Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD-2022), New Delhi

Sub Title : Outline of the deliberations this year

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 5 Nov – Dec 2022

Author : Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan and SaazLahiri, National Maritime Foundation

Page No. : 30

Category : Geostrategy

: December 15, 2022

That the ‘Indo-Pacific’ represents, for India, a geopolitical unity of littoral and island States whose shores are lapped either by the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean, bears no elaboration.   This predominantly (but certainly not exclusively) maritime space has once again assumed its ancient role as the centre of gravity of global politics, economics, and strategic discourse.

For its part, the Indian Navy recognises that it is an indispensable part of the harmony that constitutes the ‘Indian voice’ in this common regional endeavour to collectively manage and govern an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful, stable, and prosperous.  In this endeavour, the naval leadership remains deeply conscious that it must be competent as both, a ‘modern’ navy as well as a ‘post-modern’ one.  On the one hand it remains a modern navy concerned with and rising up to all manner of traditional challenges that adversely impact or threaten to impact India’s territorial integrity in, from, or through the maritime domain.  On the other hand, it is also comfortable with its growing role as a post-modern navy where it operates as a preferred regional partner, providing a range of public goods that are necessary to preserve and advance stability and prosperity across the maritime common.

India’s commitment to a regional transition from the existing ‘brown economy’ to an enduring ‘blue economy’ is an abiding feature of its maritime policy, which is encapsulated by the acronyms SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and IPOI (Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative).  These twin concepts underscore India’s willingness and ability to augment global and regional efforts to provide ‘public goods’ — including the upholding of a rules-based order whose rules are arrived-at through international consensus, yielding an ‘order’ that is inclusive and enables free and open intercourse between individual nation-states as well as their collective groupings.

As such, the Indian Navy sees itself as being deeply invested in the actualisation of each of the seven intricately connected spokes or pillars of the IPOI, as articulated by India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi in Bangkok, on 04 November 2019, at the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS).  These are depicted in

Figure 1.

It is, therefore, quite unsurprising that the 2022 edition of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD-2022) should have been centred upon the IPOI and its operationalisation.  The IPRD is an annually recurring apex-level international conference of the Indian Navy and is the clearest manifestation of the Indian Navy’s international outreach at the strategic level.  Thanks to the symbiotic relationship between the Indian Navy and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), the NMF remains the Indian Navy’s constant knowledge partner and the chief organiser of successive editions of this mega-event.  What each edition of the IPRD aims to do is to review the various maritime trends within the Indo-Pacific region and the regional opportunities and challenges arising therefrom.  As such, not only is each annual IPRD central to India’s own policy-formulation within the maritime domain it is also of lasting centrality to all other countries and collective entities within this predominantly maritime region.  Consequently, its relevance can hardly be overstated.

Having wrestled manfully for the past two years with online alternatives thanks to the travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a great relief to find large segments of the maritime world crowding New Delhi’s breathtakingly resplendent Manekshaw Centre, between 23 and 25 November for the 2022 edition of this much-awaited international conference.  It was particularly edifying to find an audience of some 900 individuals hanging on to every word that internationally famous maritime experts and analysts from around the world had to say.  Another hugely encouraging feature of the IPRD-2022 was the significant presence of students from universities and colleges across not just the National Capital Region, but from locations as far away as Puducherry, all of whom added much-needed exuberance and intellectual effervescence to the proceedings.  If the numbers in the audience were impressive, the brilliant galaxy of stars whom they had come to see and hear were equally dazzling.  A total of 47 speakers— comprising three Cabinet Ministers of the Government of India, seven one-star, two-star and three-star serving admirals of the Indian Navy, including the Chief of the Naval Staff himself, the Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and the Chief of Personnel; three serving Secretaries to the Government of India (and two former ones); one former Chief of the Naval Staff and one veteran three-star admiral; and as many as 28 globally renowned experts from seventeen countries in addition to India — lit up the maritime firmament like so many super-novae, over the three days of this mega event.

