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NSA releases 'Samudra Manthan'
06 March 2013

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on March 5 released the book "Samudra Manthan: Sino-India Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific", authored by Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Head of the Strategic Affairs Programme of Observer Research Foundation.

On the occasion, a stimulating panel discussion was also organised on the book. The panellists were Mr. Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary, Rear Admiral (retd) Raja Menon, a reputed maritime and strategic expert, Mr. Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express.

Giving a snapshot of his latest book, Dr. Raja Mohan explained three dimensions and two contentions that formed the major arguments of the book. Beginning with the reason for naming the book after an Indian mythological tale, he stated that India and China, two of the largest societies in the world, were for the first time turning to the sea. This development was bound to produce an extraordinary transformation in the maritime domain. The sheer magnitude of this movement, which has never been witnessed before, is the rationale for calling the outcome, ’manthan’ or churning. The resulting new world order will have to deal with the question of managing maritime spaces. ’Samudra manthan’ alludes to the ensuing ’political tale’, about deception, dissemination and strategic manipulation by seduction. Given the tradition to view foreign policy or national security strategy as moral politik in India, the metaphor urges the reader to examine the issue in a more direct manner. Acknowledging the need to find ’our own metaphors’, he recommended the creation of new vocabulary derived from the rich Indian traditions.

Delving into the second dimension, Dr. Raja Mohan illustrated how rivalries and competitions do not arise only between equal entities. Rejecting the popular belief that China’s interests are limited to the Pacific and India’s to the Indian Ocean, he explained that the maritime footprints of the two countries will cross. China’s interest in the Indian Ocean has grown since it took up the west region development strategy in 1999. Thus, integration between western China and South Asia, and with it access to the water of the Indian Ocean, become important for China. The third dimension of the book, explores the logic of interaction between India, China and the US, in the new theatre. This becomes important as it will set the stage for understanding the future dynamics of the region.

Coming to the first contention, Dr. Raja Mohan looked into the possibility of India and China emerging as maritime powers, in spite of having no history of maritime strength. Asking whether the two can break the ’continental curse’ to become maritime powers, he highlighted that currently India and China, both have significant investments and interests abroad. The two have to pursue their dispersed interests through naval capabilities. Examining, if there is a rivalry between India and China, he asserted that asymmetry among competitors did not make their interest in contest wane, which was the second contention of the book. The challenge for India was to acknowledge the friction that will be generated by expanding maritime footprints and the following conflict.

Rear Adm. Raja Menon (Retd.) emphasized that the centre of gravity of the world was shifting to the east. China had had an option to choose between being a continental or maritime power. Previously, it had chosen continental routes to ensure its strategic connectivity. However, when faced with a similar question, China could make a different decision this time. The language coming from China was majorly, ’Mahanian’, and a lion share of the budget was allocated to the navy. While agreeing with Dr. Mohan on most of his claims, he believed that there was a need to hold a ’civilizational dialogue’ between the two Asian powers. Shekhar Gupta, Editor in Chief, of the Indian Express Group, termed the book as the next logical step for Dr. Mohan. Sharing his experience in China, he stated that India, China and the US were different powers with little in common, except some of their problems and conflicts of interests.

Mr. Shyam Saran called for a need to draw on the strong and vibrant maritime tradition prevalent in the southern part of India. He believed that an economic architecture, with China as its central pillar, was apparent in the Indo-Pacific region. However, security architecture was missing. He emphasized the need for inclusive and transparent security architecture that ensured freedom of navigation and cooperative arrangement for mutual assurance.

Finally, speaking after releasing the book, Mr. Shivshankar Menon stressed that Sino-India rivalry was not inevitable. Though the security of the Indo-Pacific region was linked, it was not one geopolitical unit. The capabilities of the navies operating in the region were different. The book had brought out some of the major issues of the time. It was a useful reminder of the accelerative growth of the naval forces operating in the region. Both India and China had a reason to keep the lines of communication in the ocean active, however in the seas near the Chinese territory the presence and claims of multiple actors complicated the situation. Appreciating Dr. Raja Mohan’s eye for details, he believed that the book will have a long lasting academic effect.

Earlier, moderating the event, Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Director, ORF, said "it is all very well to talk about strategic autonomy. But strategic autonomy by a country is enjoyed in only two situations. One when it is too poor to care, to give a damn as it has nothing to lose. The second when it has the economic clout, the ability to grow every year, relentlessly, fearlessly at 9% plus. In between, these two, Strategy is not about Autonomy but about building the right coalitions at the right time."

The event held at the India Habitat Centre was attended top strategic experts, government officials, diplomats and media.

Click here for Text Speech Shivshankar Menon, National Security Advisor India.

Click here for Video

(This report is prepared by Rishika Chauhan, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)