December 1, 2012

China and India: New Actors in the Southern Atlantic

A report I co-authored with colleagues was published in December 2012 as "China and India: New Actors in the Southern Atlantic." An excerpt is included below. The full text can be downloaded here.

In late 2006, India’s chief of naval staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, surprised many observers — both at home and abroad — by defining India’s “greater strategic neighborhood” as extending from Venezuela to Russia’s Sakhalin Island. This lofty aspiration appears to have been driven by India’s concerns about maintaining open sea lanes in an effort to secure its energy interests. But it may also have represented one of the first conscious attempts at bringing the Southern Atlantic Basin — the maritime littoral extending from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Cape of Good Hope, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Tierra del Fuego — into India’s strategic consciousness.

As India’s economy has opened after the end of the Cold War and grown from $320 billion to $1.8 trillion in less than two decades, its global interests have expanded and its international engagements have increased exponentially. India’s priorities have revolved around refashioning its ties with the United States, expanding its economic and commercial links with East and Southeast Asia, and stabilizing its relations with China and Pakistan. Historical legacies, the large Indian diaspora, and pressing economic and strategic interests have also meant that Russia, the Middle East, Europe, and East Africa have featured prominently in India’s international relations. But until relatively recently, Latin America and Western and Southern Africa — the countries comprising the Southern Atlantic — remained lower priorities. For a number of reasons, not least growing economic and trade links, resource imports, cultural connections to the Indian diaspora, and political alignment on multilateral issues, this is likely to change. We can soon expect the Southern Atlantic to feature more prominently on India’s strategic radar.

This paper provides a broad overview of India’s engagements to date with the Southern Atlantic, covering some of the historical and geographic roots of its limited interaction; the gradually intensifying economic and commercial linkages with the region, driven largely by India’s quest for resources; and India’s most important multilateral and bilateral political relationships in the region. It concludes with some possible implications for the United States and Europe, including potential areas for collaboration.