Auckland, Thursday, 26 July 2018
In a historic first, three Indian naval warships are currently in Western Pacific for a joint military exercise with the United States of America and Japan.
This is the first time for the Indian Navy to participate in a military exercise in Guam in the Western Pacific – a region for long considered as distant, if not remote from India’s mainland, and a region which is undoubtedly in very close proximity, if not precisely the backyard of New Zealand.
It is certain that this participation by the Indian Navy in Western Pacific would undoubtedly be seen as capability demonstration by states in the region and the broader strategic community.
It is important to acknowledge that in international diplomacy, the presence of naval ships in and around a country’s strategic space is perceived differently.
However, given the warm people to people and political relations between New Zealand and India, especially against the backdrop of growing size of the Indian community in New Zealand, any presence of naval ships in each other’s strategic space is bound to generate great bonhomie between the two countries.
Although Guam is located at a distance of some 7000 kilometres from New Zealand, from security-perspective, the Indian naval ships are in a strategic space that New Zealand security planners would call as their own.
Tightening the New Zealand bond
Indian naval vessels have been closer within New Zealand waters than the current deployment in Western Pacific and have been a great force-multiplier in enhancing bilateral ties between the two countries
In November 2016, the Indian Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel INS Sumitra was in Auckland to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s International Naval Fleet Review.
In more recent times, the Indian Navy’s first all-women naval vessel, INS Tarini was in Christchurch and was able to generate an unparalleled exuberance within Indian community in New Zealand and an equal sense of appreciation from the officials of Royal New Zealand Navy, who were great hosts for the Indian women naval officers.
The fortnight-long halt of the Indian women naval officers was a great period of demonstration of India’s soft power in the region.
In contrast, the current presence of Indian naval warships in the Western Pacific is more a display of hard-power, than soft-power in international relations.
It is certain that the presence of Indian naval warship in Western Pacific would be seen as capability-demonstration, by states in the region and the wider strategic community.
The presence of the Indian naval warships in Western Pacific, though not completely unprecedented, is definitely a first to participate in a joint military exercise.
A Unique Honour
Another first related with Indian naval warships’ participation in the mega military exercise Malabar which began on Thursday (July 26) is a unique honour of being the first major international operation in the United States’ Pacific Command, which has been renamed as ‘Indo-Pacific Command.’
In a major move, that is certain to change the current direction of geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region, a region to which New Zealand belongs, the American Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had made the announcement of changing the name of the US Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command at the prestigious Shangri-La Dialogue on Thursday, May 31, 2018.
Developing Indo-Pacific Command
Experts are of the opinion that this announcement has enormous potential in shaping the development of ‘Indo-Pacific’ – a region that puts the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean together as one coherent strategic theatre – a move that will accentuate India’s primacy in the region.
It was a momentous announcement, given the fact that US Pacific Command has been in existence since last 70 years as a unified combatant command of the US Armed Forces responsible for the greater Pacific region and a great pillar on which definition of ‘Asia-Pacific’ region with international politics rested.
There is an expectation, especially among those who expect India’s uninterrupted rise in the international system that this move will abet India’s overall position.
Regardless of what happens in future, the recent international diplomacy emanating from Singapore, in Shangri-La Dialogue, and the presence of Indian naval warships in a joint military exercise in the Western Pacific has enough to rejoice the Indian community in this part of the world.
The above article was sent to us by Carl James, who served the Indian Navy from 1967 and following retirement in 1990, was employed in Merchant Navy. He lives in Auckland.
An Indian Naval Warship in Singapore
(Picture Courtesy: Indian Navy)