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The Indian Ocean and Big Powers

Rear Admiral M.K. Roy

By K.P. Misra
Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1978, Rs. 45.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 1 July/August 1979

Professor Misra's book, Quest for an International Order in the Indian Ocean is a well structured analysis of the poli­tico-strategic significance of the Indian Ocean, the interests of the big powers and the response of the littorals. The author concludes that by limiting the arms build-up in this area, there will be a better climate for creating a new inter­national order. The author quotes Admiral Mahan's well publicized statement that 'whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia'. This statement, however, pertains to a period when empires were carved out by controlling the oceans, aided by the indivisibility of the seas which were the dominant features of the colonial era. The author further analyses the spec­trum of interests of the big powers, parti­cularly the superpowers, in this ocean area. He correctly infers that it was not the so-called 'vacuum' after the formal British withdrawal from East of Suez, but rather the instability of this region, the weakness of the littoral nations, and the lack of capacity of the old colonial powers to exert their hegemony that encouraged the superpowers to enter this ocean in their quest for new pastures. This balancing of interests soon became the compulsion for defending positions and privileges which in turn led to the establishment of naval security impera­tives. The outcome of such a policy 'found expression in the construction of the base in Diego Garcia by USA for preven­tive and pre-emptive reasons,' and the accelerated quest of, Russia for 'warm water ports'. Professor Misra has further quanti­fied the American and Soviet naval forces in the Indian Ocean by tonnage, ship-days, and port-days in order to demo­nstrate their increasing presence. But this type of quantification does not neces­sarily reveal the staying power of these Navies, nor does it take into account their contingency plans for utilizing both the Suez Canal and the Malacca Straits to quicken their maritime response. The author has also mentioned 1968 as the watershed for Russian maritime strategy, with the first sortie of a USSR squadron into the Indian Ocean. This was perhaps more a spill-over of the growing blue water Soviet Navy into the remaining ocean area, where the U.S.A. had already established its presence, rather than a conscious attempt to fill the vacuum after Britain's four minesweepers and a couple of obsolete frigates finally left this arena. Again, with the ...

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