This seminar is being held at an interesting time when India has just launched a new aircraft career and a Chinese navy ship came to visit Sri Lanka. With European powers, especially Britain and France, showing renewed interest in the Indian Ocean, this body of water that has remained a 'zone of peace', so to speak, has begun to attract global attention. It is, therefore, relevant for countries within this geographical space to note that the only memory of conflict we have in the Indian Ocean region is associated with powers that have entered this space from the outside. We have never been in conflict with each other.
The maritime historian K.M. Pannikar noted in his classic monograph, India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History (1945), “Milleniums before Columbus sailed the Atlantic and Magellan crossed the Pacific, the Indian Ocean had become an active thoroughfare of commercial and cultural traffic.”  Yet, much of the focus of academic literature and policy analysis for a long time has been on maritime security, sea power and naval strategy, with little attention paid to pan-ocean economic development, investment in maritime infrastructure, maritime connectivity and commerce.
Therefore, India’s more recent focus on the development of a Blue Economy and Maritime Domain Awareness, even as the region comes once again under the shadow of Big Power rivalries, augurs well for development and security within the Indian Ocean region. 
Pannikar did of course emphasise the strategic importance of the sea and he believed that “control” of the Indian Ocean and of all the ‘choke points’ leading in and out of it, including the Malacca Straits, the Gulf of Aden and the southern expanse of the ocean near Mauritius should be in Indian hands, to safeguard India’s freedom from external aggression.  In his masterly study of civilisation and capitalism through the 15th to the 18th centuries, historian Fernand Braudel underscored the dominant presence of India in the Indian Ocean region. Referring to the region spanning the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea – what is now called the Indo-Pacific– as the “greatest of all the world economies” of the pre-industrial, pre-capitalist era. 
“The relationship between these huge areas,” wrote Braudel, “was the result of a series of pendulum movements of greater or lesser strength, either side of the centrally positioned Indian subcontinent. The swing might benefit first the East and then the West, redistributing functions, power and political or economic advance. Through all these vicissitudes however, India maintained her central position: her merchants in Gujarat and on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts prevailed for centuries against their many competitors – the Arab traders of the Red Sea, the Persian merchants of the Gulf, or the Chinese merchants familiar with the Indonesian seas to which their junks were now regular visitors.”
Such was the geo-economics of the Indian Ocean before the Europeans entered this space. As historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam notes, long before the ports of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay became India’s links with the ocean, “independent ship-owning merchants” of India traded with the world through ports such as Surat, Machilipatnam, Hooghly and Calicut. Ashin Das Gupta summed up his enormous research on ‘the world of the Indian Ocean merchant’ thus:
“There can be little doubt that in the prosperous years of the later 17th century a few thousands of such men set out every year to take care of India’s overseas trade and connect India closely with the world of the Indian Ocean …. These were men who serviced the commercial ships in every way while in port. They brought together the export cargo on board; they arranged for the sale of the imports; they made it possible for the travellers to sail by arranging to finance their voyage. They were merchants in general trade; they were merchants of particular commodities; they were the money merchants and, above all, they were the brokers of the port towns. … The Indian maritime merchant properly so-called depended upon and assisted this service sector in the magic century which began roughly in the 1630s.” 
It is the entry of European merchants and navies that ended what Das Gupta calls a “magic century” of Indian maritime activity. European colonialism altered the nature of India’s relationship with the waters around it. The waters around the Indian sub-continent were no longer a bridge to prosperity but became a route to the de-industrialisation and destruction of the Indian economy and made most island territories captive to imperial commerce. Mauritius, for example, was forced to become a plantation economy serving the needs of European mercantilism. The flag followed trade. Since European conquest came via the sea, much of the discourse on the sea focused excessively on security and defence, with the relative neglect of its maritime economic potential. 
It is useful to recall that through this entire phase of history when India had an Indian Ocean presence and personality it was always viewed by the island nations in the ocean as an opportunity and never as a threat. Historically, India has never been a hegemonic power in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, it is worth asking today why the flag of some western powers continue to fly on Indian Ocean islands. It is equally relevant to ask why countries from outside the region, like China, seek to establish naval bases here. In what manner are such powers likely to alter the stability and security environment of the Indian Ocean region? Should we, the littoral and island nations, not be concerned?
While India today works within cooperative frameworks with countries like the US, France and Britain, it is not clear to me why their island territories, all colonial possessions, should remain within a sub-ordinate relationship with western powers. Equally, why should Indian Ocean littoral and island states become tied to the security calculus of outside powers? Indeed, even less clear is what motivates the growing presence of China in the region. Has Indian Ocean security become captive, once again, to the strategic interests of 'outside powers'? What are we, the countries of the region, doing about it? Such questions have gone out of fashion within the post-colonial societies but require to be asked and answered.
