In­dia’s De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion with South East Asian coun­tries

Both the Min­istry of De­fence and Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs need to co­or­di­nate their ef­forts in or­der to add mean­ing­ful sub­stance to the evolv­ing de­fence and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship with the ASEAN mem­bers as part of a com­pos­ite en­deav­our to achieve suc­ces

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Bri­gadier (Retd) Vinod Anand

Both the Min­istry of De­fence and Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs need to co­or­di­nate their ef­forts in or­der to add mean­ing­ful sub­stance to the evolv­ing de­fence and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship with the ASEAN mem­bers as part of a com­pos­ite en­deav­our to achieve suc­cess in the strate­gic ob­jec­tives of its Look East Pol­icy.

THE DOM­I­NANT IM­PULSE OF In­dia’s Look East Pol­icy that was launched in 1992 was eco­nomic and cul­tural, the ob­jec­tive be­ing to rein­te­grate In­dia eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally with our civil­i­sa­tional neigh­bours of South East Asia. In De­cem­ber 2012, the As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions ( ASEAN)-In­dia Com­mem­o­ra­tive Sum­mit was held in New Delhi to sig­nify two decades of In­dia’s Look East Pol­icy. Grow­ing trade ties have cor­re­sponded with the ex­pan­sion of re­la­tion­ship in the ar­eas of de­fence and se­cu­rity; the en­gage­ment which was pri­mar­ily po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic has ac­quired strate­gic con­tent in the re­cent years. In­dia and coun­tries of South Asia share many threats and chal­lenges es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of non-con­ven­tional se­cu­rity. In­dia and South East Asian na­tions have been strength­en­ing their de­fence and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship both at bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral lev­els to ad­dress such threats. De­fence co­op­er­a­tion with ASEAN mem­bers is geared pri­mar­ily to­wards ex­changes of high-level vis­its, strate­gic di­a­logues, port calls, train­ing ex­changes, joint ex­er­cises and pro­vi­sion of de­fence equip­ment.

The Prime Min­ster dur­ing his visit to Myan­mar in April 2012 ob­served that both In­dia and Myan­mar need to “ex­pand se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion that is vi­tal not only to main­tain peace along our land bor­ders but also to pro­tect mar­itime trade which we hope will open up through the sea route be­tween Kolkata and Sit­twe”.

Re­cently, In­dia ramped up co­op­er­a­tion with Myan­mar through high level vis­its by the De­fence Min­is­ter A.K. Antony in Jan­uary 2013, and last year through the visit of Chair­man Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee and Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Mar­shal N.A.K. Browne from Novem­ber 26-29. The Myan­mar Army has been look­ing for hard­ware and In­dia has been pro­vid­ing items such as trans­port air­craft, helicopters and other de­fence equip­ment. In­dia is also fo­cussed on ex­pand­ing train­ing and ca­pac­ity build­ing of the Myan­mar armed forces. Fur­ther, Myan­mar Navy has been reg­u­larly tak­ing part in In­dia’s Mi­lan se­ries of naval ex­er­cises since 2006.

Malacca Straits is the piv­otal tran­sit­ing point through which most of the oil and gas trans­porta­tion of In­dia, South East and East Asian coun­tries take place. In­creas­ing in­ci­dence of piracy for ran­som and smug­gling in the high seas, which threat­ens un­in­ter­rupted trans­porta­tion of oil and gas, has prompted th­ese states to se­cure the sea lanes. Here co­op­er­a­tion with In­done­sia, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land, Malaysia to se­cure Malacca Straits and the neigh­bour­ing ar­eas, re­mains strate­gi­cally im­por­tant.

Malacca Straits are im­por­tant to both In­dia and In­done­sia and the two coun­tries signed a De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment in 2001 and have had reg­u­lar de­fence ex­changes in­clud­ing the ex­change of high level vis­its, ship vis­its, of­fi­cers study­ing in Staff Col­leges in ei­ther coun­try and joint co­or­di­nated pa­trols in the mouth of the Malacca Straits. The In­done­sian Navy ships have con­sis­tently par­tic­i­pated in the MI­LAN se­ries of ex­er­cise con­ducted near the An­daman and Ni­co­bar is­lands by the In­dian Navy.

Last Oc­to­ber, Antony vis­ited In­done­sia to at­tend the first Min­is­te­rial level bi­en­nial de­fence dia­logue be­tween the two coun­tries. Antony ob­served, “We have a vi­tal stake in the evo­lu­tion of bal­anced se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nisms through which we can build con­sen­sus and pur­sue dia­logue. We seek to im­prove our part­ner­ship with all coun­tries in the In­dian Ocean Re­gion on bi­lat­eral ba­sis as well as through mul­ti­lat­eral

Malacca Straits is the piv­otal tran­sit­ing point through which most of the oil and gas trans­porta­tion of In­dia, South East and East Asian coun­tries take place. In­creas­ing in­ci­dence of piracy for ran­som and smug­gling in the high seas has prompted th­ese states to se­cure the sea lanes.

plat­forms like In­dian Ocean Naval Sym­po­sium (IONS), In­dian Ocean Rim As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion (IOR-ARC), etc.” In­dia has also been sup­port­ing the freedom of nav­i­ga­tion and United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) though South China Sea where some of the ASEAN coun­tries are at the re­ceiv­ing end of China’s as­sertive poli­cies.

