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Focus: GS-II International Relations


  • There is speculation in the media that New Delhi could soon invite Australia to join the Malabar naval exercises to be held later in 2020.
  • While no decision was reached, it appears a green signal to Australia could soon be given, making it the first time since 2007 that all members of Quad will participate in a joint military drill, aimed ostensibly at China.

Possible conflict point

  • Beijing has long opposed a coalition of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The Chinese leadership sees the maritime Quadrilateral as an Asian-NATO that seeks only to contain China’s rise.
  • At a time of strained bilateral ties with China, India’s intention to involve Australia in the Malabar drill could only be construed as a move directed against Beijing.

The prospect of modest gains

  • Indian decision-makers should also reflect on the strategic rationale of the military-Quad, as unlike the U.S. and its Pacific partners, India’s priority is to acquire strategic capabilities to counter a Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
  • While India has acquired airborne surveillance assets from the U.S., the Indian Navy is yet to develop the undersea capability to deter Chinese submarines in the eastern Indian Ocean.

Recent Developments with Other Countries

  • China has stepped up its naval presence in the South China Sea, even as Washington directed three aircraft carrier groups — USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan — to the region, in a seeming bid to counter the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
  • The U.S. would expect its Indo-Pacific partners, including India, to assist the U.S. Navy in its South China Sea endeavour.
  • While they may engage in the occasional naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, the U.S. and Japanese navies have little spare capacity for sustained surveillance and deterrence operations in the IOR.
  • Australia, ironically, is the only one ready and able to partner India in securing the Eastern Indian Ocean.

Need for careful thought

  • Upgrading the trilateral Malabar to a quadrilateral, without acquiring the requisite combat and deterrence capability, could yield gains for India in the short term, but it is not guaranteed to be effective in the long-term.
  • Although, inviting Australia to join the Malabar is a good idea, India should not sign up to quadrilateral engagement without a cost-benefit exercise and commensurate gains in the strategic-operational realm.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024