining or at least understanding a term related to the law of the sea. Despite the states parties to UNCLOS desiring to settle all disputes relating to the law of the sea, there are scant references to security in the treaty and certainly no clear-cut definition of what maritime security might mean. At most, some indication of what is meant by security may be drawn from UNCLOS in its treatment of the right of innocent passage and the identification of a series of activities that would be inconsistent with that right and hence prejudicial to the peace, good order and security of the coastal state. From this perspective, it is not only a range of military activities that may pose a threat to the security of the coastal state, such as aircraft launching, weapons exercise, etc but also activities like Ill-legal Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, willful and serious pollution and illegal research and survey are now forming part of maritime security threat.
  6. The UN Secretary General has acknowledged that there is no agreed definition of ‘maritime security’ and has instead identified what activities are commonly perceived as threats to maritime security. In his 2008 report on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, the Secretary General identified seven specific threats to maritime security which are:-

Firstly, the Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships, which particularly endanger the welfare of the seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce.

Second, terrorist acts involving shipping, or offshore installation.

Third,  Illicit trafficking in arms and weapons of mass destructions,

Fourthly- illicit traffic in narcotic drugs as around 70% of drugs are transported through sea.

Fifth- smuggling and trafficking of persons by sea, posing risks due to the use of the unseaworthy vessels.

Sixth- Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) in light of the identification of food security as major threat to international peace and security.

And lastly, the intentional and unlawful damage to the marine environment, a particularly grave form of maritime pollution due to the potential to threaten the security of one or more states given the impact on social and economic interests of coastal states.

  1. I take pride in stating that today, the Indian Coast Guard has established superior capabilities to respond to all the mentioned maritime security threats and have responded to all the threats that have occurred in our waters and earned respect and recognition from both the national and international media.
  2. Although the threats just mentioned are those most commonly recognised, it is inevitable that new threats will emerge as society’s interests evolve, economic demands change, political preferences shift, and indeed the very nature of the globe alters through environmental and geological forces. Climate change is already affecting the marine environment and will require shifts in the application and understanding of the law of the sea. Rising sea levels will alter the positions of baselines and base-points from which maritime zones are measured. That the altering of size of a state’s maritime domain has significant political repercussions cannot be refuted.
  3. Increasing temperature due to global warming will affect marine biodiversity, prompting new challenges for the conservation and management of marine species. Further impacts of climate change include ocean acidification and erosion. These challenges may prompt greater emphasis on marine environmental security than it exists at present not only to the waters that surrounds us but to the seas adjacent and beyond. Today, the threats to security of ocean are not a concept limited to the naval forces as the concept of security in the twenty first century has expanded. The activities to cover the gap between the coastal policing and military activities would be most important for the future maritime forces and the Coast Guards world over are preparing themselves in meeting the new challenges through coordinated ocean peacekeeping process.
  4. Ocean peacekeeping fundamentally concerns the activities which are necessary to execute the obligations stipulated in UNCLOS III and at the same time, enforcing our maritime laws in a coordinated manner, based on agreements and arrangements, with the objectives of maintaining the maritime order and preventing peacetime destabilisations of maritime safety and security at sea. It is to be noted that ocean peacekeeping is the conduct of activities in a different dimension unlike UN peacekeeping operations, by monitoring activities and sharing of information. It is believed that the appropriate agencies in this space, which is predominantly cooperative law enforcement, would be the Coast Guards, as it involves maintaining international common discipline and also to effectively promote the coordinated activities on the ocean for protection of marine resources and marine environment. Such involvement of Coast Guards leads to enhanced confidence building measures, and it can also exert influence to deter occurrences of armed conflicts, where potential disputes exist for example the patrolling by ICG and PMSA vessels near India-Pak IMBL. The ocean peacekeeping is a new security concept and could be positioned as something akin to security cooperation or cooperative security – not for protecting the individual nations’ interest but to create a foundation for the continued existence of mankind, in other words, the security cooperation of the regional nations to protect the vital interest of the mankind.
  5. The past 10 – 15 years have seen major developments with the emergence, evolution and employment of Coast Guards in the South Asia and South East Asian Region such as in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives in South Asia Region, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Japan and Korea Coast Guard have established themselves as primary maritime agencies in the East Asian Region with fleet size of over 500 vessels and several number of aircraft. In China, the four para military forces such as Customs, Maritime section of Public Safety Bureau, Border Security Force and Border Defence have been combined to perform the duties akin to Coast Guard. In 2013, the China Coast Guard was formed as a dedicated force, to undertake constabulary roles. They have been increasingly deployed in sensitive areas in South China Sea. Other countries are also demonstrating a preference for deploying Coast Guard ships and personnel in other sensitive situations at sea rather than naval ships such as in Senkaku and Diaoyu islands in East China Sea and Takeshima/Dokdo islands in the Sea of Japan.
  6. The Indian Coast Guard executes ocean peacekeeping roles through bilateral, multilateral and regional cooperation measures. The Indian Coast Guard represents the Government of India in the heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies (HACGAM) consisting of 20 countries and also under the Regional Cooperation Agreement for Combating Piracy (ReCAAP) against ships in Asia participated by 20 countries. The Indian Coast Guard capacity building efforts include Gifting of Interceptor Boat and one Dornier to Mauritius Coast Guard, gifting of ICG OPV Varaha to Sri Lankan Navy and Varuna to Srilankan Coast Guard, lease of ICG ALH to Maldives National Defence Force and gifting of Interceptor Boat to Seychelles Coast Guard. The ongoing engagements with other Coast Guards include DOSTI series of exercises with Maldivian and Sri Lanka Coast Guard, training of Bangladesh Coast Guard personnel at our training centre, high Level Meetings and Joint exercises with Japan Coast Guard and Korea Coast Guard, high Level Meetings and Hotline communications with Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. Joint exercises were also undertaken for common law enforcement purposes with Coast Guards of Singapore and Philippines, Maritime Enforcement Agencies of Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, and Navies of Myanmar, Thailand and Kenya.
  7. The Indian Coast Guard has commenced undertaking EEZ surveillance of the Maldivian EEZ since last year. During the surveillance, the ICG ships embark MNDF officers and personnel and regularly undertake verification of the foreign fishing vessels operating in the Maldivian waters. Any offence committed by the fishing vessel is booked under the orders of the empowered MNDF personnel.
  8. Due to the unique nature of the high seas, falling outside the jurisdiction of any single state but within the collective responsibility of all, – a coordinated and comprehensive approach is the need of the hour to interrupt criminal activities at sea and strengthening maritime law enforcement capacity collectively. Accordingly, we witness an increased cooperation amongst the Coast Guards the world over at Regional levels.
  9. The Indian Coast Guard since its inception, has shown its potential as a powerful tool available with the government to maximise maritime security and to engage for regional cooperation with other Coast Guards. The future challenges are aplenty and if exploited effectively with strategic wisdom, the Coast Guard can play crucial roles for national development as it is the only maritime agency with law enforcement, humanitarian, environment and scientific support mandates in the total maritime zone of India supported by statute. It fills up the void in the maritime strategic assessment of India, necessitated by the changing maritime scenario, proficient of providing support to the Navy and capable of goodwill diplomacy across the oceans. Finally I want to sum it up by stating that the Coast Guard is a perfect tool both for national and international causes: a millennium force, for maritime security and maintenance of order at sea.
  10. I thank all the audience for your patient hearing and to the organizers for extending the invitation to speak to this august gathering.

Thank You.

Jai Hind.

(Inspector General Rajan Bargotra, TM is serving as the Regional Commander of Coast Guard Region East. The views expressed in this keynote address are his own.)

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