Such a Full Sea
The book looks at the transformation of a zone on which Australia is already disproportionately dependent for its wealth, and for its future opportunity. Read more about “Such a Full Sea”
Several dozen external powers have, in the past months and years, injected military forces into the Indian Ocean region to monitor traffic in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, to counter piracy off the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb, or to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. And yet there has, until now, been no comprehensive strategic, contextual analysis of the Indian Ocean region since the 1980s.
Forget the subtitle of the new study, Such a Full Sea: Australia’s Options in a Changing Indian Ocean Region. This book by one of the foremost strategic thinkers to have come out of the region, Gregory Copley, is essential reading for all policy and military analysts who must consider the great new dynamism of the Indian Ocean region. Copley divides the Indian Ocean into four geographic quadrants of activity, and notes that even when there was extensive scholarship on the Indian Ocean as a whole, it always neglected the South-East quadrant represented by the Australian coastline. This was because Australia was always assumed to be part of the British and American sphere, and therefore not in contention or a dynamic element in the Indian Ocean theater in its own right.
Western Australian-born Copley, who participated from bases in Washington and London in the great Cold War studies on the Indian Ocean, argued that even Australia had neglected the Indian Ocean, largely because the preponderance of the Australian population dwelled on the nation’s Pacific Coast. Now, however, the Australian Indian Ocean littoral region — which has the longest full Indian Ocean coastline of any state except Indonesia (whose northern coast, arguably, is more oriented toward the South China Sea) — with one-tenth of Australia’s population is producing the preponderant volume of Australia’s export earnings.
Copley argues that the Indian Ocean is the 21st Century strategic highway: it is the Great Silk Sea-Route, the vital conduit for global trade. More than that, however, the Indian Ocean littoral and hinterland states were now home to more than one-third of the world’s population. As well, the region’s collective GDP had grown by some 500 percent over the three decades to 2007, and the collective 2007 GDP was more than $3.5-trillion. In 2007, he noted, the combined GDP of India and Australia represented some 57 percent of the region’s GDP as a whole, roughly the same proportion it was in 1987 (when it equaled 55 percent of the total).
Such a Full Sea will be stimulating for readers around the world, but should be mandatory reading for all Australian officials, particularly given that the nation’s Pacific orientation does not now (if it ever did) address the dominant dynamic area of Australia’s interests.
The study followed the major Australia 2050 work which Copley also led for Future Directions International (FDI), Australia’s center for strategic analysis, and his monograph, Australia’s National Security (also for FDI), and his Australia’s Energy Options work of 2005. So Copley’s knowledge of Australia and its challenges is clear. However, this new book highlights his intense historical and current knowledge and experience in the Indian Ocean regional states, including those of the “tributaries” of the Ocean up the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and through the South- East Asian straits and waterways. He also recently wrote, with Purvis Hussain, the Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook on Pakistan, which contributed to the research base of Such a Full Sea. The new study is not merely about geopolitics. It is about the dramatically changing context of populations, economies, and sovereignty in the 21st Century. As a result, Andrew Pickford’s chapter on Food Production in the Indian Ocean region is one of the significant pillars of the study. It highlights one of Australia’s great strengths in a period of changing climate conditions: the ability to adapt agricultural methods and crops to suit difficult circumstances. The study, as one of its principal recommendations, promotes the concept of Australia using agricultural aid — not food aid, but help in creating agricultural productivity — as one of Canberra’s best options to help stabilize and stimulate the region, effectively pre-empting the kind of instability which has drawn Australia into overstretching its defense forces in peacekeeping operations in Africa, Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq, and in maritime operations over much of the Indian Ocean region.
Copley — and the study — also advocate the creation of a permanent “comprehensive Indian Ocean Economic Forum (IOEF)”, under Australian leadership, to begin to assist in promoting greater regional prosperity and stability. He also urges Australia to seize the initiative with regard to Antarctica, which is critical to Australia’s future security and prosperity, and suggests that the current Antarctic Treaty is effectively already dead, and that Antarctica is now a matter of sovereignty for Australia.
“Australia has a profound geopolitical interest in how Antarctica develops, and who uses the territory for strategic purposes. Australia has a greater and more proximate exposure to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean than any other state; it is vital to Australia,” he said. Such a Full Sea also stresses another theme which FDI has raised before: Australia’s island territories in the Indian Ocean. The study argues that the principal territories — Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Heard and McDonald islands (deep in the Southern Ocean reaches of the greater Indian Ocean), and Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island — should be the subject of more intense Australian development, projecting Australian presence more effectively into the Indian Ocean.
The book looks at the current round of international force incursions into the Indian Ocean in some detail, but notes that this was in many respects less threatening to the littoral states which were themselves growing in capability and options. The book highlights the probability, however, that many of the external powers now in the region, particularly those in Afghanistan, would withdraw soon, given the strong prospects for the US to depart from the Afghan war against the Taliban within the very near future. This new study, following the Australia 2050 study, Australia’s Energy Options, and other works, puts Future Directions International firmly on the map as one of the more innovative and valuable strategic analysis houses. Such a Full Sea is readable and very important reading.