By Amb Anil Trigunayat
The World is in disarray. Multilateralism at its lowest point and Unilateralism dictating the international discourse especially as the sole hyper power under US President Donald Trump created a paradigm shift with his destabilising Twiplomacy for friends and foes alike. Covid-19 engineered a global recession and unprecedented economic downturn. China has been flexing its expansionist muscles. Sino-US Trade wars and implicit conflictual relationship threatening to enter Cold War 2.0 of a different genre. State sponsor terrorism and asymmetric warfare from our western and northern borders is a contiguous reality. Fact that Sino-Pak axis becoming toxic in the region poses tremendous security challenges for India.
Generally economy and security are becoming two sides of the same coin the prospects of protectionism, unilateralism and a closed mindset have become a common phenomenon. Indo-Pacific has become a new theatre of geo-strategic competition that has direct ramifications for India. In such a scenario, even though India is averse to traditional alliance structures it will be forced to enter into issue based alignments by reaping the congruence of economics of objectives and polity of threat perceptions in accordance with the common denominator being the mutually beneficial matrix of strategic and reliable choices.
Maritime issues, whether considered hard or soft, traditional or non-traditional impact the Blue Economy of nations, including landlocked nations, with spin-offs at the regional and global levels. Therefore, in order to pursue a sustainable and secure Blue Economy, there is a need to ensure a stable, secure and peaceful Maritime Environment.
India has over 7,500 km coastline and we have seen the worst attacks of 26/11 that were mounted from the sea. Moreover, India’s trade and energy security through the Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Sea is dependent on our capabilities to provide a sustained protection and response mechanism in accordance with our maritime doctrine driven for securing our national interests. Oceans are not restricted by any boundaries and with the concept of Indo-Pacific gaining traction, India’s Act East Policy, the SAGAR initiative and the more recent Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) there is a need to look beyond the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and explore the Indo-Pacific Region. Mechanisms like IONS, Anti-piracy operations, IORA and bilateral and multilateral interoperability arrangements with friendly countries like US, Japan, Australia, France , UK and Germany who have devised Indo-Pacific strategies and doctrines acquire much greater salience. At the same time we have to maintain our primacy in the region be it on land, air or sea beginning with our extended neighbourhood by following a policy of “Concentric Circles of Security Perimeter” which should not only ensure our security but should assure the security of our partners. Military Capability and political intent and will to exercise this benign power are essential ingredients for India.
World and global power equations are going through a churn. Newer challenges are posed for the concerns of defence and security, technology and economy, and changing alliance structures as well as big power rivalries. Cyber security and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have become the new norm across the spectrum and need constant upgradation to deal with hitherto unknown challenges. Terrorists use disruptive technologies better than the Nation States. Non-State Actors have been embedded and nurtured by some states including in our region and serve as instruments of their foreign policy. Hence, a comprehensive security architecture including the traditional and non-traditional dimensions must be built in which international collaboration with friendly countries has a central role at least until “Atmanirbharta” becomes a reality. Of course, we must secure ourselves internally and externally. No one is going to do it for us unless we wish to be subjected to the geo-politico-strategic games of major powers. Only the strong can demand and enforce peace and security.
In the changed global scenario and emerging world order China and its proxies like Pakistan (both nuclear power states) play a truant role in India’s strategic matrix .Therefore, it is imperative that India’s defence and security doctrine should not only attempt to have a non-conventional edge or parity but also ensure nuclear deterrence capability and tweak its doctrine accordingly. There is a greater likelihood of a two-front war for which India needs to have military and technological gear up. For same reasons India figures prominently in the South Asia and Indo-Pacific strategic calculus of USA whose key objective is to keep the South China Sea lanes and Indo-Pacific free for navigation. Japan and Australia have been facing the Chinese brunt and expansionist policies whereas India not only had to fight a war with China but also continues to remain a major challenge and illegal occupant of her territories.