The inaugural session of the event kicked off with Admiral Karambir Singh, the incumbent Chairman of the National Maritime Foundation, and former Chief of the Naval Staff, welcoming all present and highlighting the contemporary centrality of the Indo-Pacific.  Focusing especially upon India’s maritime policy encapsulated by the acronym SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) he highlighted the first-order specificity provided to SAGAR by the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), which had been enunciated by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, on 14 November 2019, in his address at the 14th East Asia Summit in Bangkok.  Admiral Karambir Singh’s address was succeeded by the inaugural address of Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff, who outlined the Indian Navy’s outreach in terms of fostering maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and emphasised that the Indian Navy was committed to the actualisation of each of the seven intricately connected spokes or pillars of the IPOI.  Delivering the Keynote Address, Shri Ajay Bhatt, the Hon’ble Raksha Rajya Mantri, who is concurrently the Minister of State for Tourism, said that India was well prepared to address threats in the current and emerging maritime domain.  He emphasised the need for India to not only bolster its military maritime capacity and capability, but to simultaneously develop other aspects of India’s maritime prowess, such as the merchant marine, ports, and the capability for sustainable management of the nation’s oceanic resources.  He also laid particular stress upon rebuilding India’s maritime traditions and strengthening maritime orientation among the people of the country, reiterating the nation’s deep commitment to inclusivity and international cooperation in every field of human endeavour.  The tone and tenor of the deliberations of the first professional session were set by a content-rich address by Ambassador Pankaj Saran, wherein he laid significant emphasis upon India’s regional vision, stating that India could not afford to be a mere bystander amidst the geostrategic shifts that were roiling the region.  He called on India to be the agent of change and to make a positive contribution across length and breadth of this predominantly maritime expanse.  The IPOI, he stressed, reflected the evolution of India’s strategic thinking, which was now focused on translating the concept into more concrete areas of operationalisation.  He greatly endeared himself to the audience through his generous acknowledgement that the “Indian Navy’s Whites Keep Our Oceans Blue”!  The session itself examined the efficacy of multilateral and minilateral constructs — such as the IORA, the QUAD and the INDOPACOM, IONS, as also the several sub-regional minilaterals (such as BIMSTEC) and trilaterals at whose heart India now lay — in weaving the fabric of ‘holistic’ maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.  ‘Holistic’ maritime security has been quite clearly defined at India’s prime ministerial level as comprising freedom from threats arising ‘from-’ ‘through-’ or ‘in’ the sea.  It is also widely acknowledged that maritime security hinges on several inter-connected components such as seapower, the blue economy, maritime safety, human resilience, etc., within the maritime domain.  More often than, all such security issues transcend national and regional boundaries and, as such, enabling holistic maritime security requires cooperation and collaboration amongst various States and regional as well as subregional organisations.  A major takeaway from this session was the need for India to concentrate upon minilaterals rather than pinning all its hopes for regional security and growth upon large multilaterals alone.

The next session acknowledged that Indo-Pacific nations viewed the Indo-Pacific with geographical bounds that reflected their own sovereignty and national interests.  For example, while India, viewed the Indo-Pacific as a geographical area stretching from the eastern shoreline of the African continent to the western coast of the Americas, the USA, seeking to avoid overlaps between the Areas of Responsibility (AORs) of its major unified combatant commands in the region —INDOPACOM, CENTCOM, and AFRICOM — tended to place the western limit of the Indo-Pacific no farther than the west coast of India.  If we are not to end-up once again fracturing the Indo-Pacific by considering the opportunities, imperatives, and challenges of the Pacific Ocean segment separately from those of the Indian Ocean, there is a clear need to develop mechanisms (‘bridges”) that could focus our collective attention equally upon both, the western and the eastern segments of this region.  The session amalgamated a number of perspectives — from Australia, the EU (including somewhat different perspectives from France and Germany), Japan, Singapore, and the USA — with the predominant takeaway being that data sharing was central to the generation of maritime domain awareness (MDA).  Building a resilient regional MDA architecture that spanned both, the eastern (Pacific Ocean) and western (Indian Ocean) segments of the Indo-Pacific is, perhaps, not only the most important mechanism or bridge but was a sine qua non for the establishment and sustenance of a free and open Indo-Pacific.  This, it was concluded, was true despite the admittedly wide disparity amongst nation-states of the Indo-Pacific in capacity and capability.   within multilateral institutions and minilateral organisations.

