Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Australia and India Building the Strategic Partnership
9 December 2011
(check against delivery)
This is my fourth visit to India as an Australian Government Minister and my first visit as Minister for Defence. The last visit to India by an Australian Defence Minister was in 2007.
I am pleased to be back here today at the Asia Society in Mumbai. I last spoke to the Asia Society in Mumbai in October 2009. The Asia Society is an important forum for strengthening relations throughout Asia.
In New Delhi this week, Defence Minister A. K. Antony and I conducted the India-Australia Defence Ministers' Dialogue. We reaffirmed our commitment to build on the Strategic Partnership agreed between our respective Prime Ministers in 2009, with a focus on enhanced defence cooperation.
I also held productive meetings with the Chiefs of Navy, Army and Air Force, Minister for Home Affairs Chidambaram and National Security Adviser Menon.
In my return to Mumbai I have had a very informative visit today to Western Naval Command.
Three years have passed since the terrible terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, and other locations in this great city. We have not forgotten the 160 innocent and defenceless people killed during these attacks, including two Australians. Our sympathies and thoughts remain with their families and their loved ones.
In October 2003 as a backbench Member of Parliament, I pointed to India’s emerging importance as “the next great cab off the rank“ of emerging world powers.
In my first speech as Foreign Minister in December 2007 I said: “Australia needs to look to our important neighbours and partners to our West. India’s remarkable development only encourages me to bring us closer together. I look forward to working with the Indian Government and the Indian people to add depth and vigour to our relationship”.
Perth and Chennai are closer to each other than Sydney is to Seoul, to Shanghai, or to Tokyo.
Historically, the Australia-India relationship has been like a Twenty-Twenty cricket game – short bursts of activity followed by lengthy periods of inactivity. It needs to be more like a Test match and take on a more strategic, persistent, patient and determined form.
The Australian Government has set about effecting this change in our approach. My regular visits to India have I hope helped underscore Australia’s commitment to deepen bilateral relations, and strengthen the defence and security cooperation between our nations as economic, political, military and strategic influence moves to Asia and the Pacific, to our part of the world.
Historic shift towards Asia.
In this century, Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific will become the world's centre of gravity.
Everyone sees the rise of China, but not enough see the rise of India as a great power.
The rise of India remains underappreciated, as does its standing as the world’s largest democracy.
India today is assuming the mantle of global influence to which its economic size and strength, and its strategic weight and history entitle it.
India is now rightly making its voice heard in the corridors of regional and international fora.
Australia welcomes this because we see in India a country that has a constructive role to play in our region and on the world stage.
India has global interests, but India’s expanding strategic role has increasingly focused on our shared Asian neighbourhood.
India’s expanding diplomatic and strategic role in Asia, which reflects the imaginative ‘Look East’ policy launched by former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in the 1990s, offers much scope for regional cooperation between India and Australia.
India and Australia: shared values and converging interests
Australia and India share a common language and a common democratic heritage.
Our shared commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law make Australia and India natural partners in addressing many international challenges.
India and Australia have common interests in the prosperity and stability of our region.
Australia’s relationship with India is broad ranging, covering trade, investment, strong people-to-people links and security cooperation.
Australia works with India in the United Nations, the WTO, the G20 and the East Asia Summit (EAS) to achieve practical outcomes that benefit India, Australia and the international community more broadly.
India is one of Australia’s fastest growing major trading partners. In 2010-11, India was Australia’s fourth-largest merchandise export market and seventh largest trading partner.
Two-way trade – including goods and services – was nearly $A23 billion.
Australia is a reliable supplier of resources to India and there is much scope to further diversify and expand our trade relationship, including in services.
The Indian Ocean
The critical strategic importance of the Indian Ocean is increasingly recognised in Australia but also internationally.
The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim are home to more than 2.5 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population.
The security of its waters goes to the heart of global, regional and Australian strategic interests.
The proportion of world energy supplies passing through critical transport choke points, including the Straits of Malacca, the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal will increase in the coming years.
The Indian Ocean already ranks among the busiest highways for global trade. It will become a crucial global trading thoroughfare in the future. Australia and India have common interests in securing and exploiting these trading routes.
It is vital for trade, investment and prosperity that these sea lanes are protected from threats such as piracy or maritime terrorism.
Australia is looking increasingly to the Indian Ocean as a region of critical strategic importance.
So significant is India’s rise that the notion of the Indo-Pacific as a substantial strategic concept is starting to gain traction.
India’s rise as a world power is at the forefront of Australia’s foreign and strategic policy, as is the need to preserve maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
India and Australia, with the two most significant and advanced navies of the Indian Ocean rim countries, are natural security partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
In recognition of our mutual maritime security interests, Australia joined the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an initiative of the Indian Navy, and we will host the IONS Conclave of Chiefs in 2014 in Perth, Australia’s Indian Ocean capital.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) is a Ministerial level forum with membership ranging across the entire Indian Ocean region.
