Syntax Literate: Jurnal Ilmiah Indonesia p–ISSN: 2541-0849

 e-ISSN: 2548-1398

Vol. 6, No. 6, Juni 2021




Mishka Husen Balfas

Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, Jakarta, Indonesia




The Indian Ocean region is currently becoming the world's attention. Although many parties see good opportunities from various aspects, this region still has its own challenges. The Indian Ocean provides a complex geopolitical framework in which foreign powers and local state interests are deeply intermingled. This paper discusses how the collaboration and synergy undertaken by countries in the Indian Ocean region face non-traditional maritime security challenges, especially those directly related to ocean health and the environment. Moving on from the three SDG points directly related to environmental issues, countries in the Indian Ocean region have shown collaboration to maintain regional stability from all aspects, especially environmentally sustainable development. Furthermore, more intensive cooperation is needed because there are more and more challenges, especially non-traditional ones.


Keywords:  indian ocean; collaboration; non-traditional maritime security challenges; environmentally sustainable development



The geopolitical perspective shows that the Indian Ocean as the third largest ocean in the world is the body water between Africa, Asia and Australia. Over the past few years, Indian Ocean currently categorized as a trade busy ocean. Around 100,000 ships travel the region annually, carrying up to a third of the world’s bulk cargo, half of the holders and two-thirds of the oil (Upadhyaya, 2014).

Over the centuries, the countries on the shores of the Indian Ocean have been bound by common trade, religion, culture and traditions (Kaplan, 2011). The main thing that characterizes this region is its diverse geographical arrangement. The pattern of political activity, population, economy, and environment varies widely from country to country. Therefore each country has its own uniqueness in terms of geographic specifications. It is also important that political boundaries usually tend to be inconsistent with the distribution of other important factors such as ethnicity and religion. The types of natural resources vary widely. They are not evenly divided from one region to another. This is what makes this area quite difficult to describe (Bouchard & Crumplin, 2010).

Marine resources and their health are critical because they relate to various human and environmental problems. The oceans have historically provided food and other resources and converted goods from one island to another. Apart from that, the oceans are also a source of livelihoods and economic development opportunities and activities related to recreation and cultural beliefs. The oceans extract a lot of renewable energy, and the biodiversity in the ocean also currently shows the value for the burgeoning biotech industry. However, it is not just values or concerns that matter. Another thing is that the oceans provide ecosystem services, including maintaining the climate and weather systems. Besides, the oceans also act as a carbon sink and absorber of other wastes in addition to the intrinsic value that marine life has (Techera, 2018).

The transnational security challenges faced by the Indian Ocean region are varied. The challenges are related to the environment, which is also the impact that occurs on climate change. The geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region has gradually become more challenging than in recent decades. Strategic arrangements made in the Indian Ocean also tend to be more multipolar and unstable at one time (Bergin, Brewster, Gemenne, & Barnes, 2019).  

According to the World Energy Outlook 2009, 55% of the world's oil reserves and 40% of the world's natural gas reserves are in the Persian Gulf. Indonesia and Malaysia are the top 20 countries with natural gas reserves in the world. Australia, India, and South Africa also have large coal reserves, while Australia ranks first and South Africa ranks fourth as countries with affordable uranium reserves, respectively (ENS, 2010).

As global highways of connectivity, the Indian Ocean was used by many European Countries for a long time ago. They used the region to explore, influence, and colonize more societies. They also build many infrastructures in the region such as railroad, highways, ports, etc. This infrastructure capacity building also developed in line with the consolidation of colonial power. This inherently available baseline, as large parts of the IOR coast gained independence post-World War II, provided the necessary springboard for the development of strong maritime capacities (Agnihotri, 2016).

The three waterways in the Indian Ocean are a means of world oil trade with about 80% and are also known as connecting points. The Strait of Hormuz, located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is included in this route. This is because this route provides the only route to the high seas. This has boosted countries' economic growth in the Indian Ocean, growing rapidly as investors seek new opportunities. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Tanzania all experienced more than 5% in 2017 - well above the global average of 3.2%. This shows that the Indian Ocean is a promising area (Jeffrey, 2019).

Global prosperity and technological advances in competition for resources in and under the oceans, especially energy and protein, are increasing. World energy consumption has grown significantly, especially in Asia and the Middle East. The fast-growing economies of India and China are expected to become major energy consumers in the future. Besides national efforts to control energy sources and energy delivery information, some observers argue that energy competition can lead to conflict. However, the opposing view is that it is in the common interest of countries interested in proposing stability (Cordier, 2010).

