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Make the right call on ‘Malabar’ going Quad

Topics Covered: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Make the right call on ‘Malabar’ going Quad

Context:

India’s Ministry of Defence recently discussed the issue of adding Australia to the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the United States in the Bay of Bengal later this year.

  • 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.

Insta Concepts:

Why is China concerned about these developments?

Beijing has long opposed a coalition of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.

It sees the maritime Quadrilateral as an Asian-NATO that seeks only to contain China’s rise.

Also, 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.

Challenges for India:

Following the stand-off in Ladakh, many Indian analysts believe the time is right for India to shed its traditional defensiveness in the maritime domain.

The realists advocate an alliance with the U.S., Japan and Australia to counter Chinese moves in the Indian Ocean.

However, by “putting more pressure on China” and moving to expand its “sphere of influence into the entire Indian Ocean and the South Pacific”, India may be risking harsh consequences.

  1. At a time when India and China are negotiating a truce on the border in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi’s invitation to Australia to participate in the Malabar exercise sends contrary signals to Beijing.
  2. If China responded churlishly through aggressive posturing in the Eastern Indian Ocean, it could needlessly open up a new front in the India-China conflict.
  3. Besides, cooperation with the U.S. and Japan without attendant benefits of strategic technology transfers will not improve the Indian Navy’s deterrence potential in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  4. In operational terms also, it might be premature for Delhi to initiate multilateral engagement with Quad partners. With the strategic contest between the U.S. and China in East Asia and Southeast Asia hotting up, there is every possibility that the military-Quad will be used to draw India into the security dynamics of the Asia-Pacific.

Conclusion:

New Delhi should not sign up to quadrilateral engagement without a cost-benefit exercise and commensurate gains in the strategic-operational realm. What might appear politically sensible could be operationally imprudent.

Insta Facts:

  • The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States and Australia.
  • Malabar exercise started as a naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992, and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Quad- formation and members.
  2. Malabar exercise- formation and participants.
  3. Asia Pacific region vs Indo- Pacific region: Overview of geography.
  4. Important islands in South China Sea.
  5. Islands in Indian Ocean Region and related facts like 6 degree channel etc.

Mains Link:

Discuss why expansion of Malabar Exercise to include Australia is important for India.

Sources: the Hindu.