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Oct 15, 2012

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India Australia Defence Relations

As Australian Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard is in India from 15th to 17th October to energize the India Australia relations, one facet that may be missing is defence relations between the two countries. Ms Gillard’s visit will include normal circuit of bilateral discussions with the Prime Minister, calling on the President, meeting with the External Affairs Minister, leader of the Opposition and Chairman of the UPA. Given that the Indian Defence Minister Mr A K Antony will be on a visit to Indonesia during the same period he will not have an opportunity to meet the Australian Prime Minister. Nevertheless a brief review of the relations may be called for.

India Australia defence relations are being developed based on the larger strategic partnership agreement inked during the visit of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to India in November of 2009. The defence relationship has been growing with the first Defence Policy Dialogue held in 2010 and the visit of Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith to India in December 2011. There are preliminary explorations on bilateral naval exercises while Passage Exercises (PASSEX) during naval ship visits to each other's ports is continuing. There are exchanges at the services level.  In another dimension, the Indian Ocean Region Association for Regional Cooperation  (IOR-ARC) is a forum where India and Australia are cooperating to enhance the security of the Indian Ocean Region. Australia will take over the Chair of IOR-ARC from India in 2013.

Despite the two countries are major stake holders in Asia Pacific security with common interests the defence relations remain tepid. The failure to pursue the "Quadrilateral Initiative", which brought together US, Japan, India and Australia in 2007 with the much heralded Malabar exercise that year due to serious apprehensions by China may be one of the reasons for India going slow in this sphere. India is apprehensive of being caught in a trilateral or multi lateral arrangement with Australia which includes either the US or Japan but a bilateral arrangement should be more than welcome. 

However there should be no inhibitions in expanding bilateral relations and there is scope for enhancing cooperation in various spheres. Much more could be on offer particularly in the field of maritime security and counter piracy. The Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation issued as a part of the Strategic Agreement envisages cooperation to maintain peace, stability and prosperity for security particular in terms of the global commons. The maritime cooperation agreement signed in 2007 provides the essential framework which can be built upon in the years ahead.  In the maritime sphere, synergy could be achieved through programs such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). It is understood that the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Navy are not on the same page hence this programme is moving slowly.

Indian and Australian armies formed a part of the Commonwealth forces during the Second World War and fought shoulder to shoulder in various campaigns such as North Africa and West Asia. Despite this there is limited cooperation between the two. The Australian army contingent is deployed in Afghanistan, some sharing of best practices could have been valuable but has not happened so far.

One inhibition could be the relatively small size of the Australian defence forces at just over 80,000 with troop commitment in Afghanistan there would be limited slack to offer. However the Australia Navy is fairly large and may provide scope for greater interaction for the Indian Navy. There is a thus a need for exploring opportunities for partnerships in the months ahead. Hopefully the Prime Minister’s dialogue will lay down some guidelines in this sphere.



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