From the point of view of power projection and the visibility of our Navy, the region to the East of India is more important than the region to the West. From the point of view of our maritime
security—particularly maritime counter-terrorism— the region to the West of us is more important than the region to the East. The US has been trying to keep our Navy's focus directed to the East keeping in view Pakistan's sensitivities. It is time we break out of this and start looking West too. A Look West Policy is as important as a Look East
Policy—in fact, even more from the point of view of our energy security.
This has been the theme of all my presentations for the last three years in conferences/seminars/interactions relating to maritime security—at the Observer Research Foundation (November 2004), the National Maritime Foundation (June,2005), the Kozhikode University (September, 2005), the Government of India's Task Force on Strategic Developments headed by Shri K. Subramanyam (December 2005) and the Manipal University's interaction on Indo-Kuwaiti Co-operation ( January,2007).
During my ex-tempore presentation at the Manipal University on January 15, 2007, I argued strongly once again for a Look West policy and pointed out that Kuwait could play as important a role in our Look West policy as Singapore has been doing in our Look East Policy. It has the same goodwill for India as Singapore has, it values the contributions which Indian workers and intellectuals could make to its economy in the same manner as Singapore does, it feels as comfortable with India as Singapore does, it is as keen to invest its surplus funds in Indian infrastructure projects as Singapore is and the sources of unconventional threats to its maritime security—namely, Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations allied with it— are the same as the sources of unconventional threats to our maritime security. I, therefore, argued in favour of a comprehensive Look West policy in the evolution and implementation of which Kuwait should play the same role as Singapore has been doing in respect of our Look East policy.
Against this background, one is gratified to note the correctives to India's maritime security policy, which have been sought to be given by Admiral Suresh Mehta, India's new Chief of the Naval Staff (CONS), so soon after taking over by giving it a "Look West Dimension" to complement the "Look East Dimension", which has dominated our thinking and policies so far. The "Look East Dimension" continues to be important for our power projection, but our capability for self-defence against conventional and unconventional threats will be weakened without the "Look West Dimension" brought in by our new Naval Chief. He needs to be complimented for thinking and acting fast.
As the starting block for putting in motion his "Look West Dimension", he has chosen the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One need not have any qualms over his decision. The UAE is as important from the point of view of our maritime security as Kuwait is. It is very significant that his first overseas visit since taking over as the chief is to the UAE. It is not as if our Navy did not have any interactions with the UAE and other friendly nations to the West of us before Admiral Mehta took over. The Indian and the UAE Navies held joint exercises in November 1995 during the visit of three Indian naval ships. Indian Navy's aircraft carrier INS-Virat and two other ships visited the UAE in March 1999. In 2004, Rear Admiral Pratap Singh Byce, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Command, visited the UAE, leading four ships. But such interactions were few and far between as compared to the interactions of our Navy with its counterparts in the East. And, no chief had visted the UAE before.
In his interactions with the media at Abu Dhabi on February 8,2007, Admiral Mehta stated as follows as reported by The Hindu of February 9,2007: He chose the UAE as his first overseas destination because "we look at the UAE as a neighbouring country with whom we wish to engage." The UAE personnel would now be able to avail themselves of some of the training course in India." Naval exercises would also begin in due course." The Navy has a key role to play in ensuring the free flow of oil and gas from abroad. Protection of the country's growing off-shore assets is also a top priority. There are three choke points that are of specific concern. These are the Bab Al Mandab, that links the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, the area south of the Cape of Good Hope (Africa) and the Strait of Hormuz (Gulf). Countries round the world need to work together to make sure that the Strait of Hormuz is not blocked. Nearly 90 per cent of the oil exports from the Gulf pass through it. The primary area of India's maritime interest range from the Gulf to the Antarctica. It also covers the zone extending from the Cape of Good Hope and the east coast of Africa to the Straits of Malacca and the archipelagos of Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 30 process platforms and over 125 well platforms whose security is vital. Besides, the Navy has to look after more than 3000 KMs of pipeline on the seabed that carry oil and gas from the process platforms to terminals onshore.
It is a very comprehensive and lucid enunciation of the Indian Navy's core concerns while ensuring maritime security. He has underlined the importance of the Malacca Straits also in our maritime security architecture, but has put it in the proper perspective as only one important component of our maritime security policy. This is a welcome departure from past enunciations in governmental and non-governmental debates which made the Malacca Straits appear as if it is the end-all and be-all of our maritime security.
By unintended coincidence, the three-day visit of the Naval chief to the UAE from February 7,2007, has come at a time when Al Qaeda elements based in Saudi Arabia have renewed their call for attacks on energy supplies—including production and transport facilities. In the 30th issue of its electronic magazine called "Sawt al-Jihad: [Voice of Jihad]", which was uploaded on February 8,2007, Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia has once again stressed the importance of the oil weapon in the global jihad against the US. An article titled "Bin Laden and the Oil Weapon", written by Adeeb al-Bassam, calls upon Al Qaeda members to continue to follow bin Laden’s directives and strike oil targets not only in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere. The article says: "We should strike petroleum interests in all areas which supply the United States, and not only in the Middle East, because the target is to stop its imports or decrease it by all means. Targets should be oil fields, pipelines, loading platforms and carriers, which will ultimately choke the U.S. economy."
While the call of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia to attack oil production and transport facilities is meant to hurt the US economy, its success will hurt our economy too as badly as it will hurt the economy of the US. For protecting our energy security and for strengthening our maritime counter-terrorism capability, it is important to give further momentum to the "Look West Dimension" initiated by Admiral Mehta and to bring within its regional networking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia too.Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia should enjoy the highest priority as this new Dimension is developed. Apart from Navy-Navy interactions, it is equally important to strengthen the interactions at the non-governmental level between maritime security experts of India and those of these three countries.
This may please be read in continuation of my articles titled Look West, Comrades and Strategic Counter-Terrorism
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.