- The Significance of the ADMM-Plus:A Perspective from India
India sees a role for itself in shaping Asia’s emerging security and economic architecture. The Indian view, stated clearly by Shri Anil Wadhwa, then secretary (east) in the Ministry of External Affairs, is that “the regional security architecture should be open, transparent, inclusive and evolutionary; should respect the diversity of the region; as well as be coterminous with the boundaries of the EAS [East Asia Summit].”1 This essay will first look at the security challenges India perceives in the Asia-Pacific before examining India’s cooperation with ASEAN and involvement in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus). The third section will then discuss India’s involvement in other regional forums and make some comparisons with the ADMM-Plus.
India’s Perception of Its Present Security Challenges
From India’s perspective, security is a prerequisite for internal cohesion, economic development, and consolidation. According to Secretary Wadhwa, “India’s primary interest is to create an enabling external environment for the economic progress of the country.”2 Unless there is regional security, economic development cannot be envisaged.
At the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue, Manohar Parrikar identified three key challenges to India’s security: territorial disputes that could degenerate into military conflict, terrorism, and protection of the maritime domain. Emphasizing the third challenge, he went on to state that “by virtue of geographical location, the Indo-Pacific is the crossroads of [the] world’s maritime traffic. Over half of the world’s commercial shipping passes through these waterways.”3 Any adventurism would disrupt the process [End Page 96] of economic growth and development not only for India but for the broader region. Earlier, addressing the third ADMM-Plus in Kuala Lumpur, Parrikar referred to the seas and oceans as “critical enablers of our prosperity.” 4
The maritime challenge affects India directly, as the bulk of its trade is via maritime routes and thus requires freedom of navigation and the security of sea lines of communication. Even though India is not a party to any of the disputes in the South China Sea, it has a significant stake in the stability of the region because any conflict would disrupt the flow of trade and supplies. India is therefore carefully watching to see how the parties will react to the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Philippines’ arbitration case against China’s nine-dash line claim, which is still pending at the time of writing. To resolve a maritime dispute between India and Bangladesh, in July 2014 the court awarded Bangladesh 19,467 square kilometers of sea area in the Bay of Bengal, and New Delhi readily accepted the decision. A verdict that re-establishes trust in international law and norms on maritime issues is the best outcome that India can hope to see in the case involving China and the Philippines.
To address challenges in the maritime domain, the Indian Navy has stepped up its activities in regional waters. The Indian Navy released its maritime security strategy Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy at the Naval Commanders’ Conference in October 2015, which replaced and updated the 2007 strategy. India was a founding member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. It also founded the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in 2009, which provides a forum to discuss issues that have a bearing on maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. The symposium includes 35 countries as members and has become a dialogue partner of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Moreover, the Indian Navy has adopted a proactive approach to maritime security by organizing the 2016 International Fleet Review (its second ever) and the Milan (“confluence”) exercises in the Bay of Bengal.
India’s Cooperation with ASEAN and Participation in the ADMM-Plus
In conjunction with greater U.S.-India cooperation and the U.S. rebalance to Asia, New Delhi’s cooperative approach has served to reduce [End Page 97] the distance between India and ASEAN and fostered India’s commitment to playing a role in the emerging security architecture in the Asia-Pacific. At the summit level, relations with ASEAN have been growing since 2002...