Read this paragraph on Presence of Oil and Gas in Indian Ocean!
Oil and gas are the most valuable of all the minerals extracted from the sea bed. Most of the oil and gas producing areas of the oceans are confined to the continental shelf, but oil wells in much deeper seas have been dug in the recent past.
At present half of the world’s total output of oil and gas comes from offshore wells and over 75 countries of the world are engaged in offshore drilling.
In the Indian Ocean, the major players in offshore oil and gas exploration, drilling and production are India, countries surrounding the Persian Gulf and the south-east Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Coastal areas of Australia (Western Australia) also have offshore oil reserves.
India has 3.2 lakh sq km offshore areas of sedimentary deposits on the continental shelf upto a depth of 200 metres. The Indus cone formed by the deposition of sediments by the Indus River encompasses the Kachchh Shelf, Gulf of Khambhat and Mumbai High. Mumbai High is the largest oil producer of India. Huge gas reserves have been found in the Krishna-Godavari basin off the coast of Andhra Pradesh.
Oil and gas reserves of the Persian Gulf are simply amazing. But these reserves remained unexploitated for a pretty long time because this gulf has land based reserves also and those reserves were to be exploited first.
The offshore potential is very important, especially for smaller states which have restricted land areas. The Persian Gulf has the advantage of being sheltered from the open ocean, is shallow and relatively free of hazards.
It is the most rapidly developing part of the industrialising world as its onshore and offshore wealth is re-invested in industry. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Behrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Iraq are the likely beneficiary states.
In South-east Asian waters, offshore, oil is becoming increasingly significant for a number of countries in this vast archipelagic area. There is increasing shift from exploitation of land resources to offshore resources.
This phenomena is particularly seen in Indonesia and Malaysia where the main producing areas are off southern Sumatra. The South-east Asian waters are considered as one of the most promising for immediate expansion.
Off the coast of Western Australia there are substantial reserves of oil and gas. These reserves experienced rapid development in the 1970s.
Besides there is great scope for harnessing the non-conventional energy resources in this ocean.
The above mentioned and some other natural resources of this ocean can be a great cause of rivalry among the nations of the world.
India has used the Indian Ocean for thousands of years. This ocean had been a powerful medium of trade, defense, colonization and diffusion of Indian culture particularly in Southeast Asia. The Mauryan kings had established ports on the Bay of Bengal in the fourth century B.C. Kautilya made a mention of a separate administrative division of overseas maritime activities in his famous Arthsastra.
Large naval kingdoms of the Cholas and Chalukyas were set up in South India. Sri Vijaya Empire, set up by the Indian rulers in South-east Asia from eighth to eleven centuries, maintained strong cultural and commercial ties with south India through the Indian Ocean.
The Arab explorers and traders increased their activities in the Arabian Sea from the middle of the 13th century to the beginning of the 16th century. However, they could not exercise much control on this ocean. The European influence in the Indian Ocean started after the landing of Vasco da Gama on Calicut on the western coast of India in 1498.
Major European powers were eventually drawn into a long and bloody struggle for power in the Indian Ocean. Out of all the European powers, Britain had the best naval force and gained supremacy over the Indian Ocean and the Indian sub-continent.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, sea ports like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were developed to boost up sea trade and maritime activities. The British became the super power by dint of its naval superiority.
According to an Indian historian and diplomat, K.M. Panikkar (1945), the history of British control in Indian Ocean illustrates the basic geopolitical principle that the power which rules the sea eventually rules the adjoining land. He observed that the pre-British invasions and land directed conquests of India led to the founding of political dynasties, which in a short period were Indianised.
Only the British rulers could remain unassimilated as they could draw their strength from England through the naval supply lines. It is worth noting that although a large portion of north India was conquered many times by foreigners, India was never ruled by a monarch who did not have his capital in India except whom it was under the naval power of the British (Panikkar, 1951). Japanese effort to capture Singapore and Andaman Islands during the World War II also corroborated the above statement.
Most of the former British colonies became independent countries after the World War II. This resulted in shrinking of the British Empire and reducing of the British influence in the Indian Ocean. By mid 1960s, it lost almost all the colonies and serious economic strains were experienced in Britain. Consequently Britain started withdrawing its military forces from the Indian Ocean region.
This withdrawal created “power vacuum” which gave birth to super power rivalry in the Indian Ocean region. The USA immediately jumped into the fray and made efforts to fill the ‘power vacuum’ created by the withdrawal of the British forces.
