Ruddying relations

A closer strategic India-Australia relationship—the “how”

The Lowy Institute has released an excellent policy brief, authored by Rory Medcalf, coinciding with Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s first visit to India. You should read it in full—but the cogent executive summary is worth reproducing on this blog.

What is the problem
Strategic ties between Australia and India keep falling short of expectations, despite strong growth in trade. Controversy over the welfare of Indian students has added to differences over uranium exports to cloud what should be promising links between two countries with many common concerns. The relationship will weather recent turbulence. But without major diplomatic initiatives soon, the prospects for a truly strategic partnership between these Indian Ocean democracies will be set back for years.

What should be done?
The relationship needs to be invigorated through a leaders’ commitment to a strategic partnership, informed by a fresh awareness of how each country can help the other increase its security. This needs to be more than rhetoric.

A bilateral security declaration would add Australia-India relations to a regional web of defence ties involving Japan and South Korea. India should reciprocate Australia’s overtures to engage as a priority maritime partner, including in exercises. The two armies should help each other too, for example in special forces training.

Australia and India should work to expand common ground on nuclear non- proliferation and disarmament, which might help open the way on uranium sales. Both governments need fully to grasp Australia’s vast potential in ensuring India’s energy security.

Regular strategic dialogue should focus on common interests, including relating to China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, terrorism and maritime security. Options should also be explored for new regional arrangements including a three-party forum with Indonesia. [Lowy]

Related Link: Mr Medcalf also has an op-ed in today’s Indian Express. In the February 2008 issue of Pragati he argued that closer India-Australia ties requires political will on both sides.

6 thoughts on “Ruddying relations”

  1. Please also read Ahok Malik’s informative piece “Oz seeks an Asian friend” in DC. (Sorry dont know how to paste cooked URLs). He says this is a swing back from a pro-China approach. He quotes Mr.Medcalfe as saying that Lowy polls show Oz attitudes towards China as steadily cooling over the last 2 years.

    I found this part the most interesting:
    “Today, Mr Rudd’s confidants argue both the Chinese and his critics misunderstood his knowledge of China for approval of the Chinese system. A nuanced version would suggest that the more outsiders get to know China the more difficult they find it to reconcile themselves to its political economy.”


  2. India and Australia are both liberal democracies with certain common Anglospheric political sensibilities and vulnerabilities. We should be able to identify synergies in dealing with the Islamist threat and a passive-aggressive China. The bigger unknown will be the latter, and the nature of its global and local ambitions. With its general insulation from modern liberal discourse and intermittent harking to its “glorious” historical pursuits- much of which had racist overtones- China will be a challenge to both. Especially in the near future when it is no longer economically constrained to maintain the ‘peaceful rise’ impression.
    A good start in the changed relationship could come in the form of exemplary punishments for goons involved in violence against Indian students, as Tharoor asks. Australia losing to India in cricket, as he also asks, is a distinctly less likely possibility : )

  3. Of course, we’re not really new this type of proposal coming from China.


    I like one sentence Medcalf writes there:
    Ideally, India ought to be proactive in setting the tone for a cooperative relationship in its regional waters with its fellow rising power. But politically that will not be possible if China is essentially dismissive of India’s proper role in its own region.

    We must get our act together and get an Indian Ocean Littoral States Organisation started up as a forum to counter the weight China is bringing to the table. Come to think of it SILO would be a better acronym for it. The big question remains, will Australia be willing to play its role it in?

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