Pathfinder Foundation Successfully Concludes Indian Ocean Security Conference
Posted on November 16th, 2020

The Pathfinder Foundation

The Pathfinder Foundation’s Indian Ocean Security Conference was successfully concluded after 3-days of deliberations. The virtual event focusing on Maritime Security and Maritime Governance in the Indian Ocean saw participation of over 36 countries and an average of one hundred participants from around the world. Indian Ocean littoral countries including those members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), its dialogue partners, Government officials from many countries including the Gulf States, diplomatic missions based in Colombo, experts representing think-tanks, research, business community and academia, were represented at this important forum. Among the major countries that participated were Australia, China, France, India, Iran, Japan, Russia, South Africa, the US and the IORA Secretariat.

The conference was the culmination of a process that commenced with ‘Trincomalee Consultations’ focusing on the Bay of Bengal, held in 2017 and 2018 and the proposal for a draft of a Code of Conduct for the Indian Ocean by the Pathfinder Foundation. The event, which was chaired by the former Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor of India, Ambassador Shivshankar Menon, who also headed the meeting of the International Advisory Group last year to prepare for the conference, deliberated on 9 position papers submitted by a handpicked team of academics and professionals. Former Ambassador Geetha de Silva functioned as Secretary General of the Conference.

The conference discussed three broad areas covering Maritime Security; Enhancing Connectivity; and Mistrust and Trust Deficiency.  There was broad agreement that the situation in the Indian Ocean region has undergone a sea change since the Declaration of Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace by the United Nations in 1971. In the interim, major naval powers have found it necessary to converge on the Indian Ocean to safeguard their maritime interests and to keep the vital sea lines of communication open in an environment where non-state actors have seriously threatened international shipping.

Among some of the issues discussed, was the need have a mechanism to ensure good conduct at sea and freedom of navigation to be enjoyed by all parties without exception.  Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation and Co-Chair of the conference, Bernard Goonetilleke highlighted that there already was a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the Western Indian Ocean, based on the Djibouti CoC and observed that in 2018 the Foundation had proposed a draft of a CoC for purpose of discussing options to secure the Indian Ocean. Taking a page from the current developments heightened by mutual distrust, there was a strong case for developing a cooperative security architecture for the Indian Ocean, he said.

The conference also discussed the need for better arrangements to monitor the Indian Ocean and collect information on merchant shipping, in addition to movement of warships, which requires expansion of current arrangements for Maritime Domain Awareness.

The last session on ‘Mistrust and trust deficiency’, generated considerable discussion, which highlighted the need for an arrangement for Confidence Building Measures to be observed by all parties concerned. 

Apart from senior level participation in its inaugural and working sessions, the concluding session included special remarks by Mr. Dean Thompson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the U S Department of State and Mr. Endo Kazuya, Deputy Asst. Minister and Director, Management and Coordination Division, Minister’s Secretariat of the Government of Japan. Concluding remarks were delivered by Co-Chairs of the event, Amb. Shivshankar Menon; Pathfinder Chairman, Bernard Goonetilleke; while Secretary General of the conference Geetha de Silva delivered the Vote of Thanks.

The Pathfinder team that supported the conference included Ameera Arooz, Director Programmes; Gayathri de Soyza; Yasalani Amarasinghe; and Uttara Wanigasekera. A report on the proceedings will be published and circulated among interested parties, which will also be available at the website of the Conference Secretariat:  Contributing to the wider discourse on policy governing the Indian Ocean, the Pathfinder Indian Ocean Security Conference will be convened at regular intervals. 

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