Critically analyses the recent government move to strengthen the military presence at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI).
The Galwan valley face-off with China has rendered many Indian security experts mooted the idea of balancing China in the maritime domain. In this context, strengthening military presence at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) remains very critical for India.
Significance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are located at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
- It is a group of 572 islands, which straddles some of the busiest trade routes in the world.
- ANI spans 450 nautical miles in a roughly north-south configuration adjacent to the western entrance to the Malacca Strait, which is itself a major Indian Ocean chokepoint.
- Geopolitically, the ANI connects South Asia with South-East Asia. While the northernmost point of the archipelago is only 22 nautical miles from Myanmar, the southernmost point, Indira Point, is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia.
- The islands dominate the Bay of Bengal, the Six Degree and the Ten Degree Channels that more than sixty thousand commercial vessels traverse each year.
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands constitute just 0.2% of India’s landmass but provide near 30% of its Exclusive Economic Zone.
Concerns with the move
- A section of India’s diplomatic community has opposed militarizing the ANI, arguing that turning ANI into a strategic-military garrison would militaries the littoral states and disrupt Indian ocean as a zone of peace.
- Military infrastructure projects could devastate the fragile ecology of the ANI.
If India pushes for greater military presence in the ANI, China could well seek military access in it friendly countries in Indian ocean.
However, the strategic development of the ANI is not a straightforward choice for India’s defense and foreign policy establishments. Therefore, India must conduct a cost-benefit analysis before going for militarization of ANI.
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