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OPINION

Myanmar Needs Submarine?

For Maritime Security In The Bay of Bengal

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01st-Aug-2019       
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Saleem Samad :
Myanmar's security challenges remain predominantly land-based, although they do aggravate security threats in its maritime domain.
Bangladesh's neighbor, Myanmar has shown keen interest in the submarine arm after its neighbors - Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are acquiring the capability for maritime security landscape.
In 2017, Bangladesh received two refurbished Type 035G-class submarines (Ming class) from China, a move that was watched with caution in India as it symbolized the increasing dependence of the neighboring nation on Beijing.
Myanmar also known as Burma is poised to acquire first ever refurbished Kilo class submarine by end of this year from India, which was originally built in Russia.
The submarine, bought from Russia in the 1980s, is currently being modernized by the Hindustan Shipyard Limited after being refitted indigenously.
A 3000 ton submarine, INS Sindhuvir will be used by the Myanmar Navy - which is looking at acquiring its own submarine fleet in the coming years - for training purposes.
Myanmar links South and Southeast Asia and lies on maritime shipping routes from the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
China has been aggressively pushing sale of its submarine in the region. Thailand too has placed an order for S26T SSK submarine from China.
Myanmar Navy envisages becoming a blue-water navy in response to regional naval modernization in Bangladesh and Thailand, and to protect its long coastline and extensive exclusive economic zone from both state-based and non-traditional threats.
The country's insecurities peaked in 2008 following a clash with the Bangladesh Navy over disputed maritime borders in the Bay of Bengal.
While the amicable resolution of this dispute through arbitration by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has made Myanmar's anxieties less acute, this category of threats continues to dominate Myanmar's strategic calculus on the seas.
Armed ethnic groups have long posed serious security challenges in a number of Myanmar's states, and instability in Rakhine State could derail ongoing peace process with these groups.
Ongoing domestic instability has exacerbated two key non-traditional maritime security issues for Myanmar, the first being maritime asylum seekers. The events unfolding in Rakhine and the mass exodus of asylum seekers via land and sea is foremost a humanitarian issue, but with serious security implications as well.
The ongoing Rakhine crisis has provided an opening for Islamist terror groups to rally support for their cause. Against a backdrop of a fast-growing ISIS presence in South and Southeast Asia, arms trafficking have become a greater threat to Myanmar's national security.
Myanmar's second non-traditional maritime security priority is arms smuggling. Myanmar and regional states are well aware of the nexus between vulnerable asylum seekers at sea and the trafficking of humans, arms and drugs.
Ghost ships of smugglers shuttle various types of small arms from Thailand and other Southeast Asian states and transit through these waters to sell them to insurgents in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
Arms smuggling is a serious problem for Myanmar, as the border area between Bangladesh and Myanmar is a sanctuary for arms smugglers, mainly due to the its extensive coastline and weak maritime surveillance capabilities.
Nevertheless, Myanmar is likely to leave much of the task of providing security in regional waters to its larger, more willing and more capable neighbor, India.
The Bay of Bengal is a key geostrategic area, especially in response to China's increasing inroads, and this is reflected in India's recent 'Act East' policy.
(Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award, also Bangladesh correspondent of Paris based international media rights organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Twitter @saleemsamad; Email: saleemsamad@hotmail.com)

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