India : Enhancing Regional Engagement

Over the years, India's security policy has been denoted as that of cooperative security through, 'a pluralistic security order' which accommodates 'polycentric security order' catering for the diversity of ASEAN. The strategy is seen to manifest in the form of participation in regional dialogue through the mechanism of the ASEAN Regional Forum which accommodates a large group of countries.

India considers Southeast Asia as the start point of the Look East policy as per the External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee speaking during the key note address of the 9th Asian Security Conference focused on South East Asia at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The drivers to this policy were states as, 'ASEAN's economic, political and strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and its potential to become a major partner of India in trade and investment'. The External Affairs Minister appreciated that India's role as a stabilizing factor in the region through, 'restraint, our economic dynamism and potential, the history of our civilisational engagement and our role as a firewall against destabilizing ideas and influences' was being increasingly accepted.

ASEAN is also seen as a bridge between India and the Far Eastern region as well as East Asia. The critical sea lanes linking these states with ASEAN also results in greater significance of this area. Thus ASEAN is seen to facilitate links with China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island States. The trade dynamics of the Look East policy is evident with volume generated thus, 'Since 1990, when our Look East Policy was initiated, our trade with countries of the region has grown from US $ 8.1 billion to US $ 67.5 billion and the share of trade with these countries in our global trade has increased from 19.4% to 28.2%.' The Indian government has made a substantial suggestion to foster better ties through a Pan Asian Free Trade Arrangement on the lines of the EU and the NAFTA.

The security perspective is highlighted by common interest in peace and stability as per the External Affairs Minister and the need to ensure security of the sea lines of communication. With the Malacca Straits and ASEAN waters teeming with a large number of piracy and crime networks an emphasis on this facet was necessary. However not many initiatives are being taken by India though China and other nations are undertaking joint exercises with the United States navy. The other issues of concern were indicated as border security, maritime security, counter terrorism and energy security. While contours of the policy are sound measures other than liberalization of trade being undertaken through the Look East policy are not yet evident. Greater soft power initiatives should be undertaken by the Government. These need to be constantly evaluated rather than assessing Indo ASEAN relations only through a prism of value of trade.

The Valedictory address of the Defence Minister was more specific in identifying some of the dynamics of security threats in the region including the regional concerns over the North Korean nuclear programme which is fortunately being resolved. The release of self imposed restraint by Japan was now being challenged and this would indicate transformations in the security dynamics of the region. The policy of resolving differences through a process of dialogue was underlined. While the nuclear policy was denoted as that of 'credible minimum deterrence' with strategies for 'no-first use' (NFU), 'non-use against non-nuclear weapons states', and a voluntary moratorium on further testing.

The other factor of non traditional threats were also underlined by the Defence minister to include terrorism which was assuming novel and technological dimensions and possible access to Weapons of Mass Destruction which is seen as the single largest threat to global security in the times ahead. Given the nature of South East Asian geography, the threat of sea piracy and security of maritime trade also came up for deliberation. The key to this is security of the Malacca straits where a super terrorism strike would cripple the large quantum of trade passing through the critical maritime defile. Drug trafficking and illegal trade in small arms was said to enhance the demands on security establishments of these states while epidemics and natural disasters formed another dimension. The need for sharing resources of the littoral states was said to be the answer.

India's maritime neighbors include large ASEAN states as Myanmar with which India also shares a land border and Thailand and Indonesia through their proximity to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The tri service Andaman and Nicobar Command is said to be one of the means to foster greater cooperation between states. Concrete measures taken were holding of, 'Milan', the biennial regional navy's congregation at Port Blair and naval patrols with Indonesia and Thailand. Greater capacity building measures need to be considered for building synergy through security which can overcome insecurities due to transnational terrorism and crimes. The defence minister took pains to highlight that these measures were purely defensive in nature.

Regional security is considered practicable through building effective multilateral institutions based on a common set of values to attain political, economic and strategic interests for which the ASEAN Regional Forum was considered ideal. This can come about through transparency of intent and towards this the Track II dialogues through mechanisms. The focus on regional security in Southern Asia continued during the International Seminar of the Indian Army on the subject 'Emerging World Order : Implications for the Security Calculus of the Extended South Asian Region' was held in New Delhi during the month by Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). General JJ Singh, Chief of the Army Staff delivered the valedictory address, in which he stressed that globalization had emerged as a powerful driver in shaping a new world order.

So a resurgent economy is driving India towards seeking a regional role in the Years ahead. Indications so far denote a positive and soft approach in engagement which is the way ahead in international relations.   


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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