Fur­ther, as part of deep­en­ing its en­gage­ment with the South East Asian coun­tries through mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tions, In­dia has pro­vided ac­cess to Sin­ga­pore armed forces to use In­dian train­ing fa­cil­i­ties like Air Force and Ar­tillery fir­ing ranges. Sin­ga­pore has signed the De­fence Co­op­er­a­tive Agree­ment in 2003 and a Bi­lat­eral Agree­ment for the Con­duct of Joint Mil­i­tary Train­ing and Ex­er­cises in In­dia. Naval ex­er­cises be­tween both the navies are be­ing con­ducted an­nu­ally since 1994. In 2011, the naval ex­er­cise be­tween both the navies was con­ducted in South China Sea and the shore phase of the ex­er­cise was con­ducted at the Changi Naval Base of Sin­ga­pore.

Dur­ing Antony’s visit to Sin­ga­pore in June this year, In­dia and Sin­ga­pore signed a fresh agree­ment to ex­tend the use of train­ing and ex­er­cise fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia by the Sin­ga­pore Army for a fur­ther pe­riod of five years. A bi­lat­eral agree­ment for util­i­sa­tion of fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia by the Sin­ga­pore Air Force and Army was signed in Oc­to­ber 2007 and Au­gust 2008 re­spec­tively. Sin­ga­pore is the only coun­try to which In­dia is of­fer­ing such fa­cil­i­ties.

The third coun­try which re­mains im­por­tant in the con­text of Malacca Straits and ad­join­ing mar­itime area is Malaysia. In­dia-Malaysia de­fence re­la­tions have been grow­ing over the years af­ter sign­ing of Me­moran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MoU) on De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion (MIDCOM) in 1993. The ninth meet­ing of the MIDCOM was held in Kuala Lumpur in Jan­uary 2012. In­dia’s Chief of the Air Staff vis­ited Malaysia in Fe­bru­ary 2012 and Malaysia’s Chiefs of Army and Navy both vis­ited In­dia in April 2012. The IAF Train­ing Team de­ployed in Malaysia trained Malaysian pi­lots on the Su-30 MKM air­craft for two-and-a-half years since Fe­bru­ary 2008. Malaysia has also been look­ing for train­ing its Scor­pene sub­ma­rine crew and main­te­nance of the sub­marines. Th­ese are the ar­eas where both sides can co­op­er­ate as In­dia is also ac­quir­ing such sub­marines.

Thai­land is an­other im­por­tant In­dian Ocean lit­toral state with which In­dia shares mar­itime bound­ary. Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries based on the Joint Work­ing Group on Se­cu­rity es­tab­lished in 2003, has been now up­graded to in­clude de­fence ex­changes. The first meet­ing of In­dia-Thai­land De­fence Dia­logue was held in New Delhi in De­cem­ber 2011 and a bi­lat­eral MoU on de­fence co­op­er­a­tion was signed in Jan­uary 2012. The cur­rent de­fence co­op­er­a­tion com­prises reg­u­lar joint ex­er­cises, co­or­di­nated mar­itime pa­trols near the in­ter­na­tional mar­itime bound­ary to counter ter­ror­ism, piracy and smug­gling; train­ing of of­fi­cers at each other’s armed forces train­ing in­sti­tu­tions and par­tic­i­pa­tion as ob­serv-

ers in mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. De­fence Min­is­ter A.K. Antony vis­ited Bangkok in June this year. The two Min­is­ters re­viewed re­gional se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and ex­pressed their sup­port for col­lab­o­ra­tive re­gional mech­a­nisms such as Asian De­fence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing Plus (ADMM Plus) for main­tain­ing re­gional peace and se­cu­rity, freedom of nav­i­ga­tion, keep­ing open sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (SLOCs) and co­op­er­a­tion in ar­eas such as anti-piracy, disas­ter re­lief and res­cue.

Se­cur­ing SLOCs and Malacca Straits is also im­por­tant for the South East coun­tries like Viet­nam that has in­ten­si­fied its de­fence re­la­tion­ship with In­dia. For the ASEAN coun­tries it is geo-strate­gi­cally pru­dent to forge a de­fence re­la­tion­ship of a greater or lesser de­gree with In­dia and/or the US as some sort of bal­ance of power ar­range­ments pos­si­bly against a ris­ing and as­sertive China, is hardly go­ing to re­main sta­tus quoits.