In his comprehensive book published in 2012 entitled Samudra Manthan, Raja Mohan provides an analysis that discusses the consequences of the growth of India and China as a world maritime space in the 21st century in two major oceans, namely the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Mohan began his analysis in the late twentieth century when the two countries, with trade as a strong factor in both countries, developed. Also, they shifted their focus to naval expansion and the search for raw materials. Mohan ends his analysis by giving an insight into three possible outcomes for China and India's rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region: cooperative security, great power concerts, and a balance of power systems (Mohan, 2012).

Fisheries regulations at the national level in the Indian Ocean region tend to focus on commercial fishing and food security initiation, which includes climate change, which generally depends on agriculture rather than aquaculture. As an important thing in the maritime aspect, fishery regulations must regulate all types of fishing, which includes fisheries regulations on a small and large scale. The importance of collaboration between countries in the Indian Ocean region is important. The approach must address local problems even though all fisheries cannot be community-based or managed from the ground up. One thing that must always be considered is the need for a sophisticated, holistic, and integrated legal and policy framework. But for some countries in the Indian Ocean, we can see that the main problem is the capacity to develop laws and policies, the resources for implementation, and the political will to ensure enforcement. This is likely to remain a challenge for some time to come. The Indian Ocean region's special context will achieve much more through regional cooperation and collaboration (Techera & Appadoo, 2020).

Marine resources and the environment in the ocean are already under pressure from marine pollution. Besides, overfishing and environmental degradation that affect habitat are challenges that also must face collectively. Refinement of fisheries regulations to ensure sustainable stabilization is required to address these issues. Moreover, that will be important if the fisheries sector contributes to the goals of a blue economy. The Indian Ocean region faces global challenges to address the impacts of climate change: rising sea levels and temperatures, acidifying oceans, and events associated with extreme weather. This impact, of course, will have a strong influence in terms of fisheries causing changes to the distribution of species, productivity, and community structure (Cheung et al., 2016).


Research Methods

The research method used in this research is qualitative research methods. A qualitative research method is an approach or searches to understand and understand a central phenomenon (Fetters, Curry, & Creswell, 2013).


Results and Discussion

Understanding non-traditional security in the Indian Ocean region is essential to know why this non-traditional security is the main topic nowadays. Significant efforts have been made to address these issues through international, national, and local laws and various programs and projects. In this context, Agenda 2030 included a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) focused specifically on oceans. When we connect the non-traditional security challenges to the SDG, we will find 3 goals related to the challenges: Goal 13 Climate Action, Goal 14 Life bellow Water, and Goal 15 Life on Land.

   Apart from being motivated by the SDGs' objectives, IORA itself, as an association of countries in the Indian Ocean region, has also become a benchmark for the realization of the expected collaboration in facing non-traditional challenges. As stated in the IORA Charter, this collaboration is also a solution that states that IORA focuses on areas of economic cooperation that provide maximum opportunities to develop common interests and reap mutual benefits. It also includes environmental protection, energy, agriculture, and disaster management (Van der Linde, 2015).

   After the Cold War, which involved two major world powers, namely the United States and the Soviet Union, there was an increase in conflicts. This was due to the intense and often brutal intervention by the United States. Another cause is when new problems emerge, categorized as non-traditional security problems, including terrorism, trafficking of all kinds, maritime piracy, environmental problems, and poverty.

   India's emergence as a major power in the Indian Ocean on the regional chessboard is of global concern; besides that, China's increasing presence also has its own influence. The increasing intrinsic strategic value and crucial aspects of oil reserves in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean as the world's most important energy are concerned. This is also due to the Indian Ocean as a maritime route for international trade and a naval operation arena, which is very much needed by countries who want to secure a vital role in the region (Bouchard & Crumplin, 2010).

   Using insights from critical geopolitics shows how these mental maps and geopolitical visions converge, compete with, and in some cases even collide while reconfiguring within/outside the Indian Ocean Territory. Prevailing stories based on the security development of the Indo-Pacific Locale are likely to be dispersed by preservationist specialists and commentators who are basically concerned with collective conventional employments of security and force-directed either transparently or clandestinely to person nations, and more particularly, to China (Rumley, Doyle, & Chaturvedi, 2012).

   Understanding the geopolitical and geostrategic context of this region and its growing significance must first be considered how it developed from the 1960s and 1970s. The Indian Ocean region shifted from an area that was not very much interested in becoming one of the most desirable areas. Has crucial geostrategic importance. Next is the importance of introducing the Indian Ocean by highlighting its various contributions to the region and discussing its geostrategic context. It provides and proposes an understanding of the Indian Ocean Territory and addresses geopolitics and geography in its main characteristics. As the Indian Ocean region's development accelerates, peace and security are important matters to consider the situation in the Indian Ocean because, in the next few decades, regional volatility will remain a major challenge for foreign powers and the main interests in the Indian Ocean region (Bouchard & Crumplin, 2010).

   A region is not only a collection of nation-states, but a region also reflects the different constellations of domestic interest in a country. In this respect, the more innovative territory that Jayasuriya calls spatial-based regulatory regionalism challenges traditional and exclusive territory conceptions based on the state. Changes from the scale of governance reflect new changing interests. For example, a regional network in a bureaucratic institution, community, academia, and the NGO sector competes to provide more formal and state-centered information to develop regions. In this sense, certain methodological nationalisms have captured the concept of territory for too long  (Jayasuriya, 2008).  

   Natural resources, including marine resources, are important because they function as life support for people in the Indian Ocean region, especially in the coastal areas. However, the natural resources in the Indian Ocean are concentrated in only a part of the area. Although mineral resources are diverse and abundant, especially in South Africa, India, Indonesia, and Australia, energy resources are of more interest.

   Currently, the security of the Indian Ocean has become a dynamic matter and is no longer the domain of a colonial or superpower country. Countries like India and China have become new and significant powers, and new national alliances are changing the situation. However, the current global reality has created a maritime security problem because non-state actors directly and fundamentally influence security in the region. This is a serious development because maritime trade in the rich Indian Ocean region, which includes most of the world's energy trade, is vital to the global economy. It seems that many lessons from centuries ago are being re-learned - instead of engaging in combat, the navy should project power and play a diplomatic role in maintaining order at sea.

   The maritime security environment in the Indian Ocean is undergoing a considerable transformation. This is because the structure of regional governance that can be categorized is quite weak and the capacity to control marine areas is limited, which causes all kinds of illegal activities to start developing in many areas in the Indian Ocean. This in turn leads to greater regional maritime security challenges and is influenced by key variables such as the militarization of the region, the involvement of large and extra-regional powers, and non-traditional security threats (Potgieter, 2012).

   The Indian Ocean has several global laws, projects, and program plans in the region. However, according to several sources, these activities are rarely followed by all countries concerned or those dealing with food security or fisheries throughout the region. There are only a few large countries and including active countries in the region included in it. This is, of course, very different when compared to the Pacific Islands region, where the region has collective and collaborative activities involving regional agencies, a common practice even in small countries. The Indian Ocean generally lacks ownership of a regionally relevant initiative. It appears that the direct flow of international treaties has been exacerbated by the scarcity of existing organizations and instruments (Techera & Appadoo, 2020).

   When other regions worldwide have developed quite significant joint activities in the context of environmental security initiatives, the Indian Ocean region tends not to have an effective legal and policy framework in dealing with this problem. However, several countries in the Indian Ocean that share the same concerns over non-traditional security challenges in the region make contributions that are considered quite ideal.

   Because the countries on the coast of the Indian Ocean cannot handle the multitude of maritime challenges on their own, it forces them to synergize their maritime capacities to achieve effective results. If that's the point, it would be worthwhile to look at the naval resources at their disposal. While it may not be possible to discuss recent developments in naval capability in each state, maritime capacity-building programs to address the significant security challenges of some of the main coasts of the Indian Ocean deserve a separate mention (Agnihotri, 2016).

   One of the most widely adopted views of regional security constructs is that of interest built around the Indian Ocean Territory. This view calls for a reassessment of the strategic Indian Ocean Territory and the security challenges facing the region. It can also contribute to developing a viewpoint on collective security in the Indian Ocean, which is fundamentally built on maritime regionalism. Basically, the maritime regionalism paradigm is designed to facilitate regional development and effectively deal with various security challenges, which are non-traditional in nature. Non-state threats are the main focus and also include piracy and terrorism, as well as non-traditional threats. -traditional was related to how the sea is used. It is also related to maritime security issues, which directly affect environmental security and exploitation of economic activities at sea (Rumley et al., 2012).

