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  • Writer's pictureAayushi Sharma

Growing naval cooperation between Australia and India

The two countries guard the flanks, as it were, of the Indian Ocean, and their growing naval cooperation keeps the ocean secure.

Ships of the both navies, Australia and India, in an exercise.

Recently India and Australia conducted yet another joint naval exercise in Visakhapatnam. This was the fourth exercise in the span of five months and has been an integral part of the Australian flagship project, The Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE). The Australian contingent included two Royal Australian Navy ships - HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Anzac as well as two Indian navy ships - Jalashwa and Kavaratti.

Ausindex, the bilateral biennial naval naval exercise between India and Australia is also symbolic in declaring joint defence cooperation while also testing the ability of the defence infrastructure on both sides. The joint naval exercise is an important initiative that builds on ‘Malabar’, the multilateral naval exercise of the QUAD grouping. The recent edition of this exercise was held in November of this year.

It may be clear that defence cooperation occupies a significant role in the strengthening of strategic ties between the two countries. However, the cooperation in the maritime domain as a whole is so much more than just defence and this aspect has been realised by India and Australia alike.

Diversifying the maritime cooperation

The maritime domain occupies an important position in the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) that was announced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the East Asia Summit in 2019. The seven pillars of this initiative serve as the basis for strengthening the cooperation in maritime security and also tapping the marine resources in a sustainable manner. The declared agenda for joint cooperation between India and Australia for the implementation of this initiative adds to the comprehensive security cooperation between the two countries.

The reason for such an interest in building maritime cooperation lies in the vast potential of the domain and it is imperative for India and Australia to focus on closer ties in this regard in order to create a successful comprehensive partnership. This common agenda was further realised when the governments of India and Australia came together to announce a joint declaration for their shared vision for maritime cooperation during their virtual bilateral summit in 2020. The declaration came as recognition for the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries and focused primarily on not only building the capacity for potential opportunities in the maritime domain but also tackling any challenges that come forth in this shared goal.

The joint declaration

The main tenets of this breakthrough declaration particularly reiterated the commitments of the states towards promoting peace, security and stability in the Indo-Pacific through building on the maritime security domain. India and Australia are the most prominent democracies in the region and so their position becomes very strategic in realising the common goal of a peaceful Indo-Pacific.

As a part of this joint declaration, both the countries also officially declared their commitment towards the maintenance of a rule based order within the maritime security domain. This factor essentially means that India and Australia jointly agree to adhere to the international conventions regulating activities in the maritime sector, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The security of the Indo-Pacific would only be ensured when important stakeholders come together to ensure protection against activities related to trafficking, privacy, smuggling of arms and other harmful materials, terrorism, illegal migration and irregular fishing. A comprehensive cooperation mechanism for the prohibition of these activities would add to the potential for tapping opportunities as well.

A significant aspect of this joint declaration was the commitment shared by the countries to expand their areas of influence by also engaging in multilateral diplomacy by engaging with prominent regional actors such as the ASEAN. This will also ensure developing ‘navy-to-navy’ cooperation in the region to build a sustainable defence infrastructure.

The commitment to the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) was again reiterated in the joint declaration with both the sides coming together to ensure cooperation to build on the terms of the initiative.

The Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative

The Australia- India Partnership within the framework of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative is a significant aspect of the tangible steps taken towards diversifying the cooperation among the two countries.

The Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative aims to build multilateral cooperation among the countries in the region in various areas of the maritime domain, including maritime ecology, security, resources, trade and connectivity of the maritime transport as well as building research capacity and resource sharing in this regard.

One of the most important enabling factors towards building this cooperation is the sanctioning of grants and funding for supporting the projects as a part of this initiative. The Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) provides grants in this regard to ensure stable cooperation between the state as well as non-state actors on both sides. The idea is to advance the objective of building partnerships and generating ideas especially pertaining to the domain of maritime ecology.

It has to be noted that amidst all the attention paid to the defence and strategic aspects of maritime cooperation, significant attention has to be paid towards creation of a sustainable ecological structure that would be conducive to deeper engagement in this area. With all the activities regarding the extraction of crucial marine resources, it becomes very important to invest in the enhancement of marine ecology. The focus would also remain on the reduction of plastic accumulation as well as building technologies for better management of plastic waste obtaining out of the deep sea activities.

It would not really be an overstatement to suggest that there lies a huge scope in the cooperation in the maritime sector which extends beyond just the naval exercises and diplomatic discussions. It is very pertinent to understand that the ocean waters provide us with a range of opportunities in terms of cooperation but it has to be done sustainably. This is why maritime ecology takes precedence over other areas of cooperation in this regard.

India and Australia can play a significant leadership role in this regard by developing opportunities for investment in research and development that fundamentally contributes to a safer and more secure Indo-Pacific region.

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