India and Australia on Thursday have finally inked a landmark agreement which allows both sides access to military bases for logistics support. This was one among the seven agreements inked at the end of the first-ever bilateral Virtual Summit between India and Australia. “There is great potential in the future of the India-Australia relationship particularly in the maritime domain. The geographic location of both countries relative to each other provides the ability for effective Maritime Domain Awareness over a large swath of the Indo-Pacific” opines an expert.
This Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) is expected to help in the interoperability and will help the military platforms to receive support and supplies in both countries.
In 2019, at the 2+2 Secretary Level Dialogue, both countries had discussed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement in New Delhi and for deeper military ties.
In New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy, Australia is a key partner and for that country the Indo-Pacific is of strategic importance. During the discussions, the two sides also talked about Quad which involves countries including India, Japan, US and Australia.
A joint declaration issued after the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, stated “Both sides are committed to supporting a rules-based maritime order. This is based on respect for sovereignty and international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”
The two countries have been keen on expanding maritime security and safety and towards this the two navies will deepen their cooperation and work towards further strengthening maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific region which will be possible through a further exchange of information.
Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Commodore Anil Jai Singh (retd) says, “India and Australia are two Indo-Pacific maritime powers who, despite their shared commitment to democratic values and a rules-based international order, have rarely been able to translate that into a meaningful bilateral relationship. In the last five years though, India has taken the initiative to develop this relationship. This summit between the Prime Ministers of both countries, marked by a cordiality underscored by the Australian PM’s ‘scomosa’ diplomacy should take this relationship further.”
“Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia in his first term in office was the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 27 years. The decision at today’s summit to elevate this bilateral relationship to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ and the intention to introduce a 2+2 ministerial-level dialogue indicates the positive progress that has been made in the last five years,” he says.
Both countries are an integral part of the Indo-Pacific construct which has a distinct maritime orientation and it is in this domain that this relationship will realise its full potential.
According to the former naval officer and Vice President of Indian Maritime Foundation, “Australia and India are two of the four constituents of the Quad but the overarching Chinese shadow has inhibited that construct from achieving anything substantial so far. This could also be the reason that Australia has not been allowed to participate in Ex Malabar which is now a trilateral exercise with India, US and Japan participating. While this may strike a discordant note if viewed in isolation, it does not reflect on the developing the bilateral relationship.”
The increasing operational scope of the biennial bilateral India-Australia Naval exercise (AUSINDEX), last held in the Bay of Bengal in spring of 2019 ( a few months after Exercise Malabar)reaffirmed that both countries were committed to consolidating their relationship and also perhaps sent this indirect message to the region at large.
“From a maritime perspective, India and Australia as two large, responsible maritime democracies with a shared oceanic space have the potential to influence the maritime security calculus in the region. While India is engaged in capacity and capability building amongst its strategically important maritime neighbours, Australia too has its work cut out in doing the same in the South Pacific where China is fast-spreading its tentacles,” he observes.
“Both nations are presently facing economic constraints which have been further aggravated by the COVID 19 pandemic. (Media reports indicate that Australia has entered a recession). Perhaps the spectre of socio-economic distress likely to follow in the wake of this pandemic amongst the smaller and poorer countries in the region could provide an opportunity for both countries to work together towards addressing some of these through capacity enhancement. So far though there has been little to suggest that this will happen.”
“A shared understanding and foundational agreements on logistic support shared SOPs and communication protocols will enable both countries to optimally utilise their resources not only towards effective surveillance of the region against a developing threat but also to combating the non-traditional threats to maritime security that abound in this region,” Singh concludes.