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Barana Waidyatilake, Research Fellow at LKI, recently made a keynote presentation in Melbourne, Australia, at the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) Victoria on the future of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
The presentation, on 12 September 2017, was based on his recent paper, “The Indian Ocean Rim Association: Scaling Up?” published by the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Pradeep Taneja, an expert in Asian politics at the University of Melbourne, was the invited discussant, and responded to points raised in the presentation.
The presentation highlighted the opportunities and challenges facing IORA in its efforts to become a more proactive regional grouping, and outlined several priorities for IORA in this regard:
- The growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean region provides IORA with an opportunity to make a stand for strategic stability in the region, similar to Sri Lanka’s 1971 proposal to declare the Indian Ocean a ‘zone of peace’.
- The rise of non-traditional security threats also provide an opportunity for IORA to increase security cooperation among its member states.
- IORA, however, faces the challenge of tremendous diversity among its member states, low levels of economic and institutional development, and the possibility of extra-regional states exploiting the institutional weakness of IORA to further their agendas within the region.
- IORA should prioritise:
- Developing a Code of Conduct for the Indian Ocean, that supports strategic neutrality by emphasising freedom of navigation and overflight in the region;
- Strengthening cooperation on combatting non-traditional security threats, particularly by enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA);
- Developing business links between member states by exploring the possibility of an IORA business travel card (similar to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation business travel card);
- Investing in the creation of an Indian Ocean identity, that emphasises the historical legacy of free movement of goods, people, and ideas within the region;
- Upgrading the IORA Charter to treaty level, to serve as a political signal to the international community that IORA is committed towards greater regional integration.
Among the audience at the event were Ms. Zara Kimpton OAM, National Vice President of the AIIA, Mr. W.G.S. Prasanna, Consul-General of Sri Lanka in Melbourne, and Dr. Hamed Al Alawi, Consul-General of Oman in Melbourne, and several academics. The AIIA is one of Australia’s preeminent forums on international affairs, and has been recognised as the leading think tank in Australia in an index of ‘Top Think Tanks Worldwide’.