India-ASEAN Maritime Security Cooperation in the 21st Century


India and ASEAN have developed vital stakes in peace, security and stability in the region, including the fight against terrorism, piracy, arms and drug trafficking and the security of the sea-lanes of the Indian

India’s emerging ties with the ASEAN nations has become an important element of India’s foreign relations. India perceives the growing strategic partnership with ASEAN as crucial to fulfilling the promise of 21st century being an Asian century. In the 21st century, both sides have developed common understanding and perceptions about the future of the world at large and Asia in particular. India has enduring political, economic, trade, defence and security, science and technology and diaspora ties with the Southeast Asian nations.1 ASEAN’s economic, political and strategic importance in the larger Asia-Pacific Region and its potential to become a major partner of India in trade and investment is a significant factor in our policy paradigms.

India and ASEAN can help each other in the fulfilment of common objective by enhancing mutual cooperation in the political, economic and strategic spheres. Among the many areas of cooperation between India and ASEAN, maritime security holds immense significance. India and ASEAN have, in recent past, developed close convergence in their perspective on maritime security, particularly security of the sea lanes of communications. India and ASEAN have developed vital stakes in peace, security and stability in the region, including the fight against terrorism, piracy, arms and drug trafficking and the security of the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean for smooth flow of raw materials, merchandise and energy supplies. Any unilateral effort to tackle them will prove to be inadequate. Therefore, it becomes imperative for both sides to be fully prepared so as to jointly combat these threats.

At the sixth India-ASEAN summit and the third East Asia Summit held in November 2007, former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called upon the need for improving coordination between the India and the countries of Southeast Asia on emerging security issues such as terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, cyber crime, money laundering, sea piracy, etc.2

In the context of emerging India’s maritime interest and ambitions, New Delhi’s maritime security cooperation with ASEAN members becomes very important. Maritime security assumes immense significance for both India and South-East Asia. It is the common interest of India and ASEAN to keep sea lanes open, secure and free for navigation, trade and energy supplies. Maritime security is both multidimensional and multifaceted as it involves military and non-military issues. These include threats and challenges arising from arms trafficking and narco-terrorism as well as piracy, etc.3 While delivering a lecture at the plenary session of the India-ASEAN commemorative summit in New Delhi, former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has said that, “as maritime nations, India and ASEAN nations should intensify their engagement for maritime security and safety, for freedom of navigation and for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law. We should also foster regional cooperation to counter-piracy and respond to natural disasters”.4

Given both sides growing dependence on sea for international trade and supply of oil and gas from other countries, they have a huge stake in ensuring security and stability of Sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) and choke points. With expanding trade relations with other countries, the volume of shipping will also simultaneously increase. Increasing energy demands due to the increase in population also calls for security of the SLOCs. Therefore, uninterrupted flow of the passage of goods through SLOCs free from seaborne threats such as terrorism, piracy, arms and drugs trafficking is vital for sustaining the high economic growth of both sides.5

The waters of Southeast Asia are highly prone to piracy attacks than any other. The vulnerability of the Southeast Asian water to pirate attacks can be reflected from the fact that as per the 2006 IMB report, out of 285 attacks registered since 1999, 113 took place in Indonesian waters, 18 in Malaysian, 13 in Singapore straits, 2 in Malacca straits, 23 in Bangladesh water, 14 in Indian and 6 in Sri Lanka waters.6

To tackle this emerging challenge, India Navy along with the navies from ASEAN countries carried out exercises and even SLOCs patrols to help ensure the free flow of traffic through SLOCs. Such exercises are aimed at protecting sea lanes against piracy and also from other criminal activities such as drug-smuggling and arms-trafficking, smuggling, etc.

Ensuring maritime security requires close co-operation between like-minded nations to eliminate such threats from their root. The success of such cooperation would lead to unity among the diverse nations and other participants. It is important for all the nations to work out an arrangement to safeguard the global maritime domain. Given its strategic location close to some of the important sea lanes of communications, Southeast Asia can play a very important role. For instance, enhancing information exchange among the countries of the region can lead to a stable maritime environment. India has taken significant initiatives towards enhancing maritime security by engaging neighbours and other international players at various fora so as to ensure a stable and good order at sea. The main thrust is to work out common grounds between India and ASEAN to tackle maritime terrorism and piracy as well as ensuring freedom of navigation on the high seas especially in the SLOCs.7 India and Indonesia conduct frequent joint patrols on the critical straits of Southeast Asia to ensure the security of sea-lanes of communication.8

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Dr. Mohammad Samir Hussain

Dr. Mohammad Samir Hussain is a Post-Doctoral Fellow of ICSSR, New Delhi. He is the author of two books–‘Indo-US Strategic Relations: Prospects and Challenges in the 21st Century’ and ‘Redefining India’s Opportunities and Challenges in Central Asia’ –and has contributed chapters in many edited books.

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    1 Vijay Sakhuja, “Strategic Dimensions of India’s Look East Policy”, in Amar Nath Ram (ed.), Two Decades of India’s Look East Policy: Partnership for Peace, Progress and Prosperity (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 2012), pp. 221-23.

    2 Lakhan Lal Mehrotra, “India’s Look East Policy: An Overview”, in Nalinikant Jha and Subhash Shukla (eds.), India’s Foreign Policy: Emerging Challenges (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2012), p. 209.

    3 B. Raman, “Maritime Counter Terrorism-Indian Navy’s Lead over China”, Dialogue, vol. 9, No.1, July-September 2007, pp. 121-22.

    4 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Opening Statement at Plenary Session of India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, New Delhi, 20 December 2012.

    5 Jasjit Singh, “India’s Strategic and Security Interests”, in Jasjit Singh (ed.), Indo-US Relations in a Changing World: Proceedings of the Indo-US Strategic Symposium (New Delhi, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 1992), pp. 95-96.

    6 Sukhdeep Singh, “India and the ASEAN Since 1991: Challenges and Prospects ”, Ph.D Thesis Submitted to the Department of Political Science, Punjabi University, Patiala, November 2011, p. 216.

    7 GVC Naidu, “Southeast Asian Security Dynamics” in Y. Yagama Reddy (ed.), Emerging India in Asia-Pacific (New Delhi: New Century Publications, 2007), pp. 93-96.

    8 Asif Ahmed, “India-ASEAN Relations in the 21st Century: Strategic Implications for India”, Eurasia Review, 9 July 2012, available at .

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