This map is designed to convey the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean’s geographic features and trading routes. It dispels the imaginary continental lines that countries often use to divide the ocean and instead presents the region as one continuous theater from the eastern coast of Africa to the western coast of Australia.
To underscore the Indian Ocean’s maritime prominence and geopolitical importance, it is vital to think of it as a single geostrategic space in the Indo-Pacific, rather than breaking it up into continental subregions in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Its location as a vital host of key trading routes especially for energy shipments transiting from Africa and Middle East to Europe in the west and Asia in the east is just one example of its significance. This map is meant to fill a gap by revitalizing awareness of this region’s importance as a whole.
This interactive digital map by Carnegie’s Indian Ocean Initiative is designed to highlight, study, and foster greater understanding of key twenty-first-century developments, challenges, and trends across the Indian Ocean by helping users visualize major data points.
The first phase of this map includes a variety of geographic, diplomatic, and economic data on island nations and coastal countries in and along the Indian Ocean. It depicts regionwide geographic chokepoints, maritime disputes and conflicts, and a variety of maritime boundaries for these countries, including territorial sea limits, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), straight and archipelagic baselines, and provisional equidistance, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It also presents information on maritime shipping routes and countries’ GDPs, populations, and leading trade partners.
Future phases of the map will document additional military, strategic, economic, and environmental challenges and trends in the region.
For more information, please visit Carnegie’s Indian Ocean Initiative.
A country’s territorial sea extends twelve nautical miles from its coast. Within its territorial sea, a country maintains sovereignty of the sea, seabed, and airspace.
A country’s EEZ extends beyond its territorial sea and includes the area for which the assigned state maintains rights to explore and exploit natural resources. A country’s EEZ extends 200 nautical miles beyond its territorial sea.
To generate their territorial seas and EEZs, states are entitled to construct baselines that connect and extend the maritime reach of their low tide coasts, or in the case of archipelagic states their outermost islands. Straight baselines form the basis for the territorial sea limit, which extends twelve nautical miles beyond the baseline, and the EEZ limit, which extends to 200 nautical miles from the baseline.
A provisional equidistance line, which extends halfway between the coastlines of two countries, is used when two states do not have a defined maritime boundary.
This map relies on data from several sources. International Mapping provided the base map design. Information on countries’ GDP and population numbers is drawn from the World Bank, as is data on island nations’ major trading partners. Information for the disputes layer was collected from International Court of Justice advisory opinions and U.N. general assembly resolutions, where applicable. Information on remaining disputes was sourced from government websites and the Sovereign Limits database. The data used to map maritime shipping lanes comes from Marine Traffic. The shipping routes layer is a representation of liquid energy shipping routes through the Indian Ocean region. The layer was built using tanker transit data from Marine Traffic, which includes liquid energy tankers and limited tankers with unspecified cargo from January 2021 to December 2021. Finally, data on EEZs and maritime boundaries are from International Mapping’s Sovereign Limits data set. The maritime boundaries shown on the map are legally established between two states bilaterally or through boundary litigation.
This map and its associated research was conceptualized by Darshana M. Baruah, a fellow in Carnegie’s South Asia Program who directs the Indian Ocean Initiative. Tim Martin, Carnegie’s digital director, oversaw the design and implementation of this project. James C. Gaither Junior Fellow Caroline Duckworth led efforts on data collection and collation.
An analysis of the emergence of the Indian Ocean as security complex and a strategic space of central importance and its prospective future.
A public panel discussion with Abdullah Baaboud, Darshana M. Baruah and Paul Haenle chaired by Nilanthi Samaranayake.
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The celebratory launch of Carnegie’s Indian Ocean Initiative, a forum to examine the nexus of economic, geopolitical, and security interests in the Indian Ocean and its island states and territories.
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While the traditional powers of the Indian Ocean continue to work together across the maritime domain to maintain a balance of power, the role of islands in shaping a new security architecture is often overlooked.
As countries in the Indo-Pacific continue to deepen maritime collaborations between friends, partners, and allies, the island territories in the region are well-positioned to offer tremendous support and strategic leverage to India and its partners.
As countries debate an emerging security architecture in the Indo-Pacific, a key area is missing from the discussion: the role of islands. Much as they did in the past, islands will come to play a critical role in shaping the new order in the Indian Ocean region.
The world’s most important strategic chokepoints lie in the Indian Ocean, making the region a key theater in geopolitical competition.