Renewed Focus on Trade
Post-Independence India turned inward and paid little attention to the ocean and the world economies. It was only after 1991 that the government of India began to emphasize the economic dimension to India’s stakes in the Indian Ocean. The rise of East Asian economies as well as the acceleration of India’s own economic growth drew attention to the need to assure the security of sea lanes of communication for the transportation of oil from West Asia to South and East Asia. If oil began to move in increasing quantities across the Indian Ocean, goods too moved increasingly as Asian exports to Europe and West Asia increased. With the rise of Asian economies, the Indian Ocean regained its significance as an arena of commerce. India’s economic stake in western Indian Ocean region was also enhanced by the increasingly important economic role of the Indian community in West Asia. Inward remittances from Indians working in the Gulf region has over time become an important constituent of India’s foreign exchange reserves. On the other hand, the safety of Indians living in the Gulf and their rapid repatriation home during emergencies has added a new security dimension to India’s Indian Ocean strategy.
It was against this background and during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s tenure that the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative was launched, creating a new regional grouping of the Indian Ocean littoral. The IORI mutated into the IOR Association (IORA) with a focus on sustainable development and regional economic cooperation. IORA’s objectives have been to promote sustainable growth and development in the ocean region with a focus on economic liberalisation and a lowering of cross-border trade and investment barriers. While IORA as an organization, with headquarters in Mauritius, has progressed very slowly it has helped focus policy attention at least in India on issues that soon came to define India’s ‘blue economy’ policies. The IORA has identified six priority areas that have come to define the ocean region’s ‘blue economy’. These are:
These remain our central concerns in the region even today.
Blue Economy and Regional Security
Of the three major ocean littorals – Pacific, Atlantic and Indian – the Indian Ocean region is the economically least developed. Apart from a handful of countries like Singapore, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, most countries around the ocean are classified as lower or middle income economies. That trans-ocean trade across the Indian Ocean is much less than trans-ocean trade across the Atlantic and Pacific is quite understandable. In fact, most of the Indian Ocean economies trade with countries around the Atlantic and Pacific. The only major item traded within and across the IOR is oil. Given the region’s relative economic backwardness the focus of the region’s governments will have to be on their internal economic development and on establishing beneficial economic relations with the rest of the world. This basic need to remain focused on economic development should define the security calculus of the region.
Given this understanding, the focus on the development of cross-ocean connectivity, development of ports and harbours, ship-building and maritime capability, fisheries and mineral exploration, oceanography and so on should be the agenda for the region’s Blue Economy development.  The Blue Economy is more than a country’s ‘coastal economy’. It may include activities related to fisheries, boat and ship making, ship repairing and breaking, ports and shipping, marine biotechnology, marine construction, deep sea mining, tourism, marine renewable energy, insurance, finance and ocean disaster management. It has the potential to provide employment and livelihood to large sections of a country’s population and to contribute to sustainable development. In island economies such as Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka, one need not over-emphasise the relevance and importance of Blue Economy development.
It is, therefore, understandable that India places considerable emphasis on the development of the Blue Economy. Outlining the centrality of the Indian Ocean to India’s security and development Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the IISS Shangri La Dialogue at Singapore in June 2018, “The Indian Ocean has shaped much of India’s history. It now holds the key to our future. The ocean carries 90% of India’s trade and our energy sources. It is also the life line of global commerce. The Indian Ocean connects regions of diverse cultures and different levels of peace and prosperity. It also now bears ships of major powers. Both raise concerns of stability and contest.”
Government of India has brought India’s security concerns in the Indian Ocean and the region’s shared developmental priorities together in this formulation of security and growth dubbed as SAGAR – security and growth for all in the region. Indeed, SAGAR is a geo-economic construct that retains a balance between maritime security and economic development and cooperation so essential to the Indian Ocean region. It balances the imperatives of power and security with the necessity of growth and prosperity. Consequently, any maritime strategy and doctrine for the Indian Ocean must balance the security and developmental interests of all countries in the region. The regional response to the Tsunami in December 2004 finally confirmed the relevance of a regional approach to both growth and security in the Indian Ocean region.
Maritime Domain Awareness
All these issues have now come together in the policy thinking on what has been called Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines MDA as “the effective understanding of any activity associated with the maritime environment that could impact upon the security, safety, economy or environment." The use of land-based, sea-based, space-based and cyber-related technologies in improving maritime domain awareness has made the task highly technology intensive and financially costly. Developed economies like the United States, Japan and France have invested considerably in MDA and India is collaborating with them in this field. Given the infrastructure and technology costs involved and the human capability required, small island states may not be able to invest in securing a better MDA. The development of MDA infrastructure and technologies could be an important agenda for India and the IO island states.
