During a launch event on May 21, Pandya—the project director behind the series—sat with Stimson Director Ellen Laipson, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, USN (Ret.), and East-West Center in Washington Director Satu Limaye to reflect on the report and discuss the myriad challenges facing Indian Ocean states in the maritime resources and governance sectors.
The 21st Century’s “Center Stage”
The Indian Ocean’s international profile has been bolstered by the region’s rising economic prowess and political clout, significant resource wealth, and critical shipping routes—which transport the vast majority of oil leaving the Persian Gulf. Journalist Robert Kaplan recently labeled the region “center stage for the 21st century” because of its importance to global trade and energy, as well as the fact that it hosts the “dynamic great-power rivalry” between India and China.
The Stimson report is divided into two sections: the first comprises several articles written by authors from Indian Ocean littoral states, while the second includes pieces from Pandya and Laipson that analyze and interpret general trends in regional ocean governance.
Ocean Resources, Maritime Security
“In the last half-century, the production of fish and fish products in the Indian Ocean (IO) region has increased tremendously as a result of improvements in fish capture technology and rising demand caused by a growing global population,” write Edward N. Kimani et al. in their article in the report, which examines southwest Indian Ocean fisheries. These trends have precipitated conflict between small-scale artisanal fishers and industrial fishers, in addition to placing enormous pressure on ocean ecosystems. Effective management mechanisms must be implemented in order to address overfishing and its consequences for global food security and ecosystems. (A forthcoming documentary, The End of the Line, takes an in-depth look at overfishing.)
In a similar vein, Mak Joon Num’s contribution, “Pirates, Barter Traders, and Fishers: Whose Rights, Whose Security?”—roundly praised by speakers at the report launch—considers the diverse range of stakeholders operating in the Straits of Malacca and the Sulu Sea. Malaysian trawler fishers, Acehnese pirates, and Filipino barter traders compete to glean their livelihoods from the ocean. All are victims and predators in their own right, Mak Joon Num argues, and climate change, poverty, and a lack of coordinated ocean governance policies exacerbate the present problems of resource scarcity, disputed sovereignty, and unsustainability.
Shifting to the northwestern littoral states of the Indian Ocean, Mustafa Alani presses the case for a comprehensive maritime security compact in the Persian Gulf, which holds more than 30 percent of the world’s known oil deposits. The Gulf Cooperation Council provides the foundational structure for such an agreement, which would likely comprise several levels of cooperation, ranging from “soft security”—managing fishing and environmental degradation, search-and-rescue coordination, and marine transport—to “strategic security”—coordinating naval exercises and anti-terrorism operations.
Questions of Governance
In order to address these challenges, concerned states must put forth “more effort at the national level to integrate civilian and military aspects of maritime policy,” Laipson concludes in the report’s final lines. “We also need a fresh look at the regional and international levels to ensure that governance of the maritime realm strives to manage the complex interplay of human and natural activity and to maintain the Indian Ocean as a sustainable zone for commerce, energy, security, and peace.”
Population: A Missing Factor?
While the report does an excellent job of illuminating the resource and governance challenges in the Indian Ocean, it fails to substantively consider one factor that will have a profound influence on all others: population growth. Burgeoning populations in Indian Ocean states will have considerable consequences for resource management, governance, poverty, and security in the region, particularly in relation to migration, human trafficking, overfishing, and ecosystem health.
Photo: Artisanal fishers off the Malabar coast of India. Courtesy Flickr user mckaysavage.