Security and security building in the Indian Ocean region

Author/s (editor/s):

Sandy Gordon

Publication year:

1996

Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 116

During the 1970s, the term 'arc of crisis' was introduced to describe the giant sickle of the globe that stretched from the Magreb to Burma. Unfortunately, that description is as apt today as it was then. Much of the territory encompassed by the expression 'arc of crisis' may be found at or near the Indian Ocean rim. Here are located some of the poorest, least developed and least stable countries and some of the most difficult bilateral disputes in the world.

In a climate in which much of the world is attempting to build viable regional economic and security associations, the Indian Ocean region has so far gone against the trend. At first glance, the prospects for regionalism in the Indian Ocean do not appear promising. The region has very little economic critical mass. It does not possess the type of economic complementarity evident in APEC, NAFTA or the European Union. But the Indian Ocean region is in the midst of profound change - change that could potentially bring about more robust regional perspectives.

Recent developments in the region include the admission of South Africa to regional forums for the first time as a result of end ending of Apartheid; the advent of economic liberalisation and higher growth rates in the most populous sup-region of the Indian Ocean, South Asia; the development of new and dynamic linkages between South Asia and Southeast Asia; and the growing awareness among Indian Ocean rim countries that they need to develop closer links in order to gain a voice in a rapidly globalising world. These positive developments have together promoted a tentative regional process.

It is a fundamental tenet of this book, however, that none of these developments will have a lasting positive effect unless the deep-seated problems of territory and nation that beset the region can be ameliorated. While economic regionalism and a focus on 'comprehensive security' can assist in this process, in the final analysis, the protagonists and competitors engaged in these disputes must themselves decide that the time has come at least to downgrade the level of disputation, if not actually to resolve their problems. 

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