Understanding the Dynamics of Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean Region

Professor Derek McDougall1

1School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia

This paper examines the dynamics of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region, with reference to the role of major powers, middle powers and small powers. Discussion of the contemporary situation often focuses on the competition between India and China, paying attention also to the involvement of the United States. However, there are also various regional powers that have an influence either broadly or in subregions. Countries such as Australia, South Africa, France (an external actor but with a regional territorial presence) and some of the Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Turkey) are relevant in this respect. In addition, there are small powers that play some role in the region. After reviewing the role of each set of powers (major, middle, small), this paper assesses different possible theoretical explanations for international interactions in the region. The broad comparison is between realism and approaches that take more account of domestic factors.


Derek McDougall is a Professorial Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. His field of interest is Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific international politics, with particular reference to Australian engagement. His most recent book is Asia Pacific in World Politics (Lynne Rienner, 2016).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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