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Pirates surrender to Indian Navy, a sign of growing Indian power

Jan 25


On Jan. 4, Indian commandos rescued a ship that had been hijacked by a small band of pirates off the coast of Somalia. The pirates surrendered to the Indian Navy, and there were no deaths or casualties, yet the incident raised alarms about the return of piracy in the area. Some experts cautioned that this incident might be a consequence of the relocation of military vessels to counter Houthi attacks, leaving the Somali waters relatively vulnerable.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan notes the accomplishment of the Indian Navy and then dives into what this means for India’s military power projection and the implications for the future of trade in the Indian Ocean.

Below is an edited excerpt from Peter’s Jan. 25 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Today we’re talking about the Indians and pirates — sorry sports fans, not those ones. India launched a successful counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia, which has helped reaffirm its global strategic importance, but raised some eyebrows in the process.

India has a unique geopolitical position: they have an ultra-nationalist view on trade and an extreme reluctance to integrate with other nations. If you look back to the Cold War era, partnerships with Russia have left a bitter taste in the Indians’ mouths.

So, India will be pursuing its own economic path, independent of outside forces. As they look to double the size of their industrial plant, what they lack in quality, they’ll make up for in a market of 1.5 billion people.

The eyebrow-raising portion of all this is that it means India could launch its own piracy operations, meaning India will likely be the de facto controller of trade in the Indian Ocean Basin — a critical route for oil transport.

Other countries will have to find ways to work around this new obstacle, and financial incentives are probably going to be the best option. The U.S. is far enough removed to take a hands-off approach and let the Indians determine the future geopolitical landscape of this region.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from the winter wonderland that is Colorado after a snowstorm. It is the eighth of January, and the news today is that the Indian Navy has successfully engaged in a counter-pirate operation, and freed a vessel with a majority Indian crew from pirates off the coast of Somalia. This is nearly at the outer reach of what the Indians can reach, which the rebel forces and counter-piracy operations are always lots of no fun for everyone, and so this is a pretty important tactical victory. And I think it underlines the role that I see India playing in the region in the future.


Now, India is not like any other country in the world, it’s certainly not like the United States. They have a very nationalist view of trade, and they don’t like to integrate with anyone. And they had an ideological opposition to globalization because it was America-led. And during the Cold War, the Indians tended to be more pro-Soviet, to the point that even when the Soviet Union wasn’t around anymore, the Indians tended to be fairly pro-Soviet. But we’ve seen this weakening in that position over the course of the Ukrainian war, not because they’re having a change of heart, but because they’re realizing that all of the billions of dollars that they spent on developing joint weapon systems with the Russians was basically stolen, and they’re never going to get any of it.


So the Indians from a national security point of view are increasingly going their own way. That may include some deals here and there with the United States. But those will be tactical, not strategic. And it’s going to be a very a la carte experience, as opposed to say, the American relationship with Japan, or with Australia, or even with Saudi Arabia, India is going to do its own things for its own ways.


Also, India doesn’t really like anyone, and there aren’t a lot of countries out there that like India, so they won’t be partnering with anyone else in economic matters for manufacturing, they’re gonna have to do more or less the same thing that the U.S. is going to have to do as the Chinese system breaks down. And that means doubling the size of their industrial plant. But they’re not going to have a joint manufacturing system with Bangladesh or with Pakistan or Sri Lanka, or with Iran, or with Myanmar, and those are all the countries that they border. So India’s industrial plant is going to expand massively, but it’s all going to be an India that will affect quality issues, of course, but you know, India is a market with 1.5 billion people, I think they’re going to deal with that just fine.


What that does mean, however, is their threshold for military action is going to be very, very low, compared to a lot of other countries, because they’re not integrated with anyone. They’re also the first major stop for oil going out of the Persian Gulf to East Asia, which is where it almost all goes. And now the Indians have conclusively demonstrated that they’re capable of doing anti-pirate operations. Well, not to put too fine a point on it. But if you’re good at anti-pirate operations, you’re also, by default, very good at pirate operations. So now that the Indians are not beholden to anyone, and now that we are seeing a breakdown in the Chinese system, we’re going to see the Indians taking that de facto control, de facto management of any trade that happens to come through the Indian Ocean basin. And that includes the world’s largest oil transport route. So the issue for everyone else in the area is whether or not you can find a way of dealing with the Indians. And to be perfectly blunt, the best way to do that is cold, hard cash, because the Indians are otherwise more or less going to be self-sufficient in the world that we’re going to.


And no one can reach them. They’re literally a continent away from all the other potential players. And as for the United States, if we have an India that is a little bit, that’s the best word, persnickety, in its own region, that’s fine, because there aren’t a lot of U.S. interests that pass through that region in a post-China scenario. So this is just where we’re headed. And the Indians very clearly are a step ahead of everyone else.

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