Investment in MDA should be viewed both from an economic and a security perspective. The ability of island states to tap their Blue Economy potential depends on their MDA. Equally, the ability of such states to safe-guard against security threats, especially sea-based terrorist attacks, also depends on MDA capability. The India-Japan and India-France cooperation in enhancing MDA capability in the Indo-Pacific region could benefit the island states of the Indian Ocean if shared programmes can be devised with a focus on technology adaptation, information sharing and infrastructure development. The island states of the Indian Ocean are aware of both the potential for economic cooperation between India and the littoral and island states as well the necessity for cooperation in addressing regional security challenges.
The geopolitics and geo-economics of the Indian Ocean region compel the littoral and island states to work within a framework of regional development and regional security, conscious of the fact that in the post Second World War period the Indian Ocean has not been a theatre of conflict, while the Atlantic and Pacific remain so. Compare, for example, British action in Malvinas, US attitude to Cuba and China's to Taiwan. India has never adopted such an attitude to its island neighbours in the Indian Ocean region. Rather, it has sought to promote growth and security within the region. It is in India's own interest to maintain relations of mutual benefit and mutual inter-dependence with the island republics of the Indian Ocean region, not allowing Big Power rivalries to destabilise the region.
*Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, United Service Institution of India, New Delhi
 K.M. Pannikar, India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1945, 2nd Edition, 1951, p. 23. I found a copy of the 1951 edition in the library of the National University of Singapore. The book bore the stamp “University of Malaya Library. September 1960”. I read this book during my stint at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in 2008-09. The book is out of print. I have urged the National Maritime Foundation in India to reprint this classic. Other important studies of Indian maritime activity in the Indian Ocean region include: Ashin Das Gupta, The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant, 1500-1800, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001; and Holden Furber, Sinnapah Arasaratnam and Kenneth McPherson, Maritime India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004. On the idea of the ‘underlying unity’ of the Indian Ocean region, see K.N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750, Cambridge University Press, UK. 1985. For a more recent and popular history of India’s maritime presence in the Indian Ocean region see Sanjeev Sanyal, The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History, Penguin Random House, New Delhi, 2016.
Hamant Maini and Lipi Budhraja, Ocean Based Blue Economy: An Insight into the SAGAR as the Last Growth Frontier, NITI Aayog, Government of India, at:https://www.niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Indian%20Ocean%20Region_v6(1).pdf (Accessed on August 21, 2019);Aparna Roy, Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean: Governance Perspectives for Sustainable Development in the Region, Occasional Paper, January 2019, Observer Research Foundation,. at https://www.orfonline.org/research/blue-economy-in-the-indian-ocean-governance-perspectives-for-sustainable-development-in-the-region-47449/ (Accessed on August 21, 2019).
 K.M. Pannikar, no. 1, Chapter 1; Alfred Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1890
 Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: Volume II. The Wheels of Commerce, Fontana Press, London , 1982
 Ibid., pp. 484-535.
 Ibid., pp. 484.
 Sanjay Subrahmanyam, ”Introduction”, in Uma Das Gupta (Ed.), Collected Essays of Ashin Das Gupta, Oxford University Press, Delhi. 2001, p. 9.
 Ashin Dasgupta, “The Maritime Merchant and Indian History”, in Uma Dasgupta, Ibid., pp. 25-26.
See for example, David Scott, “India’s ‘Grand Strategy’ for the Indian Ocean: Mahanian Visions”, Asia Pacific Review, November 2006; Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Sea Power and India’s Security, Brassey’s, UK, 1999; Rahul Roy Chaudhury, India’s Maritime Security, IDSA, New Delhi, 2000; C. Raja Mohan, Samudra Manthan, Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, Oxford University Press, 2013; C. Raja Mohan, Modi and the Indian Ocean: Restoring India’s Sphere of Influence, ISAS Insights No. 277, March 2015; C. Raja Mohan, “India’s New Role in the Indian Ocean”, Seminar, New Delhi, January 2011 at http://india-seminar.com/cd8899/cd_frame8899.html (Accessed on August 21, 2019); Zorawar Daulat Singh, “Foreign Policy and Sea Power: India’s Maritime Role Flux”, Journal of Defence Studies, 11(4), October-December 2017, pp. 21-49.
S. K Mohanty, Priyadarshi Dash, Aastha Gupta, and Pankhuri Gaur, "Prospects of Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean", Research and Information System for Developing Countries, New Delhi, 2015. at http://www.ris.org.in/sites/default/files/Blue%20Economy_PB_Report_0.pdf (Accessed on August 24, 2019);
Also see Aparna Roy, no. 2.
 Narendra Modi, Inaugural Keynote Address to IISS Shangri La Dialogue, Singapore, June 1, 2018. at
https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/29943/Prime+Ministers+Keynote+Address+at+Shangri+La+Dialogue+June+01+2018 (Accessed on August 24, 2019).