The USA purchased Diego Garcia Island from Britain to build a military base there. The base is fully equipped with nuclear weapons and provides decisive advantage to the USA to command the areas of the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and China.
In addition to Diego Garcia, the USA has set up military bases near Asmara (Ethiopia), Woomera and Harsld E. Holt (Australia) as well as in Bahrain and Mahe. The military bases at Vacaaos (Mauritius), Gan Island, Masirah Island, Simonstown (South Africa) and Port Louis (Seychelles) are jointly owned by the US and UK. France has also set up bases in Diego Suareg and Reunion Island.
The Russian interest in the Indian Ocean region is as intense as that of the USA. The individuality of the ocean makes it possible for both the countries to exercise their power even though they may be far removed from the Indian Ocean. In order to counter the US influence Russia send its fleet in 1968.
Since 1970, Russia has been steadily building trade and economic connections with India and the countries bordering the Indian Ocean. That country has entered into bilateral treaties with several countries of the region such as India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Iraq, Egypt, Mauritius, Somalia, Seychelles, etc.
Russia maintains military bases at Berbera, Masira, Umakas, Dahalak and Socotra islands. It too constructed naval radio stations and ammunition depots at the north of the Red Sea. It has also obtained access to port facilities in Somalia, Mauritius and Singapore. Russia is trying to gain a foothold in the oil rich countries of the Middle East also.
In the recent past, China has also shown keen interest in the Indian Ocean. With the former U.S.S.R. loosing the super-power status, China wants to take full advantage of the situation and is trying hard to fill in the vacuum, and ultimately assume the leadership of the Afro-Asian world. One of the major aims of the Russian push in the Indian Ocean is to contain Chinese influence in the African and Arab countries and in Southeast Asia.
Since Indian and Australian naval capabilities are not significant, the western countries are deeply concerned over expanding influence of Russia in the Indian Ocean. India is currently preoccupied with economic development programmes. With her modest financial resources, India finds it difficult to develop a strong naval capability to deter encroachment by other major powers on India’s role in the Indian Ocean.
India could establish her supremacy in the Indian Ocean in 1988 when Sri Lankan mercenaries invaded Maldives and Indian forces had come to its rescue. Maldives has been consistently turning down lucrative offers by big powers to provide facilities for establishing military bases on its soil in order to make the Indian Ocean a zone of peace.
The littoral countries encroaching the Indian Ocean are closely associated with this ocean traditionally, culturally and economically. These countries are awfully worried about the geopolitical affairs of the ocean. The concerned countries want to keep the Indian Ocean a zone of peace rather than an area of cold war, great power rivalry, super power confrontation and a battle-field.
Maintaining the environment of peace in the Indian Ocean is very important for the littoral states because almost all the countries surrounding this ocean are at the developing stage. They are in the process of economic reconstruction and development, social change towards modernization and building the democratic political system.
As such these countries cannot afford confrontation and war and they want to maintain peace in the Indian Ocean at any cost. Majority of these countries are members of the Non-aligned movement and do not want any external interference in the affairs concerning Indian Ocean.
The member countries of the Non-aligned group strongly feel that the socioeconomic prosperity in the region will only be possible when there is an atmosphere of economic cooperation and co-ordination among the richly endowed littoral states.
This can happen only if the external powers are not allowed to show their presence in the Indian Ocean and are deterred to influence the littoral states. The conference of the Heads of Non-aligned nations held at Lusaka in 1970 called upon all states to identify the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and should also be free of nuclear weapons. The UN General Assembly has also passed a resolution to keep the Indian Ocean zone as a ‘zone of peace.’
However, there are several obstacles in maintaining peace in the Indian Ocean. A large number of the littoral states are small, economically poor and politically immature. Some of the littoral states such as India, Australia, South Africa, Iran and Indonesia are strong enough to influence the political events at the regional and international levels.
Environment of politically strained relations between some of the neighbouring countries is also a great hindrance in the way of peaceful co-existence. The situation has become rather complicated with the growing interference of China and Japan. China wants to establish itself as a major power in the Afro-Asian region.
Similarly, Japan wants to increase its influence because nearly 50 per cent of the Japanese international trade is carried through the Indian Ocean. The Gulf War made the Indian Ocean the focal point of the world geopolitics. The growing terrorism in the Muslim world has also assumed dangerous posture for the world in general and for the Indian Ocean in particular.
Thus, peace in the Indian Ocean is very fragile and it can be maintained only by the cooperation of the littoral states. Only such cooperation can save this ocean from the exploitation by the developed countries and the erstwhile colonial powers.