US-India-Japan Naval Trajectory & Australia?

By Syed Qamar Rizvi.


After making a pitch for an observer status during this year’s Malabar trilateral naval exercises  that were scheduled to be held in June, Australia had indicated that it is keen for a logistics support agreement with India along the lines of the one concluded with the United States last year.  As for US’s strategic calculation, China’s growing assertiveness and economic heft across Asia, combined with a newly reticent United States, is making countries in the region wonder if and when they’ll have to choose sides between Washington and Beijing. Against this a backdrop, the US administration mindset advocates that the US and Indian navies could carry out ‘benign naval and maritime activity’ during periods of diplomatic strain. But for New Delhi’s strategic reconsideration, Australian Naval venture could not be realized.

That’s exactly what appeared to happen last week, after India rejected Australia’s request to send warships to participate in big naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal. News reports painted the rejection as a way for India to appease China, or at least avoid needlessly provoking Beijing.

“New Delhi hasn’t forgotten Canberra’s hasty capitulation a decade ago,” said Nitin A. Gokhale, a New Delhi-based national security analyst, in an email to FP. “Moreover, the foreign policy establishment is aware of the deep economic and political relations that Australia and China have.”

Since AUSINDEX in 2015, Indian Navy vessels have visited Australia for port calls, but not for exercises. Neither the Australian nor the Indian navies have clarified any operational focus for the upcoming exercise. This comes at a time when there is a lot of hue and cry in India about Australia scrapping its skilled visa program — the employer-sponsored temporary work visas, popularly known as the 457 visa. While the government of Malcolm Turnbull may have taken a short-sighted approach in its engagement with India by moving ahead with its new visa restrictions, New Delhi would be equally short-sighted if it just focuses on this issue at the risk of overlooking larger shifts in regional balance of power.

India and Japan have an institutionalized trilateral strategic dialogue partnership with the United States. Initiated in 2011. Maintaining a balance of power in the Asian-Pacific as well as maritime security in Indo-Pacific waters became an important element of this dialogue. A similar dialogue exists between the United States, Japan, and Australia. Under Modi, such security trilateralism in Asia has received not only new momentum and is being expanded to incorporate other regional powers: in June 2015, India, Australia, and Japan held their first ever high level dialogue in New Delhi.

These trilateral initiatives have a serious potential to transform into a ‘quad’ of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. The roots of this potential partnership were laid in late 2004 when navies from the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia collaborated in tsunami relief operations all across the Indian Ocean. Japan has been the most vocal supporter of such an initiative. In 2007, Abe, in his earlier stint as Prime Minister, lobbied for Asia’s democracies to come together.  This was also actively supported by the United States. Such an initiative resulted in a five nation naval exercise in Bay of Bengal in September 2007 code-named Malabar 07-02. However, perceiving a possible ganging-up of Asia’s democracies, China issued demarches to New Delhi and Canberra, causing this initiative to lose steam, since both Australia and New Delhi felt it unwise to provoke China. As China becomes more aggressive in the region, there are signs that India and Australia may be warming up to the idea again.

India and Australia are wary of China’s assault on maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region. These common concerns have strengthened the need for greater maritime cooperation between the two nations and the two have started conducting joint naval combat exercises. During Modi’s visit to Australia, a security framework agreement was signed by the two countries, further underscoring the importance of defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. India and Australia are leading powers in the Indian Ocean region. The two countries are also at the helm of Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA), a formal grouping consisting of the Indian Ocean Littoral States. Australia is also a permanent member of Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which brings together the local navies of Indian Ocean region. The extent of their regional cooperation in Indian Ocean can also be ascertained by their annual trilateral dialogues with countries like Japan and Indonesia

So countering China, United States, Japan, Australia and India created Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD). China invested heavily in Australian mines. There are some author who suggested that China may attack Australia in war situation.

Australia is less populous region. Japan security is based on US army, India is a powerhouse and have very good global firework index. US is distant from Asian mainland. Cost of deploying international army is very high. So all these four groups are friends of benefits. They can empower each other and secure each other and also counter growing Chinese army in South China sea. The below map illustrate how India, Australia and Japan can counter China.

On the other hand India, Iran have good ties to counter Pakistan. India, Japan have good ties to counter China. US and Pakistan have good ties to counter India. The US Navl officer advocated that its navy and their Indian counterpart could undertake joint naval operations in Indo-Asia-Pacific region and pushed for quadrilateral arrangement between Delhi, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra with an eye on ensuring stability in the region amid China’s initiatives to unilaterally change rules of international order. 

Addressing the Raisina Dialogue here Admiral Harry B Harris Jr, US Pacific Command, said India and the US are uniquely placed to provide security in the r .. “I’m sometimes asked why I always use the term “Indo-Asia-Pacific” versus the commonly used “Asia-Pacific” by smart people like those in the room today. My answer is simple – Indo-Asia-Pacific more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood that bind India, Australia, Asia, Oceania and the United States together. Strengthening that economic connective tissue through security and diplomatic partnership is what America’s rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. 

In 2015,India hosted Japan and Australia for its first ever high-level trilateral dialogue in New Delhi and that some of the topics discussed were maritime security — including freedom of navigation patrols, he suggested, “One idea to consider is initiating a Quad-lateral Security Dialogue between India-Japan-Australia and the United States. Adding the U.S into this dialogue can amplify the message that we are united behind the international rules-based order that has kept the peace and is essential to all of us.” In view of a senior US Naval Commander ‘’by being ambitious, India, Japan, Australia, the United States and so many other like-minded nations can aspire to patrol together anywhere international law allows.

“The idea of safeguarding freedom of access to international waters and airspace is not something new for us to ponder – this is a principle based upon the international and rules-based global order.”  And yet, India is also opposed, in principle, to military ships traversing through its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and seeks prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its EEZ. This position is similar to that of China and some other maritime countries. Were India to participate in the US-led Fonops, it would have to rescind on this principle and also accept the possibility of other navies—especially Chinese navy—being present in its EEZ.

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