Relevance: India’s role in steering the debate on maritime peace and security at UNSC.
Synopsis: India undertakes the rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council. India has an opportunity to ensure that the global debate on maritime peace and security is approached more holistically, rather than focussing just on the security aspect of it.
In a departure from normal practice, the Indian PM will preside (in virtual mode) over an open debate at the UN Security Council, on Aug 9 when India holds the President’s chair for one month.
This will mark a diplomatic first for an Indian PM: This role has been performed in the past by a minister or a senior diplomat.
The subject to be deliberated upon by the UNSC members centers around the maintenance of international peace and security. It is an extension of India’s advocacy of SAGAR (security and growth for all in the region) in the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
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The debate should focus on the following issues and threats concerning the global maritime domain.
Threats to maritime peace & security
- Tension in the South China Sea (SCS): Tensions are already building up in the South China Sea over freedom of navigation (FON) rights in international waters and China’s claims to “territoriality” based on artificial structures (not natural islands).
- The US doesn’t accept it and has exercised transit rights in these waters.
- Many ASEAN nations and Quad members such as Japan, Australia, and India subscribe to the principle of FON and do not buy the Chinese interpretation of the “nine-dash-line”.
- Maritime pollution: Accidents onboard large crude carriers and cargo vessels in the IOR are increasing marine pollution and its downstream consequences for the health of the oceans.
- Over the last few decades, global warming and carbon emissions have changed the chemistry of the oceans. As per a UN report, oceans have become more acidic as seawater absorbs more carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the upper layers of the open ocean have lost between 0.5% and 3.3% of their oxygen since 1970 as temperatures have risen.
- In a worst-case scenario, the report cautions that if left unchecked, greenhouse gases could result in sea levels rising at a relentless pace for hundreds of years. Sea level may rise potentially by 17 feet or more by 2300, and submerge many islands and low-lying coastal areas along the global littoral.
- Littoral means a region lying along the shore.
- Drone attacks on ships: The safety of merchant ships has been a concern lately. Recently, an Israeli-controlled tanker in the north Arabian Sea off Oman came under a suspected drone attack that killed two crew members.
- Piracy and non-traditional challenges at sea such as gun-running and smuggling
China, being a permanent member of UNSC, will stall any debate on issues like SCS, so India can direct the debate on issues of global good, like welfare of seafarers which has been grossly neglected during the pandemic.
A sustained focus on the maritime domain and its correlation with globalization, the blue economy, the health of the ocean and the overall impact on human security is a laudable goal, and encouraging the UNSC to prioritize this issue is a worthy cause.
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