   Environmental issues, which are a major part of non-traditional security issues, become important. This is because the environment has a direct relationship with human rights, which includes discussing human life. While the periodic adoption of agreements, declarations, and communiqués by international organizations should be critically assessed for their contribution to tangible results, this agreement has indeed supported increased cooperation and brought a clearer focus in the case of IORA to the organization's agenda.

   The problem related to the challenges in the region is the extent to which IORA as a regional organization can engage and utilize the expertise and problem-solving processes directly related to IORA priority thematic areas. Problems include non-traditional threats that can affect the stability and development of insights. Although IORA has been granted Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly and accredited by the AU, there is limited engagement with other regional and research-oriented policy organizations, such as the West Indies Marine Sciences Association. This involvement and collaboration are very promising in contributing to the implementation of the IORA Action Plan (Benkenstein, 2018).

   Currently, no framework becomes a reference for various IORA working groups, including academic groups, nor is there a clear pathway for researchers who are not identified through political and national focal points to be involved in IORA activities. It was further noted that IORA 'held several meetings and workshops which could benefit from increased academic engagement but were usually attended by government officials with limited or no feedback shared with the wider national community (du Plessis et al., 2018).  Even though there is no specific framework used as a benchmark, there are several efforts by countries in the Indian Ocean in facing maritime challenges, especially non-traditional security challenges.

India-Sri Lanka and the Maldives carried out a synergistic initiative in July 2013, namely the 'Maritime Security Cooperation Agreement.' This has great potential for further collaborative efforts. The main objective is to face traditional and non-traditional maritime challenges. During a 'state visit' to these countries in March 2015, the Indian Prime Minister urged Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Mauritius to become India's important partners' in exploiting these possibilities collectively. The maritime agencies of these countries, in turn, will benefit from sharing India's expertise, experience, and technological know-how in a common operating environment. With the Maldives already joining, the growing pattern suggests that this nascent venture's success - and there is no reason to believe otherwise could serve as a model for subsequent replication in other IOR littoral contexts, which are also limited (Agnihotri, 2016).

The increasing importance of the Indian Ocean region provides a further discourse in building greater and more beneficial regional security cooperation, especially for countries such as India and Australia. To enhance bilateral security cooperation with major regional powers at the multilateral level, Australia must enhance this partnership by capitalizing on the challenges posed by non-traditional aspects as a practice that promotes better and cooperative IOR security. Non-traditional security challenges such as transnational terrorism and piracy characterize the IOR security environment requiring long-term collective defense. Non-traditional challenges, however, have established a major focal point for sustainable regional security cooperation (Phillips, 2013).

   In addition to the synergy spearheaded by India, countries in the southern African region also synergize the grouping of the South African Development Community (SADC) consisting of 14 countries from mainland South Africa, some of which are also in the Indian Ocean region and mostly controlled by South Africa. . The forum, which was founded in 1992, has an active 'Standing Maritime Committee,' which envisions sub-regional peace through shared maritime security and maintains the maritime capacity to meet contingencies that require rapid response. Besides, the main focus is to ensure economic development and regional security (Teuteberg, n.d.).  




Non-traditional challenges in maintaining the health of our oceans are critical to note. This is because it is directly related to life on earth, human life, or others. Therefore, the inclusion of an SDG that focuses specifically on the oceans is a welcome step forward. The Indian Ocean, as an area of concern at this time, is, of course, expected to have a special role. Although there is no main framework that regulates these non-traditional problems, countries in the region have synergies to face the existing challenges. Several collaborations carried out by pioneer countries, such as sustainable fisheries management, are a key component to ensure a healthy marine environment. The problem lies in the implementation of focused programs and targeted interventions to meet targets. Thus, the greatest challenge to maritime security in the Indian Ocean as a region focuses primarily on the fact that these factors are largely overlapping and mixed and forming different patterns and creating local situations that are very complex and require detailed understanding. As a recommendation, countries in the Indian Ocean region need a collective guideline to share maritime data, starting with the ease with which countries in the region can access information about transnational security challenges. It is also important for countries in the region to map the risks that are directly related to environmental stability in the Indian Ocean to help understand and anticipate the security consequences of a climate phenomenon. Each country in the IORA needs to promote an integrated national maritime domain awareness system in the Indian Ocean for better synergies to achieve environmentally sustainable goals.






























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Mishka Husen Balfas (2021)


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