With India the current IOR-ARC Chair and Australia the Vice Chair, we are jointly leading efforts to strengthen regional security architecture, with a particular focus on maritime security.
After India’s two year period as Chair of IOR-ARC, Australia will take over as Chair for the subsequent two year period, and Indonesia expected thereafter.
Together, India, Australia and Indonesia are providing regional leadership through a forum that has much potential for dealing with regional challenges. This reflects a natural extension of significant and growing bilateral relationships between the three countries.
The IOR-ARC Ministerial Meeting last month in Bangaluru agreed to examine renaming the forum, including the option of an “Indian Ocean Community”. This would certainly be easier to articulate and consistent with India’s and Australia’s efforts to lift the organisation to greater prominence.
The Asia Century
Together with the rise of India, the continuing rise of China is part of the defining change in the regional and global order.
The major and enduring economic strengths of Japan and South Korea also need to be acknowledged.
So must the great individual potential of Indonesia – as it emerges from a regional to a global influence.
The ongoing shift in influence is not just about economics or demographics, it is also about military power.
The region is home to four of the world’s major powers and five of the world's largest militaries – the United States, Russia, China, India, and North Korea.
Australia is positive and optimistic about China’s emergence. Australia wants, as the Chinese would say, China to emerge into a harmonious environment or as Bob Zoellick has said, to be a responsible stakeholder.
With this rise comes added strategic responsibilities for China, including the need for greater openness and transparency in relation to capabilities and strategic doctrine.
Some seem to implicitly assume that the economic and strategic influence of the United States, the world's largest economy and superpower, will somehow be rapidly eclipsed overnight as a result of this new distribution of power.
That is not Australia’s view.
In Australia’s view, the United States has underwritten stability in Asia for the past six decades and will continue to be the single most powerful and important strategic actor in the region for the foreseeable future, both in its own right and through its network of alliances and security relationships, including with Australia.
The announcement last month by Prime Minister Gillard and President Obama of enhanced Australia-US practical defence cooperation will better position both Australia and the United States to join with other partners to respond in a timely and effective manner to a range of contingencies in the region, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
We expect these initiatives will reinforce existing relationships in the region and will provide the means to enhance cooperation with Australia’s security partners.
Australia has greatly benefited from the Asia-Pacific region’s long period of peace, security, stability and prosperity.
We owe this in great part to the creation and growth of regional institutions like ASEAN and its related forums, institutions that continue to build habits of dialogue and cooperation in the region.
In recent years, Australia has advocated the need for a regional Leaders’ meeting which can consider both strategic and security matters, as well as economic matters, with all the relevant countries of our region in the same room at the same time.
That is why we very much welcome the entry of the United States and Russia into the expanded East Asia Summit (EAS) this year, joining with ASEAN countries plus Australia, India, China, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.
The expanded EAS now meets in Leaders, Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers format, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).
It is entirely natural that Australia and India are in the same room making important leadership decisions about our region.
In Bali last month for the East Asia Summit (EAS), Prime Minister Singh said that ASEAN was one of the cornerstones of India’s foreign policy, and the foundation of the ‘Look East’ Policy. Prime Minister Singh outlined India’s growing cooperation with ASEAN and the region, spanning security, trade, investment, and people to people links.
India and Australia have much to gain from economic and security engagement with ASEAN economies, and can work together to strengthen the EAS in all its formats.
Australia very much welcomed and strongly supported the inaugural meeting of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus in Hanoi at the end of last year.
This creates a forum for the key regional players to discuss peace and security cooperation, build stability and promote greater defence cooperation.
By involving the countries of the East Asia Summit, the ADMM Plus creates an institution in which Defence Ministers of the region’s key powers can have a conversation about the full range of peace and security matters in our region.
India and Australia – defence and security partners
I am very optimistic about the future of the Australia-India defence and security relationship.
In signing the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2009, Australia and India affirmed our shared desire to promote regional and global security, as well as our common commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
This is why I see Australia and India having an Annual Defence Ministers’ dialogue. We have held bilateral meetings in 2010 and 2011, and Minister Antony has accepted my invitation to visit Australia next year, 2012.
Senior political engagement is important, as is the strengthening of links between our defence forces. Our Chiefs of Defence Force have instigated a regular dialogue, as have our three Service Chiefs. We have increased the seniority and frequency of the bilateral defence strategic dialogue.
Military engagement is now occurring across the full range of activities, including ship visits, professional exchanges, and collaboration in research and development. There is much more that can, and will, be done in the fields of law enforcement and scientific and technical cooperation.
Strategic engagement has involved a number of high-level visits and ongoing strategic dialogue between Australia and India. Australia’s Chief of the Defence Force and India’s Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee commenced a formal strategic dialogue in 2008.
