SECURITY / FOREIGN POLICY
Topic: General Studies 2,3:
- Security challenges and their management in border areas
- India and its neighborhood- relations
Militarising Andamans: The costs and the benefits
Context: The Ladakh stand-off with China has catalysed India’s efforts to strengthen its military presence at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI)
- The idea of militarising the Andaman Islands isn’t new.
- Since the 1980s, Indian commentators & policy makers have advocated building strategic muscle at the ANI to fully exploit the strategic position of ANI
Recent Steps taken by India in ANI
- New Delhi has moved to expedite plans for basing additional military forces, including facilities for additional warships, aircraft, and infantry soldiers at the strategically-located Andaman Islands.
- Naval air stations INS Kohassa in Shibpur and INS Baaz in Campbell Bay are having their runways extended to support operations by large aircrafts
- A 10-year infrastructure development “roll-on” plan — pegged at Rs 5,000 crores — is on the fast-track.
What is the Strategic significance of ANI?
- Close to Malacca Strait: ANI spans 450 nautical miles in a roughly north-south configuration and is adjacent to the western entrance to the Malacca Strait, which is a major Indian Ocean choke point
- Links Two Subcontinents: Geopolitically, the ANI connects South Asia with South-East Asia. While the northernmost point of the archipelago is only 22 nautical miles from Myanmar, the southernmost point, Indira Point, is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.
- Dominating Position: The islands dominate the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree and the Ten Degree Channels that more than sixty thousand commercial vessels traverse each year.
- Access to EEZ: ANI constitute just 0.2% of India’s landmass but provide near 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
- Important Pillar of Foreign Polcy: ANI could also become an important element of India’s “Act East Policy” of engaging with countries in the region east of India.
- Commercial Potential: The trans-shipment hub at Car Nicobar, could potentially be a strategic game-changer, rivalling the ports of Singapore or Colombo.
- Tri-Service Security Strategy: As Andaman and Nicobar is the only Tri-Command structure in India, development of military infrastructure at ANI is a key requirement in India’s security strategy
- Tackling China: With China’s growing presence in Indian Ocean region, militarising the islands will provide India a first mover advantage in dominating the region
What are the Challenges in Militarising ANI?
1. Fear of antagonise India’s neighbours
- A section of India’s diplomatic community has opposed militarising the ANI would disrupt Indian Ocean as zone of peace.
- They argued that militarising A&N islands would in turn militarise the littorals — an outcome that would not sit well with countries in South and Southeast Asia.
- When India first began developing the ANI in the mid-1980s, observers say Malaysia and Indonesia feared that India would use its military facilities in the ANI to dominate its region, and project power east of Malacca
2. Ecological aspect to militarising the ANI
- The flurry of recent infrastructure projects (including any military projects), environmentalists warn, could devastate the fragile ecology of islands.
- Many islands are facing significant damage from the climate crisis, which will get exacerbated due to military activities
3. Lack of reciprocity in India’s bilateral logistics agreements
- The Indian navy’s plans to offer logistical support to partner navies does not include its ANI facilities.
- Four years after signing a logistics pact with the US its navy ships still have no access the ANI. France, Singapore and Australia — India’s other logistics partners — too haven’t had their warships repaired or replenished at Indian island facilities
- As a result, there hasn’t been much enthusiasm from friendly foreign countries to build strategic capabilities at the ANI.
5. Counterproductive to tackle China
- While China’s presence in the Indian Ocean is growing, it hasn’t so far militarised key Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) outposts in the Bay of Bengal (Hambantota, Chittagong and Kyaukpyu).
- If India pushes for greater military presence in the ANI, China could well seek military access in its friendly countries in Indian ocean.
- Militarising ANI will aid India’s strategic capabilities, but such development should not come at the cost the ruthless exploitation of Biodiversity hotspot
- In order to counter China’s expanding footprint in Indian Ocean region, India may consider permitting friendly foreign navies (QUAD members, France etc.) access to the ANI’s military bases.
Connecting the dots:
- String of Pearl Strategy
- South China Sea Dispute