By Gulbin Sultana, PhD
India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval produced an official take a look at to Sri Lanka on November 27, 2020, on the invitation of Secretary to the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka Major General (Retd.) Kamal Gunaratne to participate at the Fourth National Security Advisor Level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation in between India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The two days Trilateral Meeting on November 27-28, 2020 would be attended by NSA Doval, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gunaratne and Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi. Representatives from Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles are also anticipated to attend the meeting as observers.
The fourth NSA level meeting is taking location just after a gap of six years. The NSA level dialogue amongst the 3 nations was inaugurated in 2011 in the Maldives. Second and the third meeting held in Sri Lanka in 2013 and India in 2014 respectively. The trilateral dialogue for the duration of 2011-2014 proved to be rather powerful to address maritime safety concerns and issues. During the second meeting in 2013, a roadmap for maritime safety cooperation was agreed by the 3 nations which involve initiating measures to boost Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), sharing of Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) information instruction and capacity creating initiative in locations of MDA, Search and Rescue (SAR), Oil Pollution Response, as effectively as Joint activities which includes trilateral workout routines, preserving lines of communication on illegal maritime activities, formulation of marine oil pollution response contingency program, and cooperation in legal and policy concerns connected to piracy. Newer locations of cooperation which includes hydrography, instruction in Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) operations, instruction on-board Indian Sail Training Ships, exchanges in between consider tanks and joint participation in adventure activities had been discussed for the duration of the third meeting in 2014.
There has been lots of enthusiasm and acknowledgement at the highest levels in these 3 nations on the value of the dialogue. Thought was also provided to expanding the trilateral mechanism to involve additional littoral nations in the area who have popular safety concerns and interests. Seychelles and Mauritius attended the meeting in 2014 as observers. Unfortunately, there was a halt in the meeting considering the fact that 2014 mostly due to the deteriorating relations in between India and the Maldives for the duration of 2014-2018.
After the new administration below President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assumed energy in the Maldives in 2018, there has been a fresh impetus to resume the trilateral maritime dialogue. As decided in the third meeting in 2014, the subsequent meeting was supposed to be held in the Maldives. Nonetheless, Sri Lanka took the initiative to host the dialogue this year.
Off late, Sri Lanka has emerged as a theatre for strategic energy play amongst the huge powers in the Indian Ocean area. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s take a look at to Sri Lanka final month and calling China a ‘predator’ and powerful reaction from the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka on the former’s take a look at to the Indian Ocean island nations are clear indications of an open competitors in between these further-regional powers to obtain influence on the smaller sized Islands and nations in the area.
Given the restricted capability and the vast ocean region to appear just after, guaranteeing maritime safety is a important safety concern for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. When these two nations are open to looking for help and safety cooperation with every person, they are strongly averse to the thought of getting unnecessarily dragged into huge energy competitors in the Indian Ocean area. Though it is largely believed in Sri Lanka and the Maldives that India has its strategic interests in the area and is competing with China to boost its influence in the neighbouring nations, there is an underlying acknowledgement of the reality that all the regional nations which includes India share popular safety interests in the Indian Ocean. There really should be a regional platform led by regional leaders to address their popular safety issues. There is a wide acceptance of India’s leadership function to lead such a regional initiative.
As the geo-strategic developments are unfolding in the area, and the further-regional powers are attempting to woo Sri Lanka and the Maldives with safety and developmental cooperation, it is critical for the government of these nations to strictly sustain their announced non-aligned foreign policy. To stay away from getting a pawn in the huge energy competitors in the area, the Rajapaksa and the Solih administration have to have to be tactful and adopt a multi-pronged method at the bilateral, regional and international level to address their safety wants.
In the emerging safety scenario in the Indian Ocean, India appears to be comfy with the presence of the US and other like-minded nations in the area. Nonetheless, India ought to make sure that in the extended run, it does not shed its relevance in the neighbourhood.
Factoring in the geo-strategic dynamics in the Indian Ocean area, as effectively as the safety wants and strategic issues of the littoral states, resumption of the NSA level trilateral meeting in between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives on maritime Security Cooperation and inviting Mauritius, Seychelles and Bangladesh is a welcome improvement.
(The author is Research Analyst, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Views are private)