Investigating the Indian Ocean Rim Association and its operations

The task of the IORA is imperative to ensure peace and encourage healthy relations among members, to ensure that the ocean remains open and is not liable to hostility.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is a much less talked about organisation that may yet show its potential on the world stage, but it is a leading organisation for the Indian Ocean region. Twenty-three countries are members of this association, while only 14 states participated during its inception, highlighting its growth. Australia, Bangladesh, France, India, Iran, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are the influential players in the association. Furthermore, the IORA has ten dialogue partners in China, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States, adding to the organisation’s scope. 

The Indian Ocean is a crucial lifeline for global shipping and commerce; it is the third-largest ocean interconnected by trade routes. It retains control of significant sea lanes transporting half of the container ships, high-volume cargo traffic, and significant oil shipments. The organisation hopes to enable and promote economic cooperation by hosting representatives from member states’ governments, corporations, and academic institutions. The task of IORA is imperative to ensure peace and encourage healthy relations among members, to ensure that the ocean remains open and is not liable to hostility. The Indian Ocean Rim is a highly diverse region regarding its languages, cultures, and faiths. The countries vary in terms of their size, area, and economic might. As of this moment, the theme of IORA is “Harnessing the Opportunities of the Indian Ocean Sustainably for Inclusive Development” and Salman Al Farisi of Bangladesh is the current chairman.

The association has adopted an evolutionary and non-intrusive approach to foster mutual understanding and beneficial cooperation in a multilateralist attitude. The foundation of consensus within the organisation’s system depends on obedience to the ideals of sovereignty and territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in domestic matters, peaceful coexistence, and mutual interest. All members commit to obey and follow the guidelines to ensure a stable functioning organisation. The article will explore the objectives of IORA along with the authority and funding structure of the association, concluding with its view on the Indo-Pacific.

Fundamental principles and objectives: Who can Join?

Economic integration was the leading target of IORA; this objective evolved and gave rise to vital goals of the organisation, which include fostering growth and balancing the development of the region, concentrating on areas of financial cooperation that could offer the greatest potential for growth, common interest, and mutual benefits. The association encourages liberalisation, removing obstacles and lowering barriers to a more open flow of goods, services, capital, and technology along the Indian Ocean rim. 

With an aim for boosting regional cooperation along the Indian Ocean, Jakarta hosted the inaugural IORA leaders’ summit; its endorsement and signature of “The Jakarta Concord” raised the association’s status and prestige to a far greater degree and outlined its future. The Jakarta Concord demonstrates the highest commitment to cultivating greater cooperation to ensure that the Indian Ocean is a region of peace, stability, and development. A five-year IORA action plan (2017–2021) was also introduced with the Jakarta Concord; it offers the IORA council of ministers a concrete set of practical and quantifiable promises for putting the Jakarta Concord into practice and moving IORA ahead in a more result-oriented way. 

All sovereign nations along the Indian Ocean rim are eligible for membership in the association, given that they agree with its objectives and ideals and are prepared to uphold the obligations. The organisation believes in using consensus decision-making to address all issues at different levels. Deliberations on bilateral agreements and other topics likely to spark conflict and obstruct regional cooperation efforts are restricted.

Authority structure and funding

The association’s structure includes a council of (foreign) ministers that remain the highest authority. Other crucial groups are ‘The Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group’ (IORAG) and ‘The Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum’ (IORBF). These ensure and aid in the smooth functioning of the organisation. Port Louis, Mauritius, is home to the IOR-ARC secretariat, whose duty is to provide regional cooperation along the reign of the Indian Ocean. Groups working on trade and investment and a committee of senior officers are in place to guide the organisation forward. Together, these help the decision-making process for pivotal issues relating to aspirations and the organisation’s goals.

When it comes to funding, it solely depends on the benevolence of member states; however, there is a ‘Special Fund’ that exists. The council of ministers established the IORA special fund through a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2004. The fund is used to fund initiatives and programs adopted by the association in accordance with the values and aims outlined in the charter and the plans and goals put forth by the relevant organisational organs. This initiative is to help with pre-feasibility and feasibility project studies and the preparation of projects. It also promotes the provision of finances needed to execute different tasks while aiding the preparation. This fund also enables technical assistance for preparing and implementing projects and keeps the institution away from politics.

An instrument for peace in the Indo-Pacific?

The IORA has incorporated Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) that have been reached by associating with institutions in shared interest to strengthen the relationship between IORA and its partners. Although MoUs are not enforceable in court and are not legally binding, they hold a moral implication for members. Given the unfolding of events in the Indo-Pacific region, IORA could yet play an intriguing role in the region; peace has been the call of the hour ever since the end of the pandemic, but will IORA be an instrument for peace to be discovered?

At the 22nd Council of Ministers meeting held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 24 November 2022, the IORA association strived to facilitate maritime security and protection in the Indo-Pacific region per International Law, watching that liberty of navigation and overflight is not superseded. The association is committed to unlocking diaphanous, inclusive, rules-based, and honest strategies that maintain a proportional and sustainable development model. Connectivity to encourage “inclusive growth” is undertaken as an agenda of the association.

IORA will seek to investigate possibilities for collaboration with countries in the Indo-Pacific region in six areas: “Maritime Safety and Security; Trade and Investment Facilitation; Fisheries Management; Disaster Risk Management; Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation; Tourism and Cultural Exchanges; Blue Economy and Women’s Economic Empowerment.” wheater or not this initiative of IORA will be successful only time will highlight however such an effort merits consideration among the scholars of international relations.