A MoU be­tween Viet­nam and In­dia was signed in 2009 for de­fence co­op­er­a­tion though the de­fence ex­changes be­tween both the na­tions started prior to this pe­riod. In­dia and Viet­nam face a com­mon chal­lenge from China and both have been tar­get of mus­cu­lar poli­cies of China. Some of the en­gines of Viet­namese MiG-21 air­craft have been over­hauled in In­dia. There are also mech­a­nisms for shar­ing of strate­gic per­cep­tions and naval co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries. Co­or­di­nated pa­trols by the Viet­namese sea–po­lice and the In­dian Coast Guard are con­ducted jointly in ad­di­tion to train­ing of Viet­namese Air Force pi­lots. Be­sides pro­vid­ing some de­fence equip­ment, In­dia has also been help­ing Viet­nam to set up a do­mes­tic de­fence in­dus­try.

Sim­i­larly, In­dia has de­fence co­op­er­a­tion and ex­changes with Cam­bo­dia, Laos, Brunei and Philip­pines. For in­stance, In­dia is set­ting up an Air Force Acad­emy in Laos. An In­dian mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion led by the Army Chief vis­ited Laos in De­cem­ber 2011. Dis­cus­sions re­volved around on­go­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion ini­tia­tives be­tween In­dia and Laos. The Army Chief reaf­firmed com­mit­ment to the ca­pac­ity build­ing of the Lao Peo­ple’s Army and dis­cussed a range of de­fence co­op­er­a­tion ini­tia­tives with the Lao Army lead­er­ship. The del­e­ga­tion vis­ited the Kaysone Phomvi­hane Acad­emy for National De­fence, where a two-mem­ber train­ing team from the In­dian Army has been in place for the last 15 years.

Ex­change of vis­its of de­fence of­fi­cials, good­will vis­its by In­dian naval ships to Cam­bo­dia’s ports, gift of med­i­cal equip­ment and other stores and im­part­ing of train­ing cour­ses to Royal Cana­dian Air Force (RCAF) per­son­nel in dem­i­ning and peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions have been part of the de­fence ex­changes. On the se­cu­rity front, In­dia and Cam­bo­dia have signed an Agree­ment on Com­bat­ing In­ter­na­tional Ter­ror­ism, Or­gan­ised Crimes and Il­licit Drug Traf­fick­ing in De­cem­ber 2005. With Brunei there has been some de­gree of de­fence co­op­er­a­tion with In­dian naval ships par­tic­i­pat­ing in the first-ever Brunei In­ter­na­tional Fleet Re­view to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

With de­fence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries hav­ing been for­mally es­tab­lished through the 2006 Philip­pines-In­dia Agree­ment Con­cern­ing De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion, In­dian Navy and Coast Guard ships reg­u­larly visit the Philip­pines. The par­tic­i­pa­tion of of­fi­cers of the armed forces of both coun­tries in var­i­ous spe­cialised train­ing cour­ses in each other’s coun­tries has in­creased. There are also ar­range­ments for shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence and per­cep­tions on cer­tain other sen­si­tive is­sues. To en­hance the de­fence co­op­er­a­tion fur­ther, a Joint De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee was con­sti­tuted which had its first meet­ing in Manila in Jan­uary 2012.

At the mul­ti­lat­eral level, In­dia has also be­come a mem­ber of ASEAN De­fence Min­is­ters’ Meet–Plus Eight (ADMM-Plus). The ba­sic ob­jec­tive of cre­at­ing this frame­work was to bring about co­op­er­a­tive se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, disas­ter re­lief, mar­itime se­cu­rity, counter-ter­ror­ism and peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions. ADMM-Plus Eight has also pro­posed fur­ther­ing of bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral dia­logue and shar­ing of ex­per­tise among the mil­i­tary forces of mem­ber states. The ar­range­ment also ad­vanced pro­pos­als to counter par­tic­u­lar threats and is­sues such as piracy and nat­u­ral disas­ter through joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

Both In­dia and ASEAN mem­bers have been on an up­ward eco­nomic tra­jec­tory and as they grow, the se­cu­rity and strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment has also been be­com­ing com­plex. While th­ese na­tions have been in a ben­e­fi­cial eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship with In­dia and China, they re­main wary of China’s grow­ing as­ser­tion and ir­re­den­tist ten­den­cies. In­dia’s ef­forts in de­fence co­op­er­a­tion with ASEAN also aims at ad­dress­ing its own strate­gic con­cerns both in In­dian Ocean lit­toral as well as in South China Sea. Both the Min­istry of De­fence and Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs need to co­or­di­nate their ef­forts in or­der to add mean­ing­ful sub­stance to the evolv­ing de­fence and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship with the ASEAN mem­bers as part of a com­pos­ite en­deav­our to achieve suc­cess in the strate­gic ob­jec­tives of its Look East Pol­icy.

Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh at the ple­nary ses­sion of the ASEAN-In­dia Com­mem­o­ra­tive Sum­mit 2012

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