It is a new dawn for the Indian Navy and the Air Force. Their enthusiasm and optimism is almost palpable. Since the 26 December 2004 Tsunami tragedy, where the two defence services won accolades from many nations including the United States for expedient relief and humanitarian work outside the country in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia, the mood is upbeat; and for a special reason. The government, for the first time, is overtly supporting the concept of strategic reach that is a hallmark of major and rising powers that have the will, capacity and capability (military) to influence events beyond their geographic borders. As a nation rises in national strength, its area of interest and influence pushes itself outside its territorial limits in a manner that faraway smaller countries become dependent and deferential towards the rising power and consequently feel obliged to take its geo-political and strategic opinion into account for policy-making.
Of course, the Indian government and the defence services are not saying all this when they talk of strategic reach. What they are saying is that India’s smaller neighbours and friends in the region could and should have confidence in its military to assist them when required. Ironically, India remained uncertain about its geo-political status, till sundry American scholars and senior government officials started talking about India’s rise in the region (the US, of course has its own national interest in doing so). Following the December 26 Tsunami disaster, the US’ admiration for the commendable work done by the Indian Navy and the Air Force prompted India to have a new respect for its military. Certain quarters within the government felt that the military should complement diplomacy more openly to support India’s quest for strategic reach in the region.
With this in mind, while addressing the annual combined military commanders’ conference in New Delhi on 20 October, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that: ‘The Indian Navy must expand its capability to protect these sea lanes (Indian Ocean Region). We must ensure workable alliances with like-minded countries for the security of our sea lanes, for our commercial and energy security.’ He added that ‘the balance of power in international relations is more sophisticated than during the Cold War era. We must learn to deal with this new reality and plan our long-term security based on a proper appreciation of these evolving trends.’