Grand Chessboard Pivot: US wants to join Indian Ocean group

The US has shown interest in becoming a dialogue partner in the Indian Ocean grouping, the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). The US request is being considered by the members of the forum.

India has been chairing the forum for the past two years, and its term will come to an end next year, when Australia will take over from India. There are 19 member nations, from across three continents, and five dialogue partners. Dialogue partners are non-members, who only participate in open discussions and are not part of decision making. They are not invited in closed discussions. Pakistan too has shown interest in the IOR-ARC, but there is a clause in the charter of the grouping which says that a country can be considered only if it extends equal treatment to other member nations. So, to be eligible, Pakistan will have to give India the most favoured nation status.

Refusing to divulge details about US’ request, a source said, “The US request is recent, and is being looked into very seriously, and most probably it will be done this time. All decisions are through consensus by all members of IOR-ARC.”

At this year’s 12th IOR-ARC Council of Ministers Meeting, from 29 October – 2 November, one of the thrust areas would be checking piracy at sea, as 80% of the world’s trade passes through the Indian Ocean route, which has been infested with piracy lately. Other areas are maritime safety and security, trade and investment, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction, academic cooperation, and tourism promotion.

“Maritime safety and piracy will be taken up in a big way through seminars. UAE did it this year, India will do it next year to discuss all aspects like hostages and crisis management,” said a source from the Ministry of External Affairs.

Meanwhile Defence Minister A.K. Antony has underlined the key role of the Indian Navy with countries of Indian Ocean Region. Addressing the biannual Naval Commanders’ Conference this week, Antony said, “Our government is pursuing a string of proactive engagements with countries in the Indian Ocean region to ensure peace and stability, which is also related to our economic and wider security interests.”