Emerging consensus in Indo Pacific region

Brig Vijay Sagar Dheman
International affairs today have undergone a complex metamorphosis. In this comity of nations, many countries follow the “My Nation First” principle even if it is at the cost of civil liberties of the citizens. The same was enunciated by Thomas Hobbes in his famous work ‘Leviathan’, the mother of the modern political theory. Many a time, nations have grown powerful and the world has experienced wars due the fear of an emerging power as it happened in case of Peloponnesian war between Sparta and Athens in 436 BCE. This theory has been well documented by the great historian of the times Thucydides. Present day world diplomacy is also witnessing these trends of yore. There are many areas of conflict of various hues, be it political, diplomatic, economic or even military, emanating from these mind sets in different forms.
In foreseeable history after the WWI, the ‘League of Nations’ imposed hefty penalties over Germany which eventually led to WWII. This was a clear case of one prominent winner ‘Great Britain’ and a prominent loser ‘Germany’. After WWII, again there was one prominent loser ‘Germany’ but two equally powerful winners ‘USA” and ‘USSR’. There was a consensus and United Nations Organisation (UNO) came into being. However, UNO was unable to resolve conflicts between the two powerful blocks due to the veto powers with handful of countries only. Since there was no consensus between the two super powers, the security issues in Europe and USA necessitated ‘The Atlantic Charter’. The discussions here gave rise to a No of treaty organisations like NATO, CENTO , SEATO, GATT ,G77,BRICS and RIC etc.
Today USA is all powerful with the dismemberment of USSR. However, with the advent of many regional powers like China, american supremacy is being challenged at multiple platforms. With rapid development of trade and commerce across the world, a No of regions have assumed prominence due to security and commercial activities in the region. One such area happens to be INDO PACIFIC region. It accounts for 60% of world trade and substantial quantity of deep sea mining potential in the respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and even high seas. Many a trade routes pass quite close to and in some cases pass through the respective EEZ.
The unusually increased activity of China in Western PACIFIC OCEAN (Sea of Japan, East China Sea and South East China Sea) and INDIAN OCEAN has threatened the economic activities of smaller nations, just use of the ocean bed resources by deep sea mining and likely disruption of sea lines of communications for the world trade. China has undertaken the policies of ‘Imperialistic Nationalism’, ‘Economic Terrorism’ and ‘Debt Trap’ to force the nations in this region into subservience to promote its hegemony in INDO PACIFIC region.
The Chinese diabolical actions, partially supported by Russia, necessitated a similar charter. World took notice of the game being developed in the region and diplomatic track II efforts started to get Quadrilateral Security Alliance (QUAD) in action which still is not a formal treaty organisation. It still is a group having concluded various agreements between the four nations in focus i.e USA, Japan, India and Australia. Besides there are other organisations in effect in this region like BIMSTECH, ASEAN, SAARC and others. In this labyrinth of cross functional agreements, it was decided to make use of an ‘East Asia Summit’ to discuss the issue amongst the nations having stakes in this region. The 15th summit was held on 14 Nov 2020 and was attended by the Foreign Ministers of the nations. The summit aimed at a workable structure to have rule based democratic use of the waters in INDO PACIFIC for all nations. Aim is to have multiple dialogues to arrive at some kind of an organisation which has the teeth to enforce the resolutions adopted and approved by consensus.
An expert analysis dictates the futility of this exercise. On the table are two power blocks locked in bitter horn fight. USA and India one side and China partially supported by Russia on the other side. With conflicting ideologies ranging from abject ‘Communism’ to exalted ‘Democracy’ with clear commercial interests demanding prudent security, a consensus appears to be a far cry. Even South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) could not keep itself alive in this region. The situation that led to ‘The Atlantic Charter’ was different from the scenario that prevails here. The exercise of ‘East Asia Summit’ can, at best, be described as polite diplomacy to keep channels of communication between nations open.
SEATO may have failed for various reasons. However, situational challenges created in the region by China’s ideology and stated ambitions strongly demand a robust security treaty which can allow rule based democratic commercial use of INDIAN OCEAN and PACIFIC OCEAN. It must have teeth to protect interest of all member nations as well as use punitive measures against hostile power or defaulting members. The treaty must have an elected body on the lines of Security Council of UNO with no veto rights for any nation. It should prevent nations to go in for territorial gains, annexation of foreign territory and reclamation of islands at high seas to create artificial islands. It should also have provisions for regulating the marine biosphere as well as the space explorations including testing of ballistic weapons as per the rules decided by the member states. The organisation should facilitate rule based sea lines of communication to all member states without any security fears from a nation or the pirates. The choke points like Malacca Straits, Strait of Hormuz or Djibouti/Suez Canal, should also be regulated in a democratic manner.
As of now all countries are still at the chess board trying to work out national interests by moving its pawns up and down. The nations are still trying to solve this puzzle to arrive at some organisation which can protect their commercial and security interests. The signing of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) despite the commercial feuds like China-Australia commercial face off that took place during corona period is one such example. However, both nations are signatories of RCEP today. India by virtue of its location, size , contemporary diplomatic clout around the world and huge market size must take the initiative to be in the lead to ensure robust security of this region for enhancing own commercial and security interests. India has no choice but to be a front runner to ensure lacuna free INDO PACIFIC SECURITY ORGANISATION (IPSO).
(The author is leading Defence and Strategic Expert)