Last week, India assisted the U.S. in securing dialogue-partner status in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), a 20-member grouping of littoral nations of the Indian Ocean.
India and the U.S.—as well as other Indo-Pacific nations such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia—share an interest in maintaining free and open trade routes in the Indian Ocean region.
While the grouping has so far done little in terms of concrete solutions for improving maritime security, it is still important for the U.S. to take an active part in dialogue on these issues. The rise of China and its economic, military, and diplomatic heft are increasingly felt in the region.
The U.S. joined as the sixth dialogue partner along with China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Egypt. Iran had objected to Washington’s taking part in the group, and thus India (the group’s current chair) stepped in to defend U.S. membership.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid over the weekend to thank him for New Delhi’s behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort to help Washington secure a seat at the table, emphasizing the overall importance of U.S.–India relations. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the U.S. was glad to be part of the group and noted the vital role these kinds of regional institutions play in addressing shared challenges.
In a joint project published a year ago with scholars from the Lowy Institute for International Policy (Sydney, Australia) and the Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi, India), The Heritage Foundation advocated for greater trilateral coordination and cooperation between the U.S., India, and Australia, particularly in the maritime security domain.
Arguing that such cooperation would help to maintain freedom of navigation in the entire Indo-Pacific region, the report called for the three countries to lead a discussion in possible new arrangements for shaping a rules-based maritime security order in the region.
The report went on to suggest that such a code of conduct could be managed by a forum with conditions of entry based on capabilities, interests, willingness to contribute, and a demonstrated willingness to abide by the rules.
U.S. membership within the IOR-ARC marks one small step to enhancing U.S. influence within the maritime security dialogue in this increasingly important region. Moving forward, the U.S. and India should find additional ways to work more closely with other like-minded nations to secure the Indian Ocean, particularly in light of a recent series of incidents of Chinese naval assertiveness in the South China Sea.