Sub theme 1

Sea Power and Colonisation
The function of sea power has traditionally been to achieve and maintain the ‘Command of the Sea.’ This time honoured and cryptic phrase connotes the ability to use the sea and to deny its use to the enemy. A nation that dominates the oceans is considered to be a maritime power. Therefore, the use and control of the sea has been a great factor in shaping the history of the world. During the fifteenth century, the Western Europeans embarked upon long expeditionary voyages primarily to find an alternate sea route to India. The Age of Discovery as it came to known later, eventually culminated in the discovery of new territories, new international trade regime and colonization of Asian and African continental kingdoms and empires, mainly because of their powerful navies.

In 1498, the Portuguese first alighted on the Southern coast of India marking the beginning of gradual colonization of Indian subcontinent. Centuries back, surprisingly, it was the Southern kingdom of Cholas that went on a maritime expedition to subdue the rebellious kings in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. This turn of events points to the profound decline in India’s maritime warfare capabilities by the medieval period thus giving rise to colonization of the subcontinent. While European powers possessing sea going capability began their voyages in pursuit of their commercial interests and furthering trade relationships, their ability to leverage sea power enabled them to operate at will and coerce the states having weaker or no naval powers to defend. The process of colonisation was sustained by the use of sea power to intimidate, subdue and reign over them through various instruments such as cartaz system first used by Portuguese. Soon, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the British joined the race to control the trade with the orient, competing each other over the control of major trade routes/sea lines of communication, thus triggering Trade Wars. With these events, sea power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and to the developing nation states of Portugal, Spain, the Dutch Republic, France and England. The colonisation of Africa and the Americas was, also, similarly carried out by the European powers.

Thus, colonisation would not have been possible without sea power. Also, it is of paramount importance to discuss how sea power was leveraged by colonial nations. Further, it would be worth analysing influence of sea power on colonisation and vice-versa. The sea power from historical perspective may be a yet another dimension that may shed some light on this sub theme.