Updated: Oct 31
Image credits: Sunidhi Illustrations
A rising power needs to keep its backyard secured, and that saves a nation from shock attacks and chokepoint conflicts in the near future. China has been keenly working on creating an amalgamation of both military and hybrid bases. The Chinese have made a military base in Djibouti, which has a critical significance in the area geopolitically. Djibouti is located in the horn of Africa and has a vital passage near offshore known as the Bab el Mandeb strait. This strait oversees 10% of the global oil supply and is the entry point to the Suez canal through which 10% of international trade passes. Recently, a ship called the Ever Given stuck in the canal, causing disruption in trade for days. This strait is also a choke point. This shows the importance of Djibouti for nations like China to secure their trade and energy supply in case of conflict. This also shows the importance of military bases in critical areas. Moving on from China, India is rising to counter the same Chinese overseas base by establishing its military surveillance and operations bases to secure from and contain the Chinese.
These bases will also help India protect its maritime ambitions, trade supply lines and vital energy supplies. These overseas bases also give India the ability to avoid any containment and restriction from the Chinese in the future in case of a conflict. Both the nations are rising in power and size, leading to conflicts and power struggles day by day. India’s closing of ties with the QUAD and especially the Americans have erred the Chinese more. The INDO-US juggernaut is not what the Chinese want in Asia. This duo puts a lot of checks and balances on the Chinese power. India’s overseas military bases are just in their nascent stage, but these are statements of the future and have broad significance. We examine the Indian overseas bases in Today’s piece.
STRATEGIC AND GEOPOLITICAL VALUE OF ALL BASES
Military bases have a vital role geopolitically for India. These very bases project India’s power and position abroad and India as a force to reckon with. The strategic value of these bases goes to the extent that they help India encircle and contain the adversary. Taking up the first military base - the Farkhor Airbase operated by the Indian Air force and the Tajik Air force. There is also a small medical facility in the area. This base was acquired in the 1990s with Russian assistance. The primary use of this base was to assist the Afghan Northern Alliance with vital equipment and treat the soldiers in case of injuries. This base was India’s first foreign military base. The Chabahar port in Iran being developed by the Indians gives India land transportation access to Farkhor via Afghanistan. RAW wanted the base to transport high altitude pieces of equipment to the Afghan Northern Alliance. This base also treated many leaders who fought against the Taliban in the 1990s.
The Indian government sent the Border Road Organisation in the 2000s to repair this base. They were also considering the deployment of the MiG 29 squadron in the base. This base has vast geopolitical value. The location of Tajikistan above Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Afghanistan gives it a special place strategically. Strategically it gives India a power projection point in Central Asia and a tool to play a significant role in conflicts. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, its value only increases. This base is also a geopolitical tool to encircle Pakistan. In 2003, Musharraf raised concerns with the Tajiks about the Air Base, stating that the Indian Air Force would be able to enter the Pakistani air space within minutes in case of conflicts. The extension of this base is the Ayni Airbase, with the Indians renovated in the 2000s. It is being seen that the Indians are keen on establishing an operational base in Ayni.
This renowned interest comes after India joining the Shanghai Security Cooperation and having a keen interest in gaining a foothold in Central Asia. India has spent $70 million on the renovation of this base. India maintains the Indian Military Training Team station and base in Bhutan. IMTT is a signal of cooperation to Bhutan and shows the Chinese that Bhutan is not alone.
There is a strategic defence agreement between the Bhutanese and the Indian. In case of any Chinese intrusion or attack, the Indians will stand up to them. The training of the Bhutanese force by India is productive for the Indians. Bhutan is at a very significant geopolitical location. It acts as a barrier for India in protecting India’s critical Siliguri corridor. Bhutan’s importance and India’s commitment was reassured in the 2017 Doklam Standoff between China and India.
Source: Google Earth
Moving to the maritime establishments, Indians have two listening and radar posts in the islands of Madagascar and Seychelles. The importance of these two is in their location. Indian container ships and other global trading companies pass through many of the routes near these countries. These two countries are offshore of the African continent, a vulnerable ocean area because of piracy. To keep trade and supply lines secure against the pirates. These two radar posts are of vital importance.
Apart from the trade, future containment from China can also be countered by checking on them through these listening posts and tracking their maritime activities. This keeps India prepared and intact in facing any future threats in the Indian Ocean. India is actively looking to establish a fully operational naval base in Mauritius, where A coast surveillance radar system is deployed and maintained by India. As of 2021, India is also building a military base on North Agalega Island. This island was leased to the Indian army to develop strategic assets and is part of India-Mauritius Military Cooperation. This base has a very strategic location in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This gives the Indian navy the capabilities to choke and contain the Chinese in case of an escalation in the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese are pursuing their string of pearls goal in the Indian Ocean with the core intent of containment of the Indians. Still, bases like Agalega inject the power of India and elevate our geostrategic standings in a conflict. In Oman, a listening post at Ras al Hadd and berthing rights for the Indian Navy at Muscat naval base. Along with an establishment at Duqm for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. Duqm had previously served as a port for the INS Mumbai. Oman’s location gives India both tracking and tracking the Chinese navy’s designs and establishing a foothold in the Middle East. All in all, India has started to develop its maritime solid and land-based presence to counter the string of pearls designs of the Chinese. Air Base and the Naval presence will give Indians a rapid and robust military infrastructure mechanism. This will lead to a robust and precise response to any threat and chokehold in future conflicts if they arise with the Chinese or any other party in the Indian Ocean.
India’s cooperation with the Americans will also depend on how much we value contributing to this alliance, which requires steps in advance. An alliance to contain and restrict China for protecting India’s trade and security is in India’s very interest. Money and muscle are required and should be deployed to keep India ready and secured. China is not a threat to India’s security only but to the very international rules-based order. Time has come to set up and guard the ocean, which is our backyard of influence.
SOFT POWER, PRESENCE AND THE WAY FORWARD
Overseas military bases are not just a show of force and strategic ground hold but are like outposts of a nation’s people and their way of life. These military bases should present a soft power outlook of India. This can be on the grounds of the NATO and The American bases, which offer American consensus and culture. Many American bases look like mini American settlements. They win consensus in the local areas and prevent protests. People to people contact, regular cultural exchanges, and aid to the local authorities and people, leading to acceptance among the foreigners. The very presence of the Indian military should be not only a hard power message to our adversaries and soft power and diplomatic hand of trust to our hosts. The presence of our military is the first outlook of our nation that the hosts get. This should be kept in mind, and operations should be carried on likewise to create an atmosphere of acceptance and friendship.
Long-term goals have to be kept in mind. India has just started the voyage of countering the Chinese developments since the 2000s in the Indian Ocean. We must treat the Indian Ocean as our very own backyard and keep our interests intact. The geopolitical and maritime significance of the Indian Ocean will only grow as China and India become more powerful. India cannot afford to leave the Indian Ocean open to piracy and the Chinese jeopardising our interests. India should actively pursue diplomatic alliances, provide aid and assistance to the various players in the region to gain strategic ground and use the relationship when the need arises.
There should also be a proper mechanism like diplomats, military representatives, and funds to keep our bases running and make them a mixture of a hard and soft power tool. All our decisions in this and the next decade of the 21st century will shape our case of power and influence in the future.
BY HARSH SURI
CO-FOUNDER THE GEOSTRATA