Friday, November 22, 2013

Two Monsoons

For centuries, the Monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean propelled fleets of Chinese junks, Mughal raiders and East Indiamen across the waters of the region. The regularity with which the winds altered from the summer to winter months created an Indian Ocean oikoumene of trade so sophisticated it ought sunder the notion that globalization is a modern theme. While merchantmen no longer rely on the monsoon winds to move their ships, the waters of the Indian ocean remain as strategically important to the West today as they did when Vasco de Gama first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 15th century.

Securing the trade routes of the Indian Ocean is an important part of the US Navy's pivot to Asia. Fortunately for the US, the onus of controlling the 'global commons' will not fall entirely on US shoulders. The Indian navy is building its blue water capacity in order to defend these vital trade routes and reduce Chinese influence in the Ocean.

This week the Indian Navy added greatly to its strength by officially accepting delivery of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from the Russian shipyard at Severodvinsk. While Vikramaditya, formerly the Russian carrier Adm. Gorshkov, is an admittedly old ship, it is the second aircraft carrier to join the Indian fleet, making India the only Asian power currently fielding two carriers. In addition, India's first home built carrier, INS Vikrant, is due to be commissioned in 2018.

INS Vikramaditya
Aircraft carriers are the premier means of power projection available to the state. Whether it be the hard power capabilities of the advance strike fighters flown from their decks, or the soft power images of their gargantuan superstructures providing humanitarian assistance to storm wrecked areas, aircraft carriers have become the symbol of superpower status. By fielding a force of three carriers, India is making the statement that it wishes not only to dominate the local Indian Ocean, but project its power into other seas. 

India's naval buildup comes in addition to a renewal of its "Look East" policy. Much like the US, India provides an alternative means of trade for the nations of South East Asia, who tend to look down upon Chinese economic policy. Expanding Indian economic influence in the region is detrimental to the Chinese and as such is beneficial to the US. India's increasing economic influence as well as its growing blue water navy are quickly becoming a viable counter to Chinese influence in the region. 

In the 17th century, Westerners who went to India could expect to survive for two monsoons, less than two years. India's navy, while made up of old western boats, seems to have defied these odds. Hopefully India will continue its naval development, doing so will benefit not only its own national interest, but those of the United States in containing China.  


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