Navigating the Shifting Tides: US-India Strategic Collaboration and the Indian Ocean Islands

By siliconindia   |   Saturday, 21 October 2023, 00:48 IST
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Navigating the Shifting Tides: US-India Strategic Collaboration and the Indian Ocean Islands

The US-India strategic convergence with Indian Ocean island countries represents a significant shift in the geopolitics of the region. This partnership advances economic development, security, and diplomatic ties and contributes to the broader goal of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The recent transformation in the relationship between India and the United States has brought about a significant shift in the strategic balance within the Indian Ocean Region. Both countries share common goals to enhance international security, stability, and economic development in the region. Indian policymakers have long prioritized maintaining an independent foreign policy, which involves cultivating strong relations with diverse global actors.

Closer Ties with India
The principle of maintaining a free, open, and inclusive region is a key foundation of Indo-Pacific policy. The United States seeks to strengthen its ties with India as it views it as a crucial ally in the region. Recent developments have brought about significant changes in the relationship between the two countries. India has been steadily increasing its influence as a regional power, expanding its maritime security presence in the Indian Ocean.

The small Indian Ocean islands have, by virtue of their shared interests, influenced India's approach to the region. The country’s strategic plan, known as the 'Sagar Doctrine' (Security and Growth for All in the Region), provides a solid foundation for island nations such as Mauritius, Seychelles, and Réunion islands to strengthen their security and economic ties with India. India's foreign policy philosophy, emphasizing its Neighborhood First approach.

The dynamic of interdependence and alignment have garnered significant attention in emerging foreign policy considerations. This paradigm is expected to impact the balance of power among the larger nations like the US and India and the five Indian Ocean island nations. These are strategically situated in a crucial region of the Indian Ocean near vital choke points that significantly influence the international standing of the United States and India.

The foreign policy doctrines of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Biden have ambitious agendas for these island nations.  While the initial establishment of ties between the United States, India, and these five Indian Ocean islands faced numerous challenges, their relationship over time has evolved into one of the most dependable diplomatic alliances in the region. Given the growing importance of their influence, it is imperative to reassess the foreign policy direction of these five Indian Ocean islands.

US, India, and Sri Lanka's Collaboration on Foreign Policy

Sri Lanka holds a significant place on the US national security agenda, and it falls upon the architects of US foreign policy to establish a framework for a more pronounced presence in the island nation. The  current foreign policy prioritizes its neighborhood diplomacy. The relationship between India and Sri Lanka is poised to contribute to regional trade relations and maritime security, promoting peaceful cooperation. Through its foreign policy initiatives, the United States laid the foundation for transformative advancements in these relationships.

India and the U.S. have played constructive roles in supporting Sri Lanka's recovery from its financial crisis. The latter has pledged substantial financial aid to assist Sri Lanka in addressing its economic challenges. Under India's "Neighbour First Policy," Sri Lanka has consistently received significant attention, and last year, Indian foreign aid to Sri Lanka surpassed $3.8 billion.

Positioned at the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Sri Lanka's geographical location offers promising economic prospects for both Sri Lanka and India. Their economic diplomacy efforts, along with the involvement of the United States, have led to a more diversified and comprehensive alliance, bringing these nations closer than ever before.

India-US Diplomacy with Maldives

The significant involvement and partnerships with the five islands in the Indian Ocean have become a prominent aspect of US foreign policy. The Maldives stands out as a major beneficiary of the new US foreign policy approach.  Notably, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defence of the Maldives have established a framework outlining their joint commitment to increasing engagement and cooperation in the pursuit of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean.

The strategic collaboration between the United States and India with regard to the Seychelles, Mauritius, and Réunion has deepened, primarily due to their shared strategic objectives. This growing interdependence encompasses various aspects of bilateral relations, serving to counterbalance the influence of other regional powers. The current U.S. administration's foreign policy is strategically aligned with the Indian Ocean islands through its Indo-Pacific policy, further underscoring the significance of this region in terms of maritime security.

Given the surge in security concerns in the Indian Ocean, it is imperative to accord higher priority to the maritime security agenda in this region.  Mauritius and the Seychelles islands are of particular significance due to their strategic locations, offering access to critical checkpoints. US and Indian relations with Mauritius and Seychelles primarily revolve around trade diplomacy and maritime security. The French island of Réunion considers itself a resident power in the Indo-Pacific, while Diego Garcia, a British Indian Ocean Territory, hosts key air and naval facilities extensively utilized by the United States.

The US-India strategic convergence with the Indian Ocean islands brings several advantages in shaping foreign policy. Firstly, it enhances regional security by fostering cooperation among these nations to counter common challenges like piracy, maritime security, and regional stability. This collaboration facilitates economic growth through trade, infrastructure development, and energy partnerships, benefiting both the islands and the larger region. Additionally, it enables a counterbalance to the influence of other regional powers, ensuring a multipolar and stable Indian Ocean. Overall, this strategic alignment strengthens diplomatic ties, promotes shared interests, and positions the US and India as key partners in advancing security, prosperity, and stability in the Indian Ocean Region.