OPINION EDITORIAL – THE HINDU, INDIA

September 1st, 2015 | Editorials

Building on the personal relationship of Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abbott, I am pleased to visit India for the first time as Australia’s Defence Minister.

India is the emerging democratic super power of Asia.  It is therefore sensible that the relationship between India and Australia be developed and strengthened.

India and Australia have a long history of shared security interests, both within and beyond the Indo-Pacific region. This illustrates the potential for further growing and deepening our relations.

India and Australia share a history.  Our servicemen have served and fought alongside each other in a variety of conflicts. In the First World War, Indian and Australian servicemen fought together on the beaches of Gallipoli, in the deserts of Mesopotamia and the Middle East, and in the fields of France. In the Second World War, our armed forces served along side each other in the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, North African, and Pacific theatres, most notably during the siege of Tobruk, and the Burma campaign to defend India from falling to Japan.

This shared history, coupled with our shared democratic values and a strong interest in a secure Indo-Pacific region, provides us with a firm foundation upon which we can confidently pursue future engagement activities in support of our joint interests.

Our economic relationship is also strong – and there is currently work under way between our respective governments to further grow it over time. Indian investment in Australia was AUD 10.9 billion in 2014, and Australian investment in India was AUD 9.8 billion. And our annual trade is worth nearly AUD16 billion – but as we know, trade relies on open trade routes.

Australia and India are natural economic partners and a mutually beneficial, high quality agreement will help unlock the potential of the already strong Australia-India relationship.

We both border the Indian Ocean and have a shared interest in the maintenance of freedom of navigation and trade. In fact, the world economy is fast becoming reliant upon Indian Ocean trade as its bulk cargo grows. Australia recognises India’s critical role in supporting the security, stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region and the stability of a wider, rules‑based global order. This is why Australia views India as a key strategic partner – and there is scope for us to cooperate further on broader global issues.

This intention was formally recognised during Prime Minister Modi’s November 2014 visit to Australia, where he and Prime Minister Abbott formalised a whole-of-government Framework for Security Cooperation, which will include work to facilitate greater defence interaction over time.

As two prominent Indian Ocean states, India and Australia are cooperating closely in the region. Building cooperation helps to provide for a more secure maritime environment.

By 2030, the Indo-Pacific region is expected to account for 21 of the top 25 sea and air trade routes; around two thirds of global oil shipments and one third of the world’s bulk cargo movements. So improving security will be crucial to protecting our prosperity. In this setting, it is not surprising that, being Indian Ocean states, defence engagement between Australia and India focuses on joint naval cooperation.

The ships of our navies regularly engage in port visits – and short term passage exercises – to further our relationship. HMAS Newcastle visited India in April this year to mark the centenary of ANZAC celebrations and to conduct a passage exercise. Perhaps most significantly, our navies will conduct our first Bilateral Maritime Exercise – Exercise AUSINDEX – later this month.

The Exercise will take place in the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet exercise area off the coast of Visakhapatnam. This Exercise marks a new and important stage in the development of our defence relationship. I am keen to see greater opportunities for our forces to work together on exercises. But the potential for greater cooperation between our Defence organisations is not confined to the naval sphere.

We are also slowly seeking to build our bilateral Air Force relationship based on our use of common platforms such as the Hawk, C-17, C-130 and P8 maritime patrol aircraft. At Army Staff Talks last year, both sides agreed in‑principle to explore opportunities for future exercises. People-to-people links through personnel and training exchanges have proved vital to building familiarity between our defence forces. While the distance between both nations is great in distance, I hope we can identify appropriate opportunities in the near future.

Australia is a country which has many great strengths. Like India, we live within a region that will continue to undergo tremendous change, and we must adapt.

Economic growth is transforming the Indo-Pacific region, which is becoming the global strategic and economic centre of gravity. Reports predict that by 2050, half of the world’s top 20 economies will be in the Indo-Pacific. Some also predict that India, China, Indonesia and Japan will be in the top five economies in the world with the US. India’s own economic growth will be a key driver of energy demand.

The shift of strategic weight to the Indo‑Pacific is driving economic, energy and trade interdependence across the region, as states’ economic wellbeing and prosperity increasingly depend on free and open trade. Greater interdependence between states is encouraging, as it reduces the likelihood of destabilising actions or conflicts. But interdependence will not remove these risks altogether.

As major and emerging powers seek to advance their own interests, they will cooperate in some areas, but compete in others. Tensions in the Indo-Pacific persist, and in some cases are becoming more acute. Territorial disputes continue to risk regional stability and create uncertainty. Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight, especially in the South China Sea.

The imperative to use peaceful means to resolve regional disputes is particularly salient in light of regional military modernisation. Across the Indo-Pacific, states are modernising their forces in line with their growing economic prosperity. In the decades ahead, many regional states will grow more powerful militarily as they acquire more capable and technologically advanced platforms.

Military modernisation is a natural part of any state’s development. In fact, it can be seen as a largely positive development, as modernising states are more able to manage security challenges they face. It also represents a great opportunity for Australia to work with more capable partners, as we are with India, in support of shared interests in regional security and stability.

Yet accelerating military modernisation also has the potential to increase strategic competition as states seek military advantages over their neighbours. Australia continues to encourage all countries to be open about their defence policies and transparent in their long-term strategic intentions to build trust and minimise the potential for miscalculation.

With the increasingly uncertain strategic outlook as its context, the Australian Government will shortly release a new Defence White Paper. The White Paper will present a clear, long-term plan for Australia’s defence over the next two decades, one that aligns strategy, capability and resources. The White Paper will set out the Government’s direction that Defence is to play a more active role in supporting regional security and Australia’s interests in a more rules-based global order. But if we want to live in a more rules-based global order, we need to invest in the power-based component of that order.

Australia recognises that it cannot achieve its defence objectives alone. In the words of Prime Minister Abbott, “This is the time to turn the warm friendship between Australia and India, the long history that Australia and India have together, into something that will be meaningful, more meaningful for us and significant for the wider world.”  This is our challenge and it is our task.