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  • Surpiya Singh

Malabar Exercise: A Win Without A Fight

Presently, India surely understands how to give a befitting reply to its rival nations; entry of Australia in Malabar is the best example of this.

Malabar is an annual maritime exercise that rotates between the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. This exercise comprises multiple drills related to submarine familiarisation, high-esteem unit defence, air defence exercises, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare exercises and communication exercises. Malabar started as a bilateral exercise between the US and India in 1992, which later became a trilateral format after Japan joined in 2015, which became a permanent partner of the Malabar. Still, recently Australia will also join the Malabar 2020 exercise. Indian, Japanese , American and Australian navies are taking part in naval exercises, and these four major Indo-Pacific democracies will work together on common security interests. Usually, The Malabar exercise is conducted in two phases. It includes the harbour phase and the sea phase featuring both ashore and at-sea training. The first phase of the Malabar exercise took place in the Bay of Bengal that saw navies of four countries performing several complex drills. The second phase of the high-intensity Malabar naval exercise is in the Northern Arabian Sea. Earlier also Indian Navy has led various passage exercises (PASSEX) with maritime forces from Japan, Australia and the US. However, those were essential activities to expand operability between the naval forces, while Malabar includes mimicked war games.

The primary device of international strategy is diplomacy, the conventional technique to consistently oil the wheels of relations with different nations. The essential undertaking of India’s global strategy is to ensure the nation’s security and regional integrity and a peaceful external climate for India.

Malabar aims to enhance operational coordination and jointly tackle maritime threats. “As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy,” the Ministry said in a statement. In 2018, the exercise was conducted off the coast of Guam in the Philippine Sea, off the coast of Japan in 2019 and expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea this year. This time, the activity is planned in a ‘non-contact-at sea’ format due to the ongoing pandemic. The exercise will reinforce the coordination between the navies of the participating countries. The US cementing a multilateral association with Australia, India and Japan unites similar naval forces, with the triangle-shaped between the three accomplices incorporating the most challenging water space in a developing rivalry with China.

Earlier in 2007, the activity likewise observed support from Australia and Singapore. However, Australia pulled out of it the following day given China’s pressure as China was the leading importer of coal from Australia, at that time. Still, for the last two to three years, Australia seemed eager to join Malabar; however, India was reluctant to do so. Prior plans of incorporating Australia were dropped after genuine complaints were raised by Beijing that even given a conventional démarche insinuated a military front coordinated towards it. But Japan and the US always favoured Australia’s inclusion in Malabar.

However, presently India’s decision to head to Australia’s solicitation will be necessary for the mega maritime drill coming amidst developing strain with China over the borderline in eastern Ladakh. Now India is no more reluctant to China’s insecurity relating to the Australian Navy in Malabar as this new India knows how to look its enemies in the eyes. Quad is taking more shape, and with the Australian navy, Malabar is currently a solid message for China. As for now, the more clearly they articulate their core interests, the costlier it becomes for China to cross them.

Surprisingly, Malabar Exercise will now incorporate Australia as well even as border tension continues with China in Ladakh and are required to see a response from Beijing, which has been stressed over the development of a quadrilateral military partnership in the area. The fact that Australia was once seen in India as the least reliable and least significant individual from the gathering. However, in recent years, Canberra and New Delhi have found a way to upgrade their association, and this Quad won’t just improve their relationship; together they can remain as a solid establishment against China. Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said, “High-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific”. It showcased the “deep trust” between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their “shared will” to work together on common security interests.

In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that “It will bolster the ability of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to work together to uphold peace and stability across our region”.

We expect that Malabar should now inaugurate new forms of joint exercises and “group sails” and expand joint training. The real value of the group lies in its potential, the foundations being laid, and the ability to restructure the scope and agenda because of changing danger appraisals. This gathering remains on firmer ground today since India has gotten a substantially more dedicated and excited accomplice, and because the reason for collaboration among the four nations is more compelling this year than it was ten years prior. India should now focus more on its security and defence mechanisms by synergizing ties with countries that have a converging Indo- Pacific outlook, namely its Quad partners and participate and promote more intently in the Quad framework without stressing over China’s opposition.

India’s developing economy, strategic location, a blend of neighbourly and political international strategy and huge and lively diaspora has won it a more significant number of partners than foes. India has friendly relations with several nations in the developing world. It has a close strategic and military relationship with most of the significant forces. Growth and connectivity are today very central to India’s international strategic thinking. The methodology of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (collective action, inclusive growth) is as much a belief in international relations as it is in domestic development. Creation of an external environment which is conducive to all-inclusive growth in the country is one of the integral components of India’s foreign policy. In recent decades, India has pursued a more expansive foreign policy that encompasses the neighbourhood first policy embodied by SAARC as well as the Look East policy to forge more extensive economic and strategic relationships with other East Asian countries. India wields enormous influence in global affairs and can be classified as an emerging superpower and also a signal to the world that India is willing to play the role it perceives for itself in both the worldwide and regional stage and will take every action which will uplift it’s foreign relationship. India’s invitation to Australia to take an interest in the Quad is prominent as it breaks down one of the dividers that has isolated two enormous forces in the Indo-Pacific area. It additionally solidifies the Quad, which has just observed heights in the degree of collaboration between the four States.

As for now, we hope that welcoming Australia to the Malabar, gives this exercise a more robust and sustainable infrastructure. In my view, Quad should be best viewed as a symbolically and meaningfully significant expansion to an existing network of strategic and defence cooperation among four highly capable democracies. It’s perfectly fine if the Quad is moving in a deliberative manner and not causing a threat to national security because if China aggressively responds to this, it will lead to one more reason for Indo-China conflict. Quad should focus more on their future challenges and work on building their strong foundation and maintain peace at the global level. After all, the objective should always be to win without fighting.

By Supriya Singh

The featured image is representative of the American, Indian and Japanese navies in a formation during Malabar 2014. The image has been borrowed from the U.S., Indo-Pacific Command website.


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