India's Security Crossroads

Asia House

Article by Caitlin Brophy. This article was originally published on Asia House.

Image Courtesy of: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor.

In the near future, India may be forced to make an important decision. The choice will likely affect not only India, but the entire Asian continent.  The future of India’s national security policies is at a crossroads, with two serious contenders for closer security ties: Japan, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation led by China and Russia.

On the one hand, relations with Japan have increased dramatically in the past decade, and will likely improve under the new Prime Minster, Shinzo Abe’s Pro-Indian administration.  Japan’s recent decision to increase defense spending by 0.8% to 4.68 trillion yen (US$51.7 billion) may prove a boon to India as well as the fact that the two nations participated in joint naval exercises this past summer.  A strong alliance between these two countries would have an impact on the South China Sea, an important corridor between India and Japan, and a current flashpoint in Asian politics. Such an alliance would benefit US interests as well, and Abe has already noted that including India and Australia into the existing US-Japan alliance would be beneficial for the region.

But Japan is not the only alliance partner seeking to woo India.

The relationship between India and Russia has long been based on defense ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to India improved these ties, as India entered a deal to purchase an excess of US$3.5 billion in Russian arms.  This agreement is only one in a long string of such deals, and India has often chosen to cooperate with the Russians instead of the US in such transactions.

In addition, maintaining a close relationship with Russia provides another opportunity for India: support for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Central Asian regional organisation that has brought together not only Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, but also China.  The SCO has been credited with solving the border issues between China and four of her western neighbours. Russia has long supported India’s ascension from observer state to full member of the SCO, and, with the protocols for the admission of new members finally in place, 2013 provides the best opportunity as Russia holds the organisation’s presidency.

India could gain much from this alliance. For one, it could have closer ties to Russia; and secondly it could gain more access to the energy resources of the Central Asian member states. Moreover, such a move would connect India and China at a forum known for solving border disputes, possibly bringing about an end to this issue between the two countries. China has, in the past year, also supported the idea of India’s ascension  into the SCO. Overall, with China supporting the ascension of fellow SCO Observer State Pakistan (with whom India has recently been teetering on the edge of open hostility once again) into full membership, the danger of not embracing the SCO could be risky.

With tensions rising in East Asia, becoming further engrossed in either a US-Japan treaty, or fully joining the Chinese and Russian led SCO may temper relations between India and the snubbed group.  Whatever India’s final choice may be, there is much at stake across the continent, and all eyes will be on India to decide the course of security strategies in the Indo-Pacific region.

All views and perspectives are the author’s own.

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