Military Diplomacy: Have India’s strategic nuances overtly moderated?

We must at this stage examine the strategic scenarios being encountered by the Indian State in terms of the resolutions to the border disputes with China.

indian miltary diplomacy
Indian Military Diplomacy is a very potent adjunct of India’s strategic stance but this nuance needs to be comprehended. (Representational image: PTI)

By Prashant Dikshit

This analysis commences after India participated in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) initiated in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and US Vice President Dick Cheney. This was essentially seen as a burgeoning military arrangement couched in the diplomatese and widely viewed as a response to increasingly hostile attitudes of the Chinese regime in the light of its rising economic and military power. However, at the heart of the matter was the Chinese government professing historical claims over large tracts of South China Sea which would infringe with Sea Lanes of Communication apart from subverting well established territorial rights of several South East Asian countries lying astride the South China Sea.

Whilst the USA had assumed the role of the torch bearer of this campaign, Indian joining of hands had come about with the signing of “New Framework for India-US Defense” in 2005 with the Indian government and increasing cooperation on military relations, defence industry and technology sharing, and the establishment of a “Framework on maritime security cooperation”. They were preceded by several large-scale joint military exercises between India and the USA. Japan and Australia were already co-opted in this strategic alliance since the beginning of the millennium to promote US global strategy to counter terrorism and nuclear proliferation whilst the co-opted countries expected fulfilment of strategic guarantees over the Pacific waters extending from the Koreas to Australia. In essence the larger objective of the alliance was non-interference in the Sea Lance of Communication.

But the arrangement was ruptured with the Australian government withdrawing a little before 2010 and the revival of the dialogue at apex levels truly fructified in 2021 with the culmination of an activity staggered over nearly four years. In a clear enunciation by the QUAD members , they described the alliance to promote a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and a rules-based maritime order in the East and South China seas. According to them it needed to counter Chinese maritime claims.

The Chinese regime had very forcefully protested and termed the developed alliance as aAsian NATO , evolved specifically to confront China. At which the Indian Foreign Minister denied these allegations and went on to refute the references to a NATO allusion. In fact at several working level meetings held in 2022 the Indian delegates have seemingly gone greatly out of way to clarify that the QUAD is not “against someone” (meaning China) but “for something.” For several Indian, China watchers it was simply seen as mellowing in Indian expressions. Whilst many claimed that if it is not against China then what was the purpose of resurrecting QUAD?

We must at this stage examine the strategic scenarios being encountered by the Indian State in terms of the resolutions to the border disputes with China. We note that whilst several older disputes dating back to 1962 are still to be resolved , we have several new ones to contend with, namely which emerged after 2020 : The Galwan Incident for example. For these new disputes, although in contentious scenarios, the Indian government may be wanting to convey their malleability to facilitate an expeditious solution. Although, at the apex level at the Indian government, it has been claimed that no ingresses have taken place in the Indian Territory in the period under discussion. Thus preferring to tread softly, India had to take a larger view.

Because in the chronology of events meanwhile, the spectre of Russian – Ukrainian war did not seem to abate and the Indian State needed to balance its position with respect to two separate groups namely USA and its allies and the strengthening alliance between Russia and China. It was a curious mix of India’s economic interests and its strategic objectives. Issues were very deeply intertwined and moderation seemed the solitary solution and that India did by loudly proclaiming the undesirability of a war. The message was global.

States are known to take such a calculated stance with all attendant risks involved although sharing of strategic decisions with its own people are needed in democratic countries.

On the other hand however , the Indian state has left no stone unturned to undertake military exercises with members of QUAD which truly demonstrated the strategic nature of the alliance. Some very recent instances are mentioned below.

Japan hosted Australia, India, and the US in Naval Exercise Malabar 2022. This year marks the 26th iteration of the Malabar series of exercises, which began in 1992 between the United States and India. The exercise has evolved in scope and partnerships and now includes Japan and Australia.

With Australia Exercise Pitch Black conducted in 2022 in which Air Forces of India and Australia participated and hall mark of which was midair refueling of Indian Combat Aircraft by refuellers of French Air Force .

Between India and Japan – Exercises JIMEX 2022, Dharma Guardian 2022 in Belagavi (Belgaum, Karnataka), Maritime Partnership Exercise (MPX) in Andaman Sea.

With US Army Exercise YudhAbhyas 2022 in UttarakhandAuli to carry snow warfare activities

With armed forces of USA Exercise VajraPrahar 2022 in Bakloh , Himachal Pradesh

With Coast Guard of USA Exercise Abhyas -01/22 at the Chennai Coast , Tamil Nadu

With Australia ,Brunei,, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, United States Exercise RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise, 26 Countries)

Indian Military Diplomacy is a very potent adjunct of India’s strategic stance but this nuance needs to be comprehended. The Indian government would do well to convey a clearer meaning of its postures . India has routine reciprocal visits with all members of SAARC countries except for Pakistan. The Nepal relationship is very special as in a reciprocal practice their Army Chiefs receive an honorary rank in the other country. India conducts training programmes for personnel of SAARC countries (Except Pakistan).

The author is a strategic affairs commentator.

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First published on: 22-03-2023 at 11:47 IST