Australia will have to work outside its “normal comfort zone” of security partnerships to engage with India as a major partner in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, according to a new report which identified key areas like maritime security for further cooperation.
A report titled ‘Australia, India and the United States: The Challenge of forging new alignments in the Indo-Pacific’ released this month by US Studies Centre at University of Sydney, has suggested Australia to adopt a new approach towards India.
The report said the relations between the two nations, which were seen as ‘the odd couple’ of the Indian Ocean, are changing and evolving recently.
“Australia has begun to see India as an important partner. Australia’s evolving view of India is intimately linked to its strategic reorientation towards the Indo-Pacific,” it said, adding Australia, India and Japan could anchor an alignment of Indo-Pacific democracies that could also include other democracies in the region.
“India’s perspective too, Australia is increasingly recognised as an important partner as it builds networks across the Indo-Pacific to balance China. India is probably more attracted to Japan as a ‘peer’ Asian security partner, but it is also increasingly recognising Australia as a partner in Southeast Asia and across much of the Indian Ocean region,” it said.
The report said that while India was likely to become a major security partner for Australia in Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, Australia needed to work outside its “normal comfort zone” of security partnerships, having regard to India’s unique strategic perspectives and traditions.
It said that Australia should consider how its relationship with India fitted with ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty) alliance and the US-led alliance system and also facilitate India’s participation in a web of security relationships in Asia Pacific, as an important contribution to regional stability.
“Australia and India can work together to mobilise new partnerships and ad-hoc coalitions among the middle powers of the Asia Pacific and Australia should find new ways of helping to connect India into the Asia Pacific order,” the report said.
Australia should consider using the Five Power Defence Arrangement as the core of a new maritime security arrangement in Southeast Asia that includes India, it said.
“In the long term, Australia needs to look towards an evolving Indian Ocean order in which the United States, India, Australia and others will all play significant roles,” it further said.
“Building an Australia-India-US security partnership in the Indian Ocean Australia should promote trilateral security cooperation with the US and India with a primary focus on Indian Ocean,” it said.
The report also highlighted key areas for trilateral Australia-India-US security cooperation including joint exercises at sea and on land, shared use of training facilities in northern Australia to promote multilateral interoperability among regional partners, building a system of shared maritime domain awareness in Indian Ocean, including shared access to Australian and Indian facilities.
Citing concerns of Australian side, the report said there was still scepticism in Canberra about the ability of India to become a “useful” partner willing to make practical contributions to regional security and the expectations that India would open its economy to trade.
“Australian defence officials may look for immediate returns or reciprocity in the relationship with India, which is often lacking,” it noted.
On defence cooperation, the report said, “Australia would also benefit from the conclusion of a logistics sharing arrangement in the nature of the arrangements India has with Japan and the US.”
It also noted that while Australia was keen to ink the long overdue free trade agreement with India, it needed to approach its economic relationship differently from other Asian economic partners.
“Australia should also not make the mistake of thinking that India regards a comprehensive economic relationship as an essential foundation to a security relationship — in fact, economics and security tend to follow quite different trajectories in Indian thinking,” it said.