India has possessed a million-strong army and a thousand aircraft air force (respectively the third and fourth largest in the world) for many years, without attracting undue attention, avers Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff, India. According to him, current efforts to upgrade India’s maritime capabilities in a similar fashion appear to be raising eyebrows internationally. This, it is argued, is perhaps, an indication of the significance of maritime power, as well as of a lingering disinclination to accept the “rise of the east.”
The author opines that most analysts examining the phenomenon of India’s maritime growth have tended to do so through a Western prism. Such a process demands certain benchmarks and criteria, like the possession (or even creation) of a “grand historical narrative” or a “maritime identity” as a pre-condition for seeking the Holy Grail of credible maritime power. The prevailing external scepticism is reinforced by the lack of a clear-cut maritime vision amongst India’s ruling elite – an inherited debility that has served the country ill, historically. It is, perhaps, for this reason that China appears to have embarked on a process to “reverse-engineer” such qualifications to justify its own naval expansion programme.
In this paper, based on an earlier study undertaken by him for the Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies, the author posits that India should feel no compulsion to conform to Western templates or paradigms in order to justify the creation of a robust Navy to safeguard its maritime interests and assets. He then elucidates the contours of India’s ancient and substantive maritime past, albeit inadequately recorded by Indians themselves, touches upon India’s non-conformist strategic culture and later reviews the geo-political environment and concerns that impinge on maritime security. These facts are marshalled to make the case that though India does possess a hoary maritime tradition, which is in urgent need of re-discovery and renaissance, its vital national-interests currently constitute a far more compelling justification for the creation of a capable maritime force.
Briefly tracing the force build-up plan likely to be followed by the Indian Navy in order to meet the demands of its promulgated Maritime Strategy, the Admiral concludes on a reassuring note that as an instrument of a quintessential status quo power, the Indian Navy will be a stabilizing regional force for the common good – and will threaten no one.
(Full paper available in the PDF below)