Event ReportsPublished on May 25, 2011
A roundtable on India-US-Australia cooperation at ORF revolved around issues that are of common interests to all three countries, such as maritime security and cooperation, piracy and disaster management among other issues.
India-US-Australia Defence Cooperation

As India emerges as a world power, it becomes imperative to enhance existing partnerships as well as find new partners who share common interests and concerns. Observer Research Foundation organised a roundtable discussion on "India-US-Australia Defence Cooperation," on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

The discussion revolved around issues that are of common interests to all three countries such as maritime security and cooperation, piracy and disaster management among other issues. The rise of China - peaceful or assertive - and its implications on the emerging geopolitical scenario also figured during the discussion. The speakers looked at the scope for both bilateral and trilateral cooperation between India, US and Australia.

Talking about India and its existing as well as new partners in terms of defence cooperation, Brig. (Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, Director of the Centre for Land and Warfare Studies, brought out certain aspects which would inevitably bring India and the US together as strategic partners, the foremost of which was the rise of China, which would prove to be the underpinning of this partnership. He pointed out that the military exercises conducted by the two countries, like the Malabar naval exercise and cooperation in Malacca Strait, were steps in the right direction as such exercises improve the interoperability of the forces. He also said that it was possible for India to join a coalition in the future if it becomes necessary to secure its strategic interests. He noted certain areas where cooperation had increased lately-such as the counter terrorism cooperation between India and the US after 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, cooperation in counter proliferation movements and antinarcotics. He said India-US relations had certain irritants that should be looked upon, like avoiding India while making decisions about Af-Pak and the sale of conventional weapons to Pakistan. As far as the existing relations with Australia are concerned, he highlighted the issue of sale of Uranium to India which was denied by Australian laws.

Giving a perspective from the defence industry, Col. (Retd) Jagmohan Singh highlighted certain issues with the Indian defence establishment that slows down the acquisition and procurement process like red-tapism, lack of coordination and other bureaucratic hurdles. He also attributed the failure of certain deals to miscommunication and misinterpretation of facts by both the countries involved in the deal. He also underlined the need to secure the energy resources, Sea Lines of Communications (SLOC) and improve cooperation in areas such as disaster management and counter-terrorism.

Vice Admiral (Retd) P. Kaushiva, charting out the importance of maritime cooperation, highlighted certain issues that would structure the maritime security environment of the future. He gave examples of changing maritime security environment once China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) attains blue water capability. Also the development of ports in Gwadar and Hambantota by the Chinese that could provide them the long sought access to the Indian Ocean will also raise security concerns. He sensitised the need to improve the maritime cooperation between the armed forces of all three countries as they faced common challenges like piracy, terrorism and other asymmetric threats. He also floated the idea of inviting other stake holders in the region who had common threat perceptions to take part in the deliberations. He gave examples of positive steps towards improving the cooperation like the signing of the MOU of Defence Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation by India and Australia. He also emphasised on preparing for a future where nations would form different groupings according to their threat perceptions.

Australian Deputy High Commissioner to India Mr. Lachlan Strahan underlined that China should not be the only driver for the defence cooperation between India-US-Australia. Stating that the Indian Ocean was vital to Australia’s security, he pointed to areas where cooperation in the Indian Ocean would mutually benefit all three players like countering threats such as piracy and disaster management. Mr. Strahan said that Australia’s partnership with India had improved over the last decade and it looked towards deepening this partnership. He suggested developing cooperation in regional forums like the East Asia Summit and also advocated including India in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). He suggested a possible expansion of the Malabar exercise to advance the cooperation between the navies of the two countries. He also expressed the desire to cooperate with India in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.

During the open discussion held after the presentations, cooperation between the navies of the three countries was discussed in detail and it was suggested that baggage and irritants from the past should be left behind to move forward. The defence sales and acquisitions that had picked up in the last decade and is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, which would attract a lot of international defence industry players towards India, was also talked about in the discussion. Transfer of technology to India while acquiring equipments was also debated by experts.

The discussion, chaired by ORF Distinguished Fellow Dilip Lahiri, was attended by diplomats, government officials and strategic experts besides ORF faculty.

(This report was prepared by Rahul Prakash, Research Intern, at Observer Research Foundation)

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