China’s “String of Pearls” and possible militarisation of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategy, economic and technological edge and adventurism pose a peculiar threat to India’s security and sovereignty. Hence, India responded to US overtures positively and has expanded to conduct “Malabar “exercises with Japan and Australia in the context of QUAD and the Indo-Pacific. It has signed nearly all major agreements ensuring exchange and interoperability with the US be it Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement or LEMOA (2016), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement or COMCASA (2018) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA (2020) as an extension to General Security of Military Information Agreement or GSOMIA (2002) and Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008.
India may have to overlap its reciprocal access arrangements with Japan, Australia as well as both have nationalised security arrangements with the US to meet its growing security challenges. France, UK and Germany are other three major countries looking at the Indo-Pacific rather seriously and France and UK do have adequate maritime presence and arrangements in the region and key understandings with them could help in meeting India’s objectives for ensuring its comprehensive security within the context of Strategic Partnership. At the same time India will have to continue with its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ to work closely for their economic and security development to avoid being pulled down in the regional context. Sub-regional connectivity projects under the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) must be accorded highest priority.
In West Asia we have crucial stakes and hence India has to work for acquiring strategic depth through mutually beneficial projects and partnerships in bilateral and trilateral domain. Likewise in Africa we have to carry on with our development, defence and digital partnership directly and with likeminded democracies.
Russia is a unique partner but at odds on the Indo-Pacific construct which it considers as a containment against China and where it feels its own strategic interest might be adversely affected especially as it does not feel that US-Russia relations will improve anytime sooner especially under Biden Presidency. It causes some perception problem for India for which Russia is her special and privileged partner and supplier of technologies and over 70 per cent of its conventional arms and ammunition including nuclear submarines. Even a S-400 missile shield will soon be there.
More importantly Moscow remains New Delhi’s major partner in civil nuclear energy and space cooperation and one of the few countries which agree to transfer the military technology whether we have been able to use it effectively is debatable. BrahMos missile is a credible exception. Russia’s suspicion of India’s closeness to Washington and US’s suspicion of India’s closeness to Moscow are difficult to leverage as Russia-China strategic partnership has the potential to become a military alliance if pushed or threats perception exceeds their threshold. What we can leverage is a truly transactional relationship and India’s market strength and potential with anyone who is eyeing India’s huge defence pie.
Technology will underwrite the 21st century hence Indovation is extremely important. But given the systemic malaise it might be a while. Hence as argued by C Rajamohan, ‘The time is now ripe for Delhi to consider coalition-building as a major tool of its tech-diplomacy. India has figured quite prominently in the US and Western discourse on building new coalitions to promote and regulate advanced technologies. The size of India’s market as well as its technological capabilities make it an attractive partner in the effort to build “technology coalitions of the capable and willing.” Likewise the growth of autonomous weapons systems and ongoing militarisation of outer space have created an urgency to step up India’s comprehensive strategic doctrine. The “Artemis Accords” must be seriously examined. In the domain of across the board technological revival and adaptation, Israel can become an effective strategic partner and a conduit for joint research and development especially as “Abraham Accords’ also open up new vistas of cooperation.
Recently speaking at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA)/ Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar aptly noted, “To my mind, adequately securitising foreign policy is for mean absolute imperative…, there are the daily security challenges of long borders and large sea space. The thinking and planning of a polity that operates in such an uncertain environment naturally should give primacy to hard security.”
Hence apart from internal integration of security imperatives and apparatus within the country India has to actively think of issue-based security and technology alignments with prominent likeminded strategic partners across the desired security spectrum. It would require advocacy and an ongoing SWOT analysis of available strategic space and workable initiatives as the strategic autonomy and national interest are ensured. For contending with the emerging global dynamics India has to work through its strategic calculations and more integrated matrix of economic strength, smart military capability, astute diplomacy, firm leadership and conviction combined with its philosophy of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.
-The writer is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and a commentator on Foreign Policy issues