Patrolling the Malacca straits

The United States revealed plans to patrol the Straits of Malacca, one of the worlds most busiest shipping lanes. Although Indonesia and Malaysia are responsible for the security of these lanes, given their strategic importance many countries in the region, including India, China, Singapore, Thailand and Australia are interested in ensuring their security.

This is a touchy subject – Malaysia and Indonesia are rightly concerned that any external intervention violates their sovereignty. But the straits region has also the world’s highest incidence of piracy on the high seas. Nuclear components and missiles have also been shipped through these lanes, and there are fears that terrorists could seize and blow up an oil tanker in order to disrupt global trade. Attempts made by the two littoral states have not been highly successful. Hence there are grounds for concerned countries to consider security arrangements of their own.

Instead of antagonising Malaysia and Indonesia, it would be more appropriate for the United States and other countries to engage them more seriously – provide them with the assistance and training to better patrol the straits.

But beyond the territorial and the exclusive economic zones of the littoral states, there is better scope for international cooperation. India must take a greater interest in the region – there are some signs of this already happening – and step up naval activities off the Andaman sea. The United States, Singapore and Australia already collaborate in the Indian Ocean region.