By Dr Subhash Kapila
India’s “Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific” stands signified with the dramatic strategic and political outreach made by Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Australia and forging a substantial India-Australia Strategic Partnership.
Fortuitously, with both India and Australia headed by two dynamic Prime Ministers, alive to the rapidly changing security scenarios and with a realistic strategic awareness that both geostrategically placed nations need to play a significant role in stabilising the Indo Pacific expanse, synergised their personal chemistries to the forging of the India-Australia Strategic Partnership.
In the years to come India’s strategic pivot to the Indo Pacific and Australia’s equally unambiguous strategic pivot towards India and the Indian Ocean would be viewed as a strategic game-changer in stabilising the increasing imbalance creeping in the balance-of-power equilibrium in the Indo Pacific.
It needs to be recalled that while India geostrategically dominates the Indian Ocean region, it is Australia which dominates the Southern Flank of the Indian Ocean and also the Southern Pacific. India and Australia therefore with concerted and synergised strategic formulations are in a position to buttress the Southern Arc of Democracies in the Indo Pacific.
Notably it needs to be highlighted that India’s Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific supplements and complements the United States Strategic Pivot to the Asia Pacific. The same could have been said for the Russian Strategic Pivot to the Asia Pacific announced in 2012 but for Russia’s flawed strategic nexus with China.
In the last decade, one witnessed the emergence of the US-Japan-India Trilateral and the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral as strategic responses to China’s not so peaceful military rise and its policies of conflict-escalation. The impetus to reinforcing these strategic initiatives soon faded away when Australia under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his inclinations and personal tilt towards China devalued Australia’s participation.
Australia was shaken out of the Rudd-induced strategic stupor by China’s increasing political and military forays in the Southern Pacific nations deemed as Australia’s own strategic backyard.
The India-Australia Framework for Security Cooperation announced in early November2014 by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abbott encompasses a wide strategic canvas covering institutionalised meetings at the political level of the Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers and extending to regular security dialogues, military exercises, maritime security cooperation, and explore joint defence R&D. This is over and above the various other cooperative mechanisms for energy security, trade and investments.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi summed up this historic Security Framework between the two nations as “Natural Partnership arising from our shared values and interests.”
Australian Prime Minister Abbot summed up his country’s reactions as “Security and defence are important and growing areas of new India-Australia partnership for achieving regional peace and security”.
From such shared strategic convergences one can optimistically expect that in follow-up initiatives both India and Australia would add substantial contours to the initiatives of the Security Framework agreed in November 2014 by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abbott.
In terms of regional reactions in the wide Indo Pacific region the India-Australia Security Framework stands widely welcomed but for the exception of China.
India’s Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific of which the India-Australia Security Framework is a natural corollary will see the active revival of the US-Japan-India-Australia Strategic Quadrilateral. It can also be hoped that India and Australia will increase their efforts to draw-in and effect greater security interaction with the ASEAN countries many of which were fence-sitters on regional security issues.
It cannot be denied that while the India-Australia Strategic Partnership which arises from the India-Australia Security Framework is a bilateral strategic initiative, inherent in it is the foundation for greater security and maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean segments. It does encompass wider strategic ramifications when related to China’s maritime ambitions of dominating the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
Reverberations from China would logically follow in due course as China deciphers the impact of what India and Australia have strategically achieved early this month. Military provocations and aggressive brinkmanship mark China’s propensity to deal with such perceived threats to its military ambitions. These should be expected, if for nothing else, but to test the resolve of India and Australia.
Concluding, one can assert, that the India-Australia Security Framework jointly agreed early this month marks the advent of both India and Australia asserting themselves towards greater peace and security in the Indo Pacific. Prime Minister Modi has truly asserted that India is no longer confined to rhetoric on Look East and Act East but now intends for a more active role in Indo Pacific security in concert with the other major regional power of Australia.
India’s Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific, a long overdue initiative now seems to be taking shape.
(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected])