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The Sea: Playground of the Superpowers

7 June 2012

In the ‘stories you missed in 2011’, the American magazine Foreign Policy placed the build-up of the Indian armed forces at the top of the list. Last year, India was the main importer of arms. The Indian navy in particular is being modernised and enlarged at a rapid pace. Over the next twenty years, India will be spending 45 billion USD on 103 new warships. There even seems to be a race going on against China, which will be spending 25 billion USD on 135 new warships over the next twenty years. In the same period, China should also be getting carrier capacity, the basis for which was laid last year with the commissioning of an aircraft carrier from the assets of the former Soviet Union. A boundary had already been crossed earlier with the Chinese participation in counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast. For the first time since the beginning of the fifteenth century, Chinese warships have been deployed outside national coastal waters.

So what is going on? India and China are emerging economic superpowers. They have an unremitting need for raw materials and energy. Both countries, but China in particular, dispute sea areas because of the presence of raw materials and energy. China in particular is teaming up with other countries, in Africa for example. The intention is to secure the supply of raw materials and energy. Those investments are interests which must be protected if necessary. All this dependence means that the trade routes are becoming more and more important. No wonder, therefore, that not only China, but also India are going all out to protect their SLOCs, building new bases in the Indian Ocean and making their armed forces expeditionary. 

The development is passing post-modern Europe by. We have hardly any idea of the militarization that is taking place in Asia. For us, the principle of trade, rather than that of economic interests, is the dominant one. We have virtually no idea of increasingly frequent military confrontations, such as last August, when India and China came into conflict off the coast of Vietnam. And we are scrapping ever larger elements of our defences, including our navies, because the world is supposed to be a safer place. This paper is an important contribution to the development of vital knowledge in respect of the repercussions of the emergence of those new economic superpowers and the implications for our navies. This publication fits into a series of studies of the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies on the developments that impact future maritime operations. Even though the author is not attached to HCSS, we were therefore glad to take care of this publication. 

Rob de Wijk
Director, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies

Experts on this report

Director of the Security Program

Frank Bekkers

Frank Bekkers is Director of the Program Security. He is also theme leader of the Strategy and Change Program.

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