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31 October 2013, Gateway House

The India-Australia Security Engagement

This paper explores the opportunities and challenges in the growing security relationship between India and Australia by tracing the evolution of their strategic roles, particularly in the Indian Ocean

Former Visiting Fellow, Maritime Studies

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In the coming years, the India-Australia relationship may well become one of the most significant security relationships in the Indian Ocean region. The two countries are the leading maritime powers of Indian Ocean states and there are expectations from inside and outside the region that they will take increasing responsibility for the security of the region. This paper considers how the two countries may work together as potential partners. India and Australia share a language, a colonial past, many civil and political institutions, and democratic values. But despite these commonalities, they have long operated in largely separate strategic spheres. A non-aligned India was largely preoccupied with its immediate security problems in South Asia, while Australia traditionally focused on security concerns in East Asia and the Pacific.

These spheres of strategic interest are converging. The two countries now share many concerns, including over the growing impact of China on the strategic environment. The rise of India as a major regional power means that it is assuming greater security responsibilities in the Indian Ocean region and is starting to be seen as a significant strategic player in the Pacific. India is also beginning to see Australia as one of several new security partners in the Asia- Pacific region.

This paper explores the opportunities and challenges in the growing security relationship between India and Australia. It will discuss the evolution of their strategic roles, particularly in the Indian Ocean, and the changes in the relationship, before considering several concrete areas of security cooperation. The paper is divided into four sections:

Section 1 provides background on the evolution of India’s strategic role in the Indian Ocean. It examines why India is likely to assume a regional leadership role. It then examines India’s potential security partners in the region and why these partnerships will matter to India.

Section 2 gives an overview of Australia’s strategic perspectives and its growing emphasis on Indian Ocean security.

Section 3 discusses the India-Australia strategic relationship. It summarises the evolution of the relationship over the last few decades and then gives an overview of some of the challenges and prospects in the further development of the relationship.

Section 4 considers several potential areas for enhanced security cooperation between Australia and India. It discusses areas that may be fruitful and how they can fit within the developing relationship.

Methodology: Many of the views and perceptions outlined in this paper, particularly in Sections 3 and 4, were compiled from confidential interviews conducted by the author with serving and retired military officers, diplomats, government officials, corporate executives, and academic and think tank commentators in India (in April and May 2013) and in Australia (in June and July 2013).

This paper explores the opportunities and challenges in the growing India-Australia security relationship by tracing the evolution of their strategic roles, in the Indian Ocean

Related reading:

1. India: Regional net security provider                                                       

Gateway House published this Op-Ed, by David Brewster, on 05 November, 2013. He argues that in the coming years, India’s greatest strategic challenge in the Indian Ocean region may not be the development of power projection but the quality of the strategic relationships that it can build in the region.

2. India-Australia security engagement: Opportunities and challenges

Gateway House published this Policy Perspective, by David Brewster, on 31 October, 2013. He analyses that the two leading maritime powers among Indian Ocean states, India and Australia – which took over from India as Chair of the IOR-ARC at its meeting in Perth in October 2013– can consolidate a strategic partnership that spans the Indo-Pacific

3. India-Australia: Aligning strategic spheres

Gateway House published this Op-Ed, by David Brewster, on 7 June, 2013. He writes that in coming years, an India-Australia partnership will be important for managing maritime security in the Indian Ocean and will also have implications for security in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

You can download the PDF version of this paper, here

David Brewster is Senior Visiting Fellow, Maritime Studies, Gateway House.

This paper was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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