The Potential for Maritime Cooperation

-C. Howell


Emerging Policy Environment

In May 1996, the Minister of Defence presented the White Paper on National Defence for the Republic of South Africa to Parliament. Parliament approved the document, with strong support expressed by all political parties.

After two a half decades of isolation, South Africa has been welcomed back into the international community and has joined a host of important regional and international bodies. South Africa now engages in defence cooperation with a number of countries and participates in regional security arrangements. With the advent of democracy, South Africa was moved from an isolationist position where it was excluded from the mainstream of international activities to one of engagement in international forums and participation in regional, continental and international peace initiatives.1

The White Paper on Defence explains South Africa's new policy towards self-defence. It explains that governments have an inherent right and responsibility to ensure the protection of the state and its people against external military threats and defines the broader strategies which will be employed to this end:

Political, economic and military cooperation with other states. In this context, a common security regime, regional defence cooperation and confidence and security-building measures in Southern Africa are particularly important.

The prevention, management and resolution of conflict through non-violent means. Conflict resolution, in the form of diplomacy, mediation or arbitration, may take place on a bilateral basis or under the auspices of a regional or international body.

The deployment of the defence force. The use or threat of force against external military aggression is a legitimate measure of last resort when political solutions have been exhausted.

Underpinning Foreign Policy

The determination of the manner in which the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will fulfil its tasks is based on foreign policy pronouncements by the government.

Significant pronouncements concerning South African foreign policy, were made and discussed in detail at a Foreign Policy Workshop in Gauteng Province, held over September 9-10, 1996. In the opening address, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, A.B. Nzo stated that: " common with other states, South Africa's Foreign Policy is predicted upon its national interest, which has as basic tenets the protection of the sovereignty of our state and also served by promoting the political, economic and social well-being of Southern Africa and interaction with the international community..."2

Nzo then suggested that the seminar groups should then, "...carefully analyse the global environment with a view to defining both the opportunities which exist for the advancement of South Africa's national interests and the threats which we should strive to counter."3

South African National Interest

During the conference, there was much debate on the concept of national interest and with the assistance of Dr Greg Mills, the following definition achieved partial consensus:

National interest is underpinned by the value enshrined in the Constitution and may be said to encompass the security of the state and its citizens, the promotion of their social and economic well-being, and the encouragement of global peace, regional stability and development.4

The following principles were accepted for foreign policy formulation:

-- a commitment to the promotion of human rights;

-- a commitment to the promotion of democracy;

-- a commitment to justice and international law in the conduct of relations between nations;

-- a commitment to international peace and to international agreed upon mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts;

-- a commitment to the interests of Africa in world affairs; and

-- a commitment to economic development through regional and international cooperation in an interdependent world.5

At the conference, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, A. Pahad, stated: "There can be no development without stability."6

Ultimately the goal of enhancing security, bolstering economic prosperity and promoting democracy can be considered to be mutually supportive.

The Role of the SA Navy in Support of National Interest

The state has a number of instruments with which it may ensure political, economic and military cooperation with other states and for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict through non-violent means. It also has a number of instruments with which it may promote its interests.

The military in general and the Navy in particular are valuable instruments of state to help ensure the above-listed strategies.

The creation of wealth and well-being of nations depend on the ability to trade. That requires that sources of raw materials, markets for goods and services and the routes and methods by which movement takes place must be discovered, developed and safeguarded. This in turn rests on the political will and the ability to exercise power and influence in a competitive world. Although the structural and secular framework has changed and different terminology is used, this is as true today as it has been through the ages.7

The use of the sea for commerce (trade) and for the projection of power lies at the core of maritime strategy. The ability to ensure for oneself the use of the sea for these two ends, even in the face of adversity, and to constrain an opponent from enjoying such advantages in situations of conflicting interests, is vested in maritime power. This holds true in peace and in war, and the scope may range from fishery protection to opposing the projection of hostile power. Maritime nations, therefore, have an interest in denying/preventing the use of the sea for the purpose of interfering with their commercial or security interests. Navies are the primary "means" of maritime strategy. They are the state's means to project power and ensure or prevent the use of the sea.8

South Africa: A Maritime Nation

South Africa's critical dependence on the maritime domain for both its welfare and security has been well covered over the past few years and is taken as given in this paper.

The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean covers a water surface area of some 73,600,000 km2 with a total length of coastline bordering the ocean of 66,526 km. It washes the shores of three continents and 36 states and for centuries has been an area of both contention and cooperation.9

During pre-colonial times, the Indian Ocean served as a means for trade by both Indian and Arab traders. However, the arrival of the European colonial powers changed all of this. The traditional intra-regional trade was replaced by a vigorous inter-regional trade and with time much of the region came under the control of the British. As colonialism ended, the Indian Ocean became a focus area for the Cold War because of its strategic importance as a trade route.10

US naval presence in the Indian Ocean and the Soviet Union's desire to rival it, caused a significant build-up of naval forces. As Air Commodore (Retd.) Jasjit Singh writes in his paper, Towards Durable Peace and Security in the Indian Ocean Region, "Both superpowers appeared to have been seeking to fulfil the century-old Alfred Mahan prophesy that, whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. The ocean is the key to the seven seas. In the twenty-first century, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters."11

Today, the Indian Ocean provides the major shipping routes for the movement of crude oil and petroleum products from the Middle East via the Cape Sea route to the United Kingdom, North-West Continent of Europe, Scandinavia, North America and South America. Coal and iron ore shipments from Australia and South Africa are conveyed either via the Suez Canal or the Cape Sea route. Trade routes exist between South Africa and its trading partners on the Indian Ocean Rim and further afield to East Asia. Two-thirds of the world's maritime traffic transits through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea (Suez Canal). Half the world's container ship traffic and one-third of the bulk carrier traffic flow through the Indian Ocean.

