Nuclearization of the Indian Ocean: Security implications for Pakistan

By Iqra Mobeen Akram

Traditionally, the geostrategic and economic significance of sea has played a role in the rise and fall of states. This is to say that the value of maritime forces is crucial for achieving the national interests of states.

In this context, the importance of the Indian Ocean cannot be denied for the security dynamics of South Asia in addition to the complex geopolitics of the region concerning global actors. The nuclearization of the Indian Ocean not only disturbs the strategic balance between Pakistan and India, but the geo-economic value of the Indian Ocean also complicates the matter, as 32 littoral states have the coastline with the Indian Ocean. In other words, the connectivity between the different continents of the world for trade and movement makes the security of the Indian Ocean pertinent. It is believed that one of the distinct features of Indian Ocean maritime security concerns with the role of external powers in the arms race and assertion of military power, however, the value of Indian Ocean for the import and export of oil and raw materials for China, and other main actors should not be underestimated.

Even though the security dynamics of the Indian Ocean is influenced by the interaction of the global and regional powers in general, however, if one critically views the power equation, it becomes apparent that the role of Pakistan and India is one of the prominent facets, which can determine the future prospects of peaceful and stable Indian Ocean. Because when India conducts tests to gain strategic parity with Pakistan in form of increasing the capability of Indian nuclear triad, the very logic of the security dilemma forces Pakistan to ensure the economic security and improve its defence capability.

The regional dynamics is largely depended upon the interplay of the Pakistan and India, as Pakistan and India are the two nuclear states of the South Asia, which have the potential to alter the strategic balance of the region. This means that when India aggressively pursues the strategic interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Pakistan is left with no choice but to respond to the development in order to attain the balance of power and security of the region.

In the backdrop of the Indian test of K4, an intermediate range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) will provide her with the capability to target Pakistan from the Bay of Bengal. [1] Therefore, the successful test of Pakistan’s submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) Babur-III can be seen as a response to the increasing threat to the credible minimum deterrence policy of Pakistan. The main aim of the test submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) Babur-III is to enhance the delivery system in terms of adding the capability of the credible second strike. Likewise, it will help to bolster the navigation features in form of developing the controlled underwater propulsion. Some of the experts have called the success of the Babur-III submarine-launched cruise missile an important milestone.

On the Indian nuclearization policy, critics are of the view that the main cause of militarization is to establish her as the major power in the Indian Ocean[2]. For example, the aspiration of becoming blue-water navy has continued to define and drive the naval strategies of India. This implies that the ambition of India to rise and control the Indian Ocean is directly contributing to heightened insecurity and aggravates the maritime threats for the Pakistan navy. Similarly, the collaborative economic projects between Pakistan and China in form of the Gwadar port development and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is seen as one of the main factors of paranoia and concern for the Indian policy makers.

The national and international security implications for Pakistan are often downplayed by the Indian strategists. However, if one takes into account the consequence of the militarization in the Indian Ocean, it is hard to deny the presence of threats for the CPEC in terms of insurgent movements in Balochistan in the wake of growing India and Afghanistan relations in addition to the new surge of terror attacks across Pakistan. This means that the improvements in the maritime capability of Pakistan cannot be seen as the offensive measure; rather the defence and safeguard of the economic prosperity and strategic goals appear to be the underlying premise. Hence, it would be logical to claim that the main objective of Pakistan’s naval capability and security are not to threaten any specific state. Rather the primary objective is to ensure the economic interests and naval security of Pakistan.

From the Pakistani perspective, one of the main rationales for the diversification of nuclear capability in the Indian Ocean is to increase the defence capability in terms of deterring the militarization of the Indian Ocean. Moreover, another reason for enhancing the naval power is to respond to the regional rival in order to counter the growing Indian influence in the region in form of an upgraded nuclear capability. Hence, the strengthening of sea power facilitates the Pakistan naval power in curtailing the negative repercussions of nuclearization in the Indian Ocean. [3] As reiterated by the Advisor to the Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz when he acknowledged that Pakistan cannot “remain oblivious of the developments taking place in the Indian Ocean region.”

The national interests of all states are the driving forces behind most of the policy measure; however, if those interests are not in line with the regional goals and stability of the neighboring states, it can become a cause of escalation. One can say that India is expected to play a more responsible role in the Indian Ocean to secure the national interests and for the security dynamics of the South Asian region. An emphasis on the collective responsibility of a secured Indian Ocean can help to create a win-win scenario for the regional powers, thereby all the actors involved in the Indian Ocean can benefit from the mutual cooperation and collaborative ventures. For example, the expansion for CPEC project and the peaceful Indian Ocean can take the regional prosperity to another level.

To conclude, it is imperative to underline that Pakistan is a peaceful state interested in pursuing policies in the Indian Ocean to defend and safeguard the national interests, however, if all those actors who maintain a strong presence in the IOR attempt to threaten the naval capability and security of the state, Pakistan’s naval forces are bound to defend the state in terms of safeguarding the national interests.


[1]Pakistan Test-fires Nuclear-capable Submarine-launched Cruise Missile – Newspaper,” DAWN.COM, last modified January 10, 2017.

[2]India As a Great Power: Know Your Own Strength,” The Economist, last modified March 30, 2013.

[3]  Shazia Hasan, “Aziz Sounds Alarm over ‘nuclearisation’ of Indian Ocean – Pakistan,” DAWN.COM, last modified February 10, 2017.

Iqra Mobeen Akram is a M. Phil student of International Relations and a freelance researcher, who has written political blogs on BuzzFeed, BlogHer, and Blogger.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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