Insights and Analysis

Indian Ocean Rivals are Better Served with Cooperation

August 24, 2011

By Teresita C. Schaffer

The Indian Ocean is the lifeline of the UAE – and of many other countries around the region and the globe. As old rivalries become more prominent in these waters, it is time to lay the groundwork for real collaboration on the issues that pose the greatest threat to Indian Ocean security. Stronger and broader anti-piracy cooperation would be a good place to start.

Until the 1990s, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf were looked on as adjacent but distinct regions, and the importance of the Gulf for many nations could be summed up in a single word: “oil.”

Today, the Indian Ocean still represents the crossroads of global oil markets. But it is also an economically dynamic area in its own right, the place where the world’s rising powers are increasingly coming into contact. That puts the Indian Ocean, and the various strategic partnerships the United States maintains there, at the heart of the geopolitical world, with profound consequences for the UAE and her neighbours.

One symptom of the change can be found in US national security strategy. Since the Second World War, commentators on US policy have spoken of a “two ocean” maritime strategy, meaning the Atlantic and Pacific. In 2007, the US navy released a maritime strategy that still stressed two oceans as the principal centres for regular US military presence – but now, the Indian Ocean is joined to the Pacific as a key strategic focus. This reflects in part the importance the United States attaches to the Gulf, but it also illustrates how central the integrity of sea lanes and their multifaceted connection to Asia have become to US strategic planning.

Read the full version of this piece, which originally appeared in The National on Aug. 23, 2011.

Asia Foundation trustee Teresita C. Schaffer is former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. Read more on her blog, She blogs regularly at South Asia Hand.

Related locations: China, India, Washington DC
Related programs: Regional and International Relations


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