Indian Prime Minister Modi on August 9 chaired through video conferencing an open debate at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on maritime security. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to preside over a UNSC open debate.
India, a non-permanent member of UNSC, is currently its rotational President for the month of August. The UNSC has discussed and passed resolutions on different aspects of maritime security but this was the first time that the topic was discussed in a holistic manner as an exclusive agenda item.
The high-level open debate titled “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation” deliberated on ways to effectively counter maritime crime and insecurity and strengthen coordination in the maritime domain. It is the first of the three signature events being hosted by India as UNSC chair during its month-long Presidency of the powerful 15-nation UN body— the other two being UN peacekeeping and counter-terrorism.
Several heads of state and governments—Russian President Putin, Democratic Republic of Congo President and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken –, high-level briefers from the UN system and key regional organisations attended the debate. A distinguished line-up of four Heads of Government/State and 10 Ministers participated which was never seen in previous Presidency events earlier this year. Putin participated at UNSC Debates after 16 years signifying India’s importance. Despite US Permanent Representative holding Cabinet rank, the Secretary of State Blinken— the senior-most Secretary in the US Cabinet— participated. India incorporated the interests of the entire African continent by inviting the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Chair of the African Union, to brief the Council.
What India proposed?
India followed a responsible and consensus-building approach. It circulated a concept note on July 21 –several months in advance of the high-level debate—to enable all UNSC members hold several rounds of negotiations/consultations on the text. Incorporating ideas of all in the concept note did the trick.
By tradition, the “Presidential Statement,” is adopted unanimously and Modi’s was adopted, but not without hiccups as P-5 country China objected till the very end on the language related to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). India’s negotiators found narration acceptable to all, P-5 countries in particular, on reference to UNCLOS to reaffirm India’s bridging role in the UNSC. And the first-ever outcome document on maritime security was adopted under India’s presidency.
Unprecedented high-level participation, substantive discussion, and adoption by consensus of the first-ever outcome document on this topic were key takeaways. Vietnam (April 2021) and Equatorial Guinea (February 2019) had attempted a full discussion without success.
Right from the Indus Valley Civilization, the oceans have played an important part in India’s history and enabled shared peace and prosperity in its civilizational ethos. In 2015, Modi put forward the vision of SAGAR — an acronym for Security And Growth for All in the Region —for sustainable use of the oceans for a safe, secure, and stable maritime domain. At the East Asia Summit, 2019, SAGAR was reinforced with the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) focusing on seven pillars of maritime security including Maritime Ecology; Maritime Resources; Capacity Building and Resource Sharing; Disaster Risk Reduction and Management; Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation; and Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport.
UNSC emphasised UNCLOS as the leading international legal framework governing maritime activity including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.
Modi’s 5-point formula on maritime security:
Modi put forth five basic principles to develop a roadmap for international maritime security. 1) Free maritime trade sans barriers;2) Settlement of maritime disputes peacefully only on the basis of international law; 3) Responsible maritime connectivity; 4) Collectively combatting maritime threats posed by non-state actors and natural calamities; and 5) Preserving maritime environment and maritime resources. All participants welcomed it.
The Presidential Statement (PRST) underlined the primacy of international law – UNCLOS – as the legal framework to counter illicit activities at sea. The threats to maritime safety and security by regional and sub-regional organizations, economic and environmental threats posed by piracy and armed robbery, roles of private sectors in addressing maritime crime, cooperation between a broad range of actors to develop mutual legal assistance, law enforcement cooperation against transnational organized crime at sea, bilateral agreements and regional arrangements, safe and secure shipping for freedom of navigation in accordance with applicable international laws, drugs and human trafficking through the maritime route were discussed to evolve a coherent and holistic response to maritime security threats.
India convening an UNSC open debate on maritime security reflects India’s international evolution as a maritime nation to respond holistically to natural and manmade threats. It reiterated India’s role as a “net security provider” in the ocean. Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (2005), India’s vision on SAGAR and IPOI were discussed with eminent participation.
Modi is playing a key role in taking India to the next level. Interesting times ahead to see whether India gets that 6th seat in UNSC as permanent representative in future. Indian government is likely to appoint National Maritime Security Coordinator.
By Himanshu Sharma, Editor
Photo Credit : Getty Images
Twitter : @_Himansh_
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