Feb 01, Colombo: The Pathfinder Foundation, a premier think tank in Sri Lanka, together with an Australian delegation led by the National Security College at the Australian National University and Carnegie India co-hosted a one-day Track II trilateral conference on maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
The conference titled 'Colombo Dialogue: Emerging Dialogue in the Indian Ocean - Regional Cooperation on Maritime Domain Awareness' held at Cinnamon Grand Hotel, Colombo recently was sponsored by the Australian High Commission, a press release stated.
Considering the geo-strategic importance of the Indian Ocean Region in the current global and regional economic and geopolitical dynamics, the co-hosts considered it important to share knowledge and engage in a discourse on this significant area of interest, in order to ensure greater security, collaboration and cooperation in the region and beyond.
"With a more globally connected economy and the Indian Ocean Region's continued reliance on the maritime environment for trade and commerce, it is important to ensure a safe and secure maritime domain, which is critical to national security and economic well-being of the littorals in the Indian Ocean.
The challenges facing states in the Indian Ocean have vastly changed over the past decade and make future maritime security environment increasingly complicated and uncertain.
The first step toward enhancing maritime security is achieving increased awareness of activities in the maritime domain. Sri Lanka's geographically central location in the Indian Ocean at the crossroads of major east-west sea lanes makes it a perfect location to engage in such a dialogue, the release added.
The dialogue covered themes such as Maritime Security in the Indo-Pacific Oceans and Transnational Security Threats; Challenges in Building Regional Maritime Security Architecture in the Indian Ocean; and Governance at Sea and Maritime Domain Awareness.
This trilateral forum was held with the participation of Indian, Australian and Sri Lankan academics and subject matter experts on maritime security, maritime strategy and regional cooperation. On the Australian side, Prof. Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College of the Australian National University, Dr. David Brewster and Commodore (Retd.) Richard Menhinick presented papers. Dr. Raja C. Mohan, Vice Admiral Anil Chopra and Ms. Darshana Baruah presented papers representing Carnegie India.
On the Sri Lankan side, papers were presented by former Commanders of the Sri Lanka Navy, Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Admiral Travis Sinniah and Barana Waidyatillake representing the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute.
The Chairman of Pathfinder Foundation Bernard Goonetilleke delivered the welcome address and the High Commissioner of Australia for Sri Lanka, Bryce Hutchesson was the Chief Guest and delivered the opening remarks.
High Commissioner Hutchesson noted that Australia, Sri Lanka and India had increasingly congruent security interests, particularly when it came to the stability and openness of the Indian Ocean. He said that for Australia, no long-term foreign policy goal was more important than keeping the Indo-Pacific region peaceful and prosperous at a time of change. He emphasized that it made good sense for Australia, Sri Lanka and India to develop a strategic conversation, including through second track dialogues like the Colombo Dialogue.
Deputy Indian High Commissioner Arindam Bagchi was the Guest of Honor, Senior Fellow of the Pathfinder Foundation, Lalith Weeratunga delivered the concluding remarks.
All participants agreed that a rule based maritime order is essential in the Indo-Pacific oceans to maintain freedom of maritime commerce. A new world economic order is developing in this region and hence the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean have become the focal point for major maritime users and a range of non-state actors.
"There was general agreement that we need to move from cooperation to collaboration on maritime security. There is a requirement to develop networks at regional and sub-regional levels to address specific and general threats. The vastness of the ocean mandates that states should seriously consider the imperative to develop Maritime Domain Awareness for the purpose of observing what is happening in the oceans beyond the horizon. Multi-lateral, bi-lateral or mini-lateral levels could help achieve this objective," the release said.
It was also opined that Maritime Domain Awareness could only be as a threat reducer and not a total solution. Furthermore, any Maritime Domain Awareness concept should be developed incrementally, carefully building up trust and working with partners.
Participants opined that the dialogue would be beneficial to efforts being taken by Sri Lanka as the coordinator of the Indian Ocean Rim Association's maritime safety and security working group.
The dialogue concluded with commitment to endeavor to pursue issues highlighted during the deliberations at a future discussion and to bring discussion outcomes to the attention of policy makers of the three countries that took part in the dialogue.