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Why Japan needs India as Strategic Partner?

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Writer: Dr Satoru Nagao

Why does Japan need India – asks the writer? Because India is likely to be a strong naval power. India will possess enough naval power to be projected as a significant naval power in the future. For example, the number of surface combatants whose full load displacement is more than 3,000 t has been increasing rapidly in the Indian Navy. The number was only 14 in 1990 which rose to 21 in 2012 and will reach 27 in 2013. Secondly, India’s strong naval