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#4549, 7 July 2014

Maritime Matters

India-EU: Exploring Maritime Convergences
Vijay Sakhuja
Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi

The much awaited European Union Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) was approved last month by the General Affairs Council of the European Union (EU). The document builds on the European Commission’s Joint Communication, titled ‘for an open and secure global maritime domain: elements for a European Union maritime security strategy’, and is a link between the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) and the European Security Strategy (ESS). This paves the way for the 28 nations of the EU to identify and undertake concrete actions and projects to enhance the EU’s maritime security.

To implement the strategy, a rolling action plan is expected to be in place by the end of 2014 – that will focus on pan-Europe maritime domain awareness, exchange of information among the EU member states, navies, civil and marine authorities; addresses issues of technology development, common training; and multinational research programmes. 

In its geographic scope, the EUMSS covers the European sea basins (the Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, Black Sea, North Sea, Arctic waters, the Atlantic Ocean) and as far beyond as Asia, Africa and the Americas –  thus giving it both an internal and external dimensions. The strategy aims to address a number of asymmetric threats and challenges, at home and overseas, that impact the freedom of navigation at sea. These include piracy and armed robbery, maritime terrorism, trans-national organised crimes such as drug smuggling, gun-running, human trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, security of maritime infrastructure, cyber warfare and environmental risks.

The EUMSS action plan will also have to address the issue of material and humans resources. This is likely to pose a major challenge for the EU since some member states have scaled down their defence spending resulting in significant reduction in inventories of the respective naval and maritime forces. Although France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, and the UK are major naval powers, possess significant capabilities, and are forward-deployed across the globe, there are others who can barely manage to protect their national waters.

One of the significant aspects of the EUMSS is maritime multilateralism. The strategy acknowledges that modern day maritime threats and challenges are complex and some of these may require ‘international response’ that would necessitate engagements with international partners and participation in regional and global forums. In that context, EU’s engagement in the Indian Ocean through the EU Naval Force in Operation Atlanta in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to counter piracy is significant.  EU naval and air assets work closely with the US-led Task Force 150, NATO, and other Asian navies to fight piracy.

The EUMSS also notes that sea lanes between Asia and Europe are of critical importance to the EU. A huge proportion of EU commercial traffic passes through Asian waters and according to an assessment, the volume of trade is expected to increase by 121 per cent between 2006 and 2016. Therefore, the Indian Ocean is strategically important to the EU’s economic vitality.

Among the Indian Ocean states, India is a major regional power with whom the EU signed a strategic partnership in 2004. The India-EU Strategic Partnership Joint Action Plans (2005 and 2008) offer the framework for dialogue and cooperation in maritime security domains such as counter-terrorism, organised crime, piracy, counter drug and illegal arms trafficking, cyber-terrorism, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

The level of cooperation between India and the EU in the ongoing counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia is noteworthy and is a good example of a broader multilateral framework. It can be a model for future India-EU maritime cooperation under the EUMSS and can be leveraged in times of crisis. At the tactical level, interoperability will be essential for developing a common doctrine and establishing standard operating procedures for conducting operations with EU navies. This would not be a major problem given that the Indian Navy conducts naval exercises with a number of EU navies at a bilateral level; for instance, the Varuna series with the French Navy and the Konkan series with the British Royal Navy.  These exercises have become more sophisticated in content and both sides field a number of advanced platforms including aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Besides the Spanish Navy and the Italian Navy, several other European navies have engaged in passage exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean and Atlantic waters. Capacity building, particularly of the smaller states of the Indian Ocean Region such as Mauritius, Seychelles, the Maldives and Madagascar can be a substantive agenda for cooperation between India and the EU.

Finally, the EUMSS offers a number of opportunities for India and the EU to identify issues of cooperation and build synergies under its aegis to address complex maritime threats and challenges in the Indian Ocean.

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