India’s defense strategy aims to shape a secure and collaborative Indo-Pacific
Emphasizing the critical role of dialogue and diplomacy in global peace, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has reiterated India’s unwavering commitment to the principles of freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters.
He was addressing the 10th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday (November 16, 2023).
This assertion aligns with international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, establishing India’s position as a responsible maritime power.
At the high-profile gathering, Singh highlighted ASEAN's central role in fostering regional dialogue and consensus, calling for collaborative efforts among ASEAN and Plus countries to ensure peace, prosperity, and security in the region. His address echoed Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos: “there is no way to peace, peace is the only way,” emphasizing the importance of peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
Defence Minister Singh stressed that enduring global peace and stability are achievable through constructive dialogue and diplomacy, advocating for a departure from divisive “us versus them” mindsets. He pointed out the devastating impact of conflicts, which not only claim human lives and destroy livelihoods but also destabilize regions and affect critical sectors like food and energy security.
India’s proposal to co-chair the Expert Working Group (EWG) on Counter-Terrorism was endorsed by ADMM-Plus. This reflects a shared understanding of the grave threat terrorism poses to international peace, including in the ASEAN region. The decision marks a pivotal moment for India’s active role in shaping regional counter-terrorism strategies.
Further strengthening its ties with ASEAN, India has actively participated in various initiatives, such as the Initiative for Women in UN Peacekeeping Operations and the Initiative for Marine Plastic Pollution Response. Moreover, the enthusiastic participation of ASEAN Member States in the inaugural ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise in May this year, as well as in the EWG on Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief (HADR) activities, co-chaired by India and Indonesia, signifies growing regional cooperation.
India's emphasis on maritime security is especially pertinent given the strategic significance of sea lanes in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. By championing freedom of navigation and overflight, India aligns itself with nations concerned about the increasing maritime assertiveness observed in these waters. This stance offers reassurance to ASEAN countries, fostering an environment conducive to the unimpeded flow of commerce and upholding the principles of international maritime law.
India's multifaceted cooperation with ASEAN extends beyond traditional defense realms. The focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) activities, co-chaired by India and Indonesia, highlights India’s capacity and willingness to provide assistance during natural calamities, an all-too-common challenge in the region.
India's leadership in co-chairing the Expert Working Group on Counter-Terrorism reflects its commitment to combating a threat that transcends national boundaries. By actively engaging in this area, India contributes to a regional security architecture that addresses the complex challenges of terrorism and violent extremism. This role is crucial for the stability of a region that has witnessed varied manifestations of terrorist activities.
On the sidelines of the ADMM-Plus, Singh also engaged in pivotal bilateral discussions with his Indonesian and Vietnamese counterparts. In his meeting with Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, Singh commended Indonesia's leadership in ASEAN and discussed ways to enhance bilateral defense relations, especially in the maritime domain. They reviewed ongoing defense engagements, including training, staff talks, exercises, and explored avenues for defense industry collaboration.
With Vietnam’s Minister of National Defence General Phan Van Giang, the talks revolved around the ‘Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defence Partnership towards 2030’. Both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to deepen multifaceted bilateral defense ties, covering training, capacity building, defense industry cooperation, UN Peacekeeping, and bilateral naval visits and exercises.
Singh’s engagements at the ADMM-Plus and his bilateral meetings improve India’s strategic focus on strengthening defense and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The endorsement to co-chair the EWG on Counter-Terrorism, coupled with enhanced bilateral defense dialogues, positions India as a key player in shaping regional security architectures.