Inaugural Army staff talks were conducted in February last year, followed by the fifth iteration of Navy staff talks in April this year. Our Chief of Defence Force visited India in April 2010 and India’s Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee visited Australia in March this year. Inaugural Defence Policy Talks were held in India in December last year.
Each year we offer Indian Officers positions on the Australian Command and Staff Course and the Defence and Strategic Studies Course. Last year, an Indian Officer also participated in the Foreign Academy Exchange Program with the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
Australia also invites Indian Officers to undertake Joint Warfare studies, Aviation Safety, Maritime Security Cooperation and Emergency Management courses. The exchanges are two way. Australia sends Australian Defence Force personnel to the National Defence University and the Indian Staff Course in Wellington, as well as participating in short course training opportunities.
Our service to service links are strong. Our Navy to Navy relationship continues to grow—a natural progression given our shared maritime security interests as Indian Ocean littoral states.
Recent examples of this include the Indian Navy Destroyer INS Rana’s visit to Australia in June 2010 and the visit to Western Naval Command here in Mumbai by HMAS Toowoomba in October this year.
In January last year, a Royal Australian Navy vessel participated in maritime exercise MILAN in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In recent weeks, Australian and Indian Foreign Affairs and Defence officials held a dialogue on East Asia, covering a range of regional issues, including maritime security.
There is more that can, and will, be done.
It makes sense that the two best equipped and advanced Navies in the Indian Ocean Rim would be working together.
In New Delhi this week, I agreed with Minister Antony we would boost cooperation on maritime security. Our navies already join together in multilateral maritime exercises and conduct Passage Exercises during ship visits to our respective ports. I agreed with Minister Antony that our officials would examine options for more substantial bilateral maritime exercises in the future
We also agreed that Australia and India would establish a 1.5 Track Defence Strategic Dialogue, the first iteration of which will be held in Australia in 2012. A Dialogue of this kind facilitates frank discussions on strategic and security issues, and establishes valuable personal connections. Australia already conducts a small number of such dialogues, including with Japan and Korea.
As we strengthen our strategic partnership through enhanced defence cooperation, there may be opportunities for exchanges on experience with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as counter terrorism.
India and Australia: Partners on the World Stage
Our cooperation is not just regional, it’s multilateral.
In 1947, when India achieved its independence, Australia and India then worked together to bring the conflict between the Indonesians and the Netherlands to the United Nations Security Council.
From this beginning, India has been a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations, as has Australia.
In recent times, we have worked together in East Timor, where India has deployed police officers. We both contribute to the UN’s new peacekeeping effort in South Sudan.
Australia strongly believes that India, with its firm commitment to multilateralism, should have a permanent seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council. That world body must properly reflect the modern day.
I am pleased to be the first Australian Minister to visit India following the Labor Party’s decision last week to allow the export of uranium to India, a decision I strongly supported and spoke in favour of at the Party Conference. The decision has been warmly welcomed by Minister Antony, warmly welcomed by Indian officials and warmly welcomed by India.
The policy reform is recognition of both India’s entry into International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Suppliers Group regulation, and its rise as a significant world power and strategic partner to Australia.
India has made it clear since 1967 that it does not propose to enter into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
India has a strong record on non-proliferation and shares Australia’s commitment to addressing this critical challenge and to achieving our ultimate objective of nuclear disarmament.
The 2007 US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement was the significant step which brought India into the international civil nuclear regulatory regime.
Australia welcomed India's commitment to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities, its adherence to Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, its agreement to work towards the conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and its moratorium on nuclear testing.
With India’s strong non-proliferation record, together with its growing global strategic importance, it was time for the Labor Party to both modernise its Platform and strengthen our connection with India.
Other than the requirement of NPT membership, Australia will apply the same approach to India as we do to other countries to which we export uranium - a bilateral safeguards agreement, and conclusion of the IAEA Additional Protocol.
Next year Australian and Indian officials will start the detailed work on a bilateral safeguards agreement. Most importantly, from a policy perspective, we have removed what some saw as an irritant in our bilateral relationship.
I am pleased that Australia is doing more with India.
We are natural partners.
Australia is looking West as India is looking East.
Australia will continue to work hard to take India to the front-rank of our bilateral relationships.
We should build on our emerging strategic partnership. The Australian Government’s decision to remove the policy restrictions on uranium sales to India, along with the defence cooperation initiatives agreed during this visit to India, are natural next steps in taking our strategic partnership a step forward.
There is much that India and Australia can do together for regional security and stability, on a bilateral and a regional basis.
Australia’s relationship with India, including in strategic and Defence terms, is very much on track to Test match status. Together we must continue to build on our economic, political, strategic, defence and people to people links.
While we can expect to see robust competition on the cricket pitch and indeed the hockey field, our mutual strategic and political interests are numerous and significant.
We are natural and strategic partners in this the Asian Century.