Ruling the waters: Indian Navy as an instrument of foreign policy

by Dec 12, 2020Defence & Foreign Policy0 comments

“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. The ocean is key to the seven seas. In the 21st century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.” – Alfred T Mahan

The Indian Navy celebrates Navy Day on December 4 to commemorate its successful sea-borne attack off Karachi harbour during the 1971 India-Pakistan war (Liberation of Bangladesh). Operation Trident saw Indian Navy lighting up Karachi harbour in flames in a daring counter-attack.

For the first time, anti-ship missiles were used by Indian Navy which destroyed Pakistan’s destroyer PNS Khaibar. Three ships of Indian Navy INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer played a significant role in this operation.

Some of the other earliest operations of the Indian Navy include liberating Goa from the hands of Portuguese in 1961.

As India remembers 26/11 Mumbai attacks and pays its tributes and gratitude to the heroes in uniform who sacrificed their lives protecting us, it is worth noting that it also saw extraordinary acts of courage from eight Indian Navy Marine Commandos (MARCOS) who were the first responders to the Mumbai terror attacks.

India’s vital geostrategic location in the IOR presents her an immense advantage. India’s ocean and seas are the primary means of extending her connectivity and trade links with her neighbourhood and the world at large. Her quintessential maritime character has defined her growth as a nation and evolution as a maritime civilisation.

Indian Navy as an instrument of foreign policy

As India marches ahead in the 21st century, its development and prosperity will continue to remain closely allied to her maritime domain. As history bears testimony to the role and contribution of maritime power in the growth and prosperity of great nations.

The regional and global geostrategic environment is in a state of flux caused by the Wuhan virus and China’s aggressive postures with its neighbours including India. As the worldview continue to witness a shift from the Transatlantic to the Indo-Pacific, it also entails a repositioning of global economic and military power towards Asia thereby resulting in paradigm changes in the Indian Ocean Region thereby impacting India’s maritime environment in tangible ways.

The pressing challenge is the persisting stand-off at India’s northern borders and the presence of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean Region for which it is pertinent for the IN to possess full-spectrum capability to consolidate India’s strategic interests in the IOR & SCS.

At a time when China’s protracted pre-meditated military moves along India’s northern boundary are drawing the nation’s attention, it is important that India not lose sight of its surrounding seas and maritime environment. Mandarins in New Delhi must be prepared to address the organisational, operational and financial impediments of Indian Navy to maintain agility and deter challenges to India’s strategic calculus. Given the complexities of ‘Post-COVID World Order’, Indian Navy’s role in the Indian Ocean Region and its scope of engagement in strategic partnerships with other players in the region will define India’s position in the new world order.

Think Tanks and National Security

Think tanks act a mediator between the public and government agencies. They provide readers in the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, other maritime agencies and Armed Forces, as well as the Government and informed public, an insight into the rationale for strengthening India’s security apparatus through an iterative and inclusive process, eliciting inputs from both within and outside the government establishments.

Such research insights are a utility to the policy-maker, help in acknowledging the socio-political & economic dilemmas behind policy options, and produce policy proposals that can be implemented by the decision-makers.

Not business as usual

Catering to demands of reaching out to broader audiences, to engage with ‘outsiders’ from the traditional policy-related establishments the Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore, Chennai Centre for China Studies and Press Institute of India jointly embarked on a project to contribute to creating avenues for discussions and debate, encouraging stakeholders to engage, offering alternative analyses and views. Covering a wider canvas titled ‘Deciphering China’ a series of four-part virtual conference to analyse China’s rise as a prominent power and its implications for India and the world. These strategic imperatives of China’s national security policy pose threats and challenges not only to India but also the Southeast Asian Region (SAR).

The first in the series of virtual conference was held on 29th and 30th September 2020 titled ‘Deciphering China’. As a curtain raiser, it decoded the aspects of the border dispute from a political and military point of view, focusing on the tools employed by China (CCP & PLA) to expand and execute its plans at the strategic and tactical levels. It also included understanding China’s relations with countries in India’s neighbourhood like Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives.

The second part was titled ‘Deciphering China: Cyber Security and Securing India’ held on 27th and 28th October 2020. The conference took stock of current Chinese capacity and capability in the cyber- space and the threats and challenges they pose to India. India’s current stature and its response to threats from China and its allies against critical information infrastructure were also analysed. The webinar assumed significance as it was aptly head during National Cyber Security Awareness Month (October 2020). The head turner was a ‘Table Top Exercise’ on cyber-attack scenarios which were public engineering experiment held in a stimulated environment.

Paying tributes and gratitude to the heroes in uniform who sacrificed their lives in 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks a two-day virtual conference titled ‘Deciphering China: Maritime Context’ was held on 26th and 27th November 2020. The webinar enlightened the audience about the Chinese maritime capability including threats and challenges they pose to India. An examination of India’s current maritime status and its response mechanisms to threats from China and its allies to ensure we are better informed and prepared.

The month of December 2020 will see the concluding part of this series titled Deciphering China: Analysing Chinese Media Landscape – Reading between the lines. This conference seeks to analyse China’s use of its media and its deployment as a tool for statecraft and the role it plays in India–China relations.

Living in unprecedented times characterised by rapid changes it is India’s national interest to raise the national security consciousness among the public, which is the raison d’être for organising such conferences covering wide canvas. The objective is to provide strategic guidance for the growth, development and strategic vision in the coming years which will need review and retuning as circumstances and conditions change and evolve thereby strengthening India’s security apparatus ensuring better preparedness in the 21st century.

Deepest gratitude and respects to the women and men in whites of the Indian Navy. May they rule our waters ever! Wishing a Happy Navy Day 2020. Sham no Varuna. Jai Hind.

(Balasubramanian C is a research officer at Chennai Centre for China Studies. He can be reached at

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