Is India missing the bus?

AUKUS Security Alliance

By Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof International Relations, JIMMC)

The partnership signed between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom acronymed AUKUS has raised the hackles of several countries mainly of China. On September 18, in a Global Times editorial it was said, “AUKUS gives special treatment to Australia, a psychological blow to Japan and India as Quad members.” This is interpreted by observers as fomenting jealousy and distrust. India and Japan are yet to articulate their reactions except India saying that AUKUS is a security partnership, whereas Quad is a multi-lateral body going beyond security; and that it will not impact Quad.
Admittedly, AUKUS is constructed amid a controversy. It comes up against the cancellation of a $66-billion submarine contract between Australia and France. Peeved by the cancellation, Paris has recalled its Ambassador from Canberra, Jean-Pierre The bault, who has commented that France was quiet upset and betrayed by the decision. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on the other hand has explained that the deal was to be cancelled as he had informed the French President Emanuel Macron in June this year, “Very real issues about whether a conventional sub-marine capability would address Australian strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific.”
The observers of Australian and Indo-Pacific politics say that the partnership is more than it meets the eye. Australian experts supporting this ‘momentous’ decision say that AUKUS is single-most security partnership Australia has ever signed amid the growing threat from Communist China. One observer said that, “Uncle Sam (USA) and the old-mother country (UK) are standing with us.” It is true that Australia, which has been bullied and badgered recently by China, has got the backing of two powerful western powers. Could India not have managed a similar partnership! Was this partnership called for when Quad exists comprising USA and Australia in the group?
American President Joe Biden may have got a contract of eight nuclear power submarines by cancelling the one Australia had with France. Should his deal have prompted Biden to go for a security partnership with UK and Australia. Will it not, even in terms of perception, undermine the Quad?There is a concern that AUKUS could leave a deep scar on US-EU Relations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and weaken the international coalition in the Indo-Pacific. The new partnership which is expected to be operational in India-Pacific leaves out other two Quad members – India and Japan. This does not appear to be a smart move by Biden. He could have invited Britain to join Quad if the latter were to be active in India-Pacific region. Biden has been more unpredictable than his predecessor Donald Trump. He is springing surprises, which are appreciated neither at home nor abroad.
The UK has been looking for new pastures since its exit from the European Union. AUKUS gives its a new platform in the India-Pacific area. True that UK has a tiny island, Pitcairn in the Pacific; but it has Diego Garcia to look after. In addition, UK will have sea-route access to trade in India-Pacific countries. The UK could be a front-runner in Quad with AUKUS or without it, provided that it could rein in on its pro-Pakistan and pro-China lobbies.
Another player, the EU, not to be left behind has recently launched its strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. It is also contemplating a trade agreement with Taiwan. Many countries treat Taiwan as a test case for checking Communist China’s aggressive expansionism. Australians who are almost the size of Taiwan in population, vow to defend Taiwan in case of an attack from China. India is of course, ambivalent on dealing with Taiwan.
For sure, Beijing must be scurrying to comprehend, contain and counter the cascading implications of AUKUS. It has been wary of Quad and has dismissed it in the past as an exclusive club. It has not a good word about AUKUS as well. The Chinese ambassador in US has reacted to AUKUS as America’s desperation in competing with China’s growing influence. What is New Delhi planning to do, having apparently missed the bus in stitching a security partnership with the US or turning Quad into a security arrangement.
While New Delhi may expect to indirectly benefit from AUKUS, it has quiet a way to traverse to make up the loss. An intense round of diplomacy in New York and Washington this week as Prime Minister Modi is visiting to attend bilaterals and the Quad, will provide the answers. New Delhi now on is a part of difficult conversation between the US, UK, France, Europe and Australia.
As I have stated in this column several times, New Delhi’s continued obsession with non-alignment and keeping a distance from the west has landed us in security terms in a solitary ground. Instead of embracing powerful democracies in the west, New Delhi fell for Russian-Chinese version of multi-polarity. More than that, India continued to have defence engagement with Russia and political adjustment with China. Consequently, New Delhi today has to stand up to Chinese military aggression, albeit at a heavy cost.
Perhaps, unconsciously, due to a bitter colonial past, relations between New Delhi and London have been unsteady. New Delhi’s neglect of London also meant that it had no brief for ‘Anglosphere’ that connects UK to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Like New Delhi, many would have written the obituary of Anglosphere but AUKUS has revived it to say that the bonds endure. Aparrently, New Zealand is not on board yet because of same pressure from China as Australia faced.
India’s reaction to AUKUS is of a ‘lover spurned’. The Foreign Secretary said AUKUS is a security arrangement as Quad is a multi-dimensional exercise. This is strange. Quad was widely perceived as a counter weight to China. Diluting it in the face of AUKUS is strategically imprudent. Discussion on climate change, development projects etc. can take place in any international forum. We did not need a quadrilateral security dialogue which is the name of Quad to discuss social and economic issues. AUKUS has created confusion in the India-Pacific area. India’s reactions have compounded it.
New Delhi will do well in persuading Australians who are warming up to us, and Americans not to dilute Quad. They should invite UK to formally become a member of Quad. That will dispel the distrust. AUKUS can operate as other bilateral, tri-lateral and multi-lateral arrangement. There is ANZUS – Australia, New Zealand and US Security Treaty, now we see AUKUS coming up. No big deal. It should not upset Quad, which has emerged out of a shared threat from China to three Quad members – India, Japan and Australia.
So the origins of both the coalitions are different. Quad should enhance by more joint exercises between the members in sea, air and land including cooperation in space, cyber and information warfare. This is the challenge for New Delhi. It has to come out in flying colours. It there any option? — INFA