Future Security Uncertainties

In their latest book, Suid-Afrika en die Nuwe Wereldorde, Leopold and Ingrid Scholtz quote N.B. Singh, the Deputy Director of the United Service Institution of India who warns of the problems of predicting threats in the post-Cold War environment:

"The new world order at the global, regional and sub-regional level is in the process of transformation due to interaction of newly emerging forces after the end of the Cold War. Challenges and threats to our vital interests in the (Indian Ocean Region) during the next 15-20 years may not be clearly identifiable and also cannot be accurately assessed in their degree and dimension. During this period of uncertainty, it would be wise for nations to be prepared to defend their vital interests by military means, if necessary, as a last resort."12

However, the demise of the Cold War and the collapse of the bipolar system have opened up new uncertainties in the region. The most obvious of these uncertainties being a possible clash between Iran and the West. It is quite possible that in the next few years there will be a conflict between Washington and Tehran. Tehran, preferring the use of asymmetric strategies, is developing a submarine capability which could facilitate the next Gulf war spilling into the Indian Ocean. Various analysts have, over recent weeks, speculated about the impact such a conflict would have on South Africa and on the security of South African trade. Some write that South Africa would wish to stay neutral in such a conflict because both Tehran and Washington are valued partners. But ultimately neutrality requires a capability to enforce that position. The credibility of such a position would be a function of the capability of South Africa and well as its perceived standing in the international community. Both of these aspects are affected to a lesser or greater extent by South Africa's naval interfacing with countries sharing similar national interests.

Other Naval Powers in the Indian Ocean

There are a number of countries which have maritime interests in the Indian Ocean. These countries include, amongst others, France, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, India and South Africa.

The French Indian Ocean Squadron

France's defence policy rests primarily on the preservation of its national independence. Political and economic factors govern French deployment of naval forces throughout the world and in the Indian Ocean in particular. These factors include oil traffic and the fact that La Reunion, Mayotte, various scattered islands in the Mozambican Channel and the French Astral and Antarctic Territories, are French territory. France maintains a substantial naval force of more than a dozen vessels in the Indian Ocean on a continuous basis.

The United States Navy

The mission of the US Navy is to maintain freedom of the seas for the United States and its allies, to be prepared to conduct combat operations at sea in support of the national interests of the United States, and to maintain the ability for power projection ashore. The US Navy maintains a strong presence in the Persian Gulf, which can be quickly reinforced by other naval units in the region. In July 1995, the Fifth Fleet was established to be responsible for the conduct of naval operations in the Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Of the 16 vessels deployed, one is an aircraft carrier and two are submarines.

The British Royal Navy

The British Royal Navy maintains a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, by means of the Armilla Patrol (RN vessels deployed in the Indian Ocean), UN peace-keeping duties, and a Naval and Marine detachment on Diego Garcia. The nature of the naval forces which the United Kingdom deploys in the Indian Ocean depends on the mission for which they are required.

The Royal Australian Navy

Australia, as an island nation with a coastline of over 35,000 km, maintains its primary defence focus on sea and air approaches across which an adversary would have to project and sustain sufficient forces to attack. The combined forces of the Navy must be sufficient as to be capable of conducting concurrent maritime operations, both defensive and offensive, across these maritime approaches and beyond if necessary. To ensure this strategy, Australia is developing an advanced Navy with an ability to conduct sustained blue water operations.

The Malaysian Navy

In the past, the Malaysian armed forces concentrated on internal security, with the Navy and Air Force playing a secondary role in supporting the Army. With the dissipation of this internal security threat, the Malaysian Force Design is now capability based. The Malaysian Navy is a small coastal Navy currently increasing their number of vessels to meet a need for a naval presence in the South China Sea and other regional waters. They have recently taken delivery of two new British built frigates and are planning to develop a submarine capability.

The Indian Navy

The Indian Navy is responsible for the defence of India's maritime interests and protecting over 7,600 km of coastline. Given that 97 per cent of India's international trade is seaborne, protection of its sea lines of communication is of considerable importance. Since independence and separation from its former western region (Pakistan), India's military policy has been characterised by:

-- preparation for a possible two-front war against Pakistan and the People's Republic of China;

-- creation of a naval force capable of defending the country's maritime interests and achieving superiority over other Navies in the region; and

-- efforts towards self-sufficiency in the armament industry.

