This book is the inaugural volume of the Indian Ocean Research Group (IORG) and is based on a selection of papers presented at the IORG launch in Chandigarh in November 2002. Although, a review after so long may appear out of date but the progressively invigorating role India goes on to play in the region known till the recent times as the British Lake, makes it quite timely.
Professors Denis Rumley and Sanjay Chaturvedi have put the volume together in thematic divisions namely Geopolitical Orientations, Regionalism, Non-Traditional Security Challenges and Ocean Security Studies. They have devoted the opening chapter towards, elaborating on chapterisation and a synopsis of each and perhaps the comforts of selection.
Prof Ashley Jackson, fellow Mansfield College, Oxford University in Chapter Two "The British Empire in the Indian Ocean" gives a first class overview of the British hegemony of the ocean. His analyses echoes Sardar KM Panikkar's statement when it says that "because the Indian ocean was so well established as a British lake - the question of sea power did not arise - no one was interested in discovering the relation of the sea to Indian defence" entire emphasis was on the land frontier and Indian defence was equated with the maintenance of a powerful army on the north west frontier?.
Chapter Three by Jean Hubert on "The West in the Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean and India" covers the arrival of the United States in the Indian Ocean. In the backdrop of the American presence in Diego Garcia it foresees a continued military presence what with the "Arc of crisis from the Horn of Africa to Afghanistan and centered on the oil rich gulf". That the great powers have persisted in keeping a foot in the ocean comes with the acknowledgement that despite the disputed British ownership of Diego Garcia they continue to lease the property to the US. The French on the other hand want to be accepted as a member of the littoral states with their proclaimed ownership of the Reunion Islands where they have a substantial naval presence. At the heart of the matter is a clear passage through choke points e.g Malacca Straits, Mozambique Channel. In the language of geopolitics, according to him, the land rim of the Indian Ocean from the southern tip of Africa right around the Middle East; taking in the red sea and the gulf in the Indian continent, the Indonesian islands and ending in Australia does not make sense. The region is subordinate to large powers and amidst their presence, gets divided in several regional groupings i.e. SAARC, ASEAN to name a few.
Christian Bouchard in Chapter Four on "Emergence of New Geopolitical Era------Indian Oceanic Order" reiterates the point about the influence of large powers. He brings out the dichotomy between littoral states and the landlocked states as a potent de-limitation of the Indian Oceanic Order. It leaves more out than it includes with the attendant anxieties of unequal distribution of marine resources and marine environmental degradation affecting most of the developing world. The security at flux concentrates (choke points) at Suez Canal, Bab-el-Mendeb, Hormuz and Mallaca gets linked to the military use of the area.
Kenneth McPherson, Mercator Professor from Heidelberg University, Germany pulls no punches in Chapter Five on "The Sad History of the Good Old ship" when he asks " if the IOR-ARC has anything to offer other than as an official annual forum where regional trade ministers meet?" There is a graveyard of dead and dying multilateral organizations (IOR-ARC?). Prof PV Rao of Osmania University, Hyderabad, India extols the virtues of sub regional strategy of cooperation and describes Kunmin Initiative as an example at Chapter Six and in the process takes us away from the ocean.
Aparajita Biswas from Mumbai University in Chapter Seven "South Africa, the Indian Ocean and South African Development Council (SADC)" quite successfully brings out the South African dilemma to surface. Should they look to Europe or to the Ocean Rim Countries and what is their role in the SADC?
Chapters Eight to Ten compose the segment on Non "Traditional Security Challenges. Timothy Doyle of Adelaide University, Australia does great justice to his coverage of the challenges of Environmental Security. One can not but take note of serious implications of land degradation, water shortages etc; a syndrome endemic to most of the ocean rim countries. Radha D-Souza who teaches at the Wiakato University, New-Zealand attributes emergence of water disputes to unscientific developmental approaches which lead to conflicts .The paper by Prof Graeme Hugo of Adelaide University on migration between South Asia and Australia is a statistical jungle on the subject which makes a mountain of a molehill.
Chapters Eleven to Thirteen concentrate on ocean security. Prof Forbes of Curtin University, Perth Australia brings in a juridical view to maritime boundaries, which should have been essential feature of a volume of this nature. Vijay Sakhuja, a Naval Officer turned academic is quite scholarly when he writes about piracy and terrorism at sea. His point about order at sea needs to be well taken. Finally, Sam Bateman of Woologong University, traverses the territory of freedom of navigation.
As a pioneering effort it must be lauded although there are several moments when one is uncertain whether there are doubts in the minds of the authors as they espouse the cause of the Indian Ocean. This impression is somewhat eradicated in the last chapter when Denis Rumley and Sanjay Chaturvedi reappear in an epilogue. The organisers, it is learnt, are planning, yet one more conference in July in South East Asia on the same theme.