The morning of the second day of IPRD-2022 brought with it lively discussions and debates on building maritime connectivity, through resilient and efficient ports, legitimate barrier-free maritime trade, and the development of a comprehensive regional maritime transport policy for the Indo-Pacific that was in conformity with international laws, regulations, and norms.  As might be expected, there were a number of important takeaways from the excellent presentations made during the session.  These included a reiteration of the fact that even though the gradual advent of specialisation had created commercial ports that were very different from naval ones, and merchant ships that were very different from men of war, trade nevertheless remained prime for both, navies and the merchant marine.  Patterns of trade and protection of merchant ships, ports, and harbours were all matters of the utmost seriousness not merely for economies for national survival itself and were hence very much matters of security.  The address by Mr Sanjeev Ranjan, the Secretary, Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways, deserves special and laudatory mention as it was a veritable tour de force and a rare treat for the assemblage that once again filled the Zorawar Hall of the Manekshaw Centre.  Takeaways included the need to embrace and internalise the technologies underpinning ‘Industry 4.0’ so as to yield its maritime variants in the form of ‘Port 4.0’ and ‘Shipping 4.0’.  In fact, all speakers emphasised the need to operationalise this spoke (or pillar) of the IPOI through a regionally inclusive development of a sustainable maritime ecosystem.  The creation of a port-efficiency matrix involving social factors as well as economic ones was a common need that would serve individual nations and the region as a whole equally well.  Likewise, the end-to-end digitisation of the entire maritime sector and the deliberate injection of resilience to sea level rise and to the primary, secondary, and tertiary impacts of extreme-weather phenomena, were identified as inescapable requirements in the immediate term.

There was no let up to the continuous intellectual effervescence of IPRD-2022 even in the afternoon of Day Two of the conference.  Setting the tone for the lively and deeply thought-provoking discussions of Session Four, Dr Ravichandran — Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Earth Sciences — delivered a brilliant special address, drawing from his own vast expertise as an ocean scientist and technocrat to strongly advocate an acceleration in operationalising the IPOI pillar representing academic exchanges.   Not only was this strongly endorsed by speakers and members of the audience alike, it was unanimously agreed that these exchanges should not and, indeed, could not be limited to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) alone, but had to reflect the social sciences and the humanities as well, both of whose contribution to a safer, more secure, and prosperous maritime domain was incapable of being ignored or minimised in any way.  Indeed, a major takeaway was that academic exchanges needed to be interdisciplinary in nature, whereby a new acronym, “STEM-SHAPE” (in which ‘SHAPE’ stood for ‘Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy’) would offer sufficient guidance.  Another takeaway of critical proportions was the need for a change of mindset whereby the current preference for top-down teaching would need to rapidly give way to a bottom-up approach since there was no other way to kindle and sustain interest amongst student from ‘Generation Z’ (born between the years 1995 and 2010).  This would become even more critical when planning for the academic development of the ‘Alpha Generation’ (born after 2010) and the ‘Beta generation’ that would follow.  The excitement was palpable as Shri Bhupendra Yadav, the Hon’ble Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, recounted the major highlights of the very recently concluded COP 27, which was held between 06 and 20 November 2022 in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh.  Quoting the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, he emphasised that the ‘blue economy’, symbolised by the blue chakra or wheel in India’s flag, was central to the ‘Maritime India Vision 2030’.  The erudition of the sessional speakers, drawn from Thailand, Kenya, France, Indonesia, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was impressive and impactful.  It was heartening to find them abjuring and pontifical sermons and, instead, offering a series of fascinating real-life success stories in terms of sustainable harvesting and the restoration of marine resources.  The major takeaway was not merely that the Indo-Pacific needed to move from the present exploitative model of a ‘Brown’ economy to a sustainable ‘Blue’ one, but that this could be achieved by aggregating and integrating micro-level efforts at the level of individuals and incubated by academic institutions.

Day Three of the Conference once more witnessed the assemblage of well over 800 scholars and students, who began the day listening to two immensely inspirational orations. The first was by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral R Hari Kumar, who defined India’s approach to the Indo-Pacific itself, as also to the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue by reiterating the views of the PM in this regard- (‘Sammvaad’ denoting ‘dialogue’); (‘Sammaan’ denoting ‘respect’); (‘Sahyog’ denoting ‘cooperation’), (‘Shaanti’ denoting ‘peace’), and (‘Samriddhi’ denoting ‘prosperity’). He also reiterated that the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2022 was an important element of the Indian Navy’s committed resolve in preserving and promoting the nation’s maritime interests, which was embedded in a shared regional approach towards holistic maritime security. The central guidance (Marg Darshan) to this and future editions of the IPRD was provided by none other than the Hon’ble Defence Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh, who underscored India’s faith in multilateralism, regionalism, and ASEAN centrality.  He recognised two recent initiatives in this regard, namely the ‘India-ASEAN Initiative on Marine Plastic Pollution’ and the ‘India-ASEAN Initiative for Women in UN Peacekeeping Operations’.  This faith, he stated, was a natural outflow from India’s central tenet of the world as an extended family — VasudhaivaKutumbakam.  Emphasising the practical manifestations of this tenet in the recent difficult period when the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging a large number of countries of the Indo-Pacific, he recalled that India had selflessly launched maritime-centric operations such as SAMUDRA SETU and the multiple phases of the Indian Navy’s SAGAR missions under the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ humanitarian initiative undertaken by the Government of India to provide COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 96 countries around the world.