Although the Indian Navy has had budget restraints, they have increased their participation in foreign naval exercises. In the last four years the Indian Navy has held exercises with the United States, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Oman.

In view of the transformation of the global security situation, the opportunity for cooperation between the Indian Ocean Rim states has increased. The Indian Navy has taken the initiative in this regard by advocating maritime cooperation as an effective confidence building measure and proposing the establishment of a regional organisation to implement such activities.

Bilateral Maritime Cooperation with India

In the Southern Atlantic Ocean, South Africa is presently engaged in establishing friendships and exercising with littoral states of the western seaboard of South America. Today, the South African Navy is exercising with the Navies of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the Atlasur Exercises. The same cannot be said of the Indian Ocean as yet. South Africa needs to develop a similar relationship with the players of note in the Indian Ocean.

The potential for better cooperation between India and South Africa arises primarily from a common heritage and common interests and includes the following:

-- Both India and South Africa are regional powers, border on the Indian Ocean, are strategically located in terms of influencing events in the Indian Ocean and have a shared interest in this area.

-- Both India and South Africa have a common history of foreign and largely British involvement. The roots of both the Indian and South African Navies were determined to a large extent by the British Royal Navy. In fact, the uniforms of both the Indian Navy and the South African Navy are very similar, even in 1997.

-- Both countries are responsible for a large maritime area and both require sizeable naval forces to patrol it.

-- Both countries have a strong defence industry.

-- Both countries have to contend with shrinking defence budgets.

Cooperation to Date

Formal military cooperation with India was established in December 1994 with the arrival of the first South African Military Adviser to India, Capt Dennis Forrest of the South African Navy. This happened concurrently as two Indian Navy Ships, INS Gomati and INS Khukri visited South Africa.

SAS Drakensberg then paid a courtesy call to Bombay in March 1995 while participating in IDEX 95.

The concept of naval cooperation was discussed between the South African Secretary of Defence, P. Steyn and the Indian Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral S. Kumar during Steyn's visit to India in May 1995.

Naval cooperation was again on the agenda when the South Africa-India First Joint Commission was held in Pretoria in July 1995. The concept of joint exercises, ship building, repair and maintenance was addressed and the banner of naval cooperation.

The Vice-Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral K. Kohli and the Joint Secretary (Navy), Shri Khurana attended the 1995 National Maritime Conference in Simon's Town in October 1995. Vice Admiral Kohli presented a paper at this conference and points of dicussion included reciprocal training, the transfer of technology for the design and construction of ships, future naval exercises and hydrographic cooperation.

In February 1996, the Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral V.S. Shekhawat, visited South Africa at the invitation of his counterpart, Vice Admiral R.C. Simpson-Anderson, the Chief of the South African Navy. Areas of joint training by the two Navies and the exchange of personnel were highlighted in discussions.

At the second Joint Commission between India and South Africa held in New Delhi in December 1996, a visit by an Indian naval ship to South Africa for the Navy 75 celebrations was arranged. Further, broad discussions with regard to naval cooperation were also held.

The first Indian Military Advisor to South Africa, Capt V. Singh arrived in Pretoria in February 1997.

Future Cooperation

In view of the transformation of the global security situation as well as the development of bilateral relations between India and South Africa, the opportunity for bilateral cooperation between the Indian Navy and the South African Navy has increased considerably. The areas of naval cooperation where both South Africa and India could continue to gain from include:

The advocating of maritime cooperation as an effective confidence building measure not only between Navies, but also between countries.

The exchange of training facilities, technology, development of common doctrine and interoperability including:

The exchange of military and maritime related information on events in and around the Indian Ocean.

The exchange of naval officers for training purposes.

The participation in combined training and exercises.

Smuggling and narcotics control.

Elimination of piracy.

Combatting of environmental pollution.

Search and rescue operations.


Both India and South Africa are nations which depend on the use of the sea for the accumulation of wealth. Both these nations have highly professional Navies which have developed from common roots. Both these nations share a common interest in the Indan Ocean. Therefore, it would be most appropriate for this cooperative relationship which is emerging between the Indian Navy and the South African Navy to be developed further.



1. Extracts from the Draft Defence Review, 1997.

2. Unpublished notes from a Foreign Policy Workshop, September 9-10, 1996, p. 4.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 13.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 8.

7. Rear Admiral E.P. Groenewald, Chief of Naval Operation, Unpublished Paper on Maritime Defence Philosophy, 1997, p. 1.

8. Ibid.

9. Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy, "Maritime Co-operation in the Indian Ocean," Maritime Policy for Developing Nations (Johannesburg: South African Institute of International Affairs, 1995), p. 183.

10. David Burroughs, "South Africa and the Indian Ocean Rim, International Update 17/97 of the South Africa Institute of International Affairs, Johannesburg, p. 1.

11. Air Commodore (Retd.) Jasjit Singh, "Towards Durable Peace and Security in the Indian Ocean Region," in The South African Journal of International Affairs, 2, 2, Winter 1995, p. 68.

12. Leopold Scholtz and Ingrid Scholtz, Suid-Afrika en die Nuwe Wereldorde, (Cape Town: Human and Rousseau, 1996), p. 107.