The sixth and final professional session of IPRD-2022 was centred upon the ubiquitous theme of disaster risk-reduction and management and concentrated particularly upon Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Indo-Pacific.  Perspectives of island States such as the Maldives, which were facing an existential threat from climate change in general and sea level rise in particular were poignantly and eloquently placed before the deeply involved audience.   A notable and relatively new aspect that was brought out was that although the management of fishery resources and the competition over them were not often considered under the category of ‘disasters’ this neglect was, in and of itself, a tragedy in the making and offered additional evidence of the interconnectedness of the elements of the IPOI.

A final feature of IPRD-2022 — and one of which the NMF remains justifiably proud —was the release of as many as six thematic anthologies comprising collated research papers by the NMF, each bearing the generic appellation, “Maritime Perspectives” but dealing with six separate, albeit interrelated themes: (1) Hard-Security Perspectives in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood; (2) Maritime Geostrategies: Vignettes of the Indo-Pacific States; (3) Non-Traditional Dimensions of Maritime Security; (4) Transitioning from a ‘Brown’ to a ‘Blue’ Economy in the Face of Climate Change; (5) Coastal Security Dimensions of Maritime Security; and (6) Public International Maritime Law. Also published and released by the NMF, in close collaboration with the India-Japan Laboratory (IJL) of Keio University, was an excellent policy-paper entitled, “Enhancing QUAD Cooperation for Sustainable and Equitable Utilisation of Marine Mineral Resources”. The report, which analyses non-living marine resources in the Indo-Pacific and explored the optimal manner in which the Quad framework could be operationalised beyond the limiting bounds of traditional security alone, is particularly timely and relevant in the light of India’s current chairmanship of G-20.

The Valedictory Session witnessed stirring and content-heavy addresses by Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, the National Maritime Security Coordinator, and Vice Admiral Satish Ghormade, the Vice Chief of the Naval Staff.  Both these deeply respected Secretary-level officers pointed out that the IPOI was a collective and inclusive initiative, not some grand preconceived plan by India or any other country.  It certainly sought regional champions to craft inclusive and collective solutions that could be applied across the rich and varied fabric of the Indo-Pacific.  However, it did not ask its champions to walk their chosen paths alone.  It invited partnerships in every positive sense of the word so that the solutions that were identified were owned not by one or another of these champions but by all those who aspire to sustain a free, open, inclusive, and orderly maritime common.  They emphasised — each in his own style — that the tapestry of the Indo-Pacific was rich with a diversity that we ought not to shy away from or be bewildered by.  The threads that represent the political, social, economic, and military strains of the regional security loom, with its complex weave of wefts and warps, were varied and multi-coloured.    Challenges and solutions within the maritime domain, they stressed, needed to be referenced to common interests rather than to individual threats. Our common interests are, indeed, encompassed by the seven pillars of the IPOI.  It is in our common interest to create and consolidate a region in which the comity of nations is both intrinsic and assured and one in which the mutual respect that the word “comity” denotes is applied not just to nation-states, but also defines the relationship between the nation-state and the natural environment with which our nation-states exist.  This was particularly true of the ocean environment.

If there was to be only a single takeaway from this grand event, it would probably be that in the contemporary geopolitical environment, national security cannot be considered a zero-sum game.  Consequently, a ‘multi-aligned policy’ emerged as the only pragmatic solution to the maritime concerns and challenges to which the Indo-Pacific had to rise. Overall, the indefatigable team of the NMF conjured-up a magical IPRD-2022, magisterial in its scope and content and supported by exceptional administrative arrangements.  As we go to press, the Director-General and his colleagues are already hard at work, shaping the contours of the 2023 edition of the IPRD which is scheduled to be held in New Delhi in mid-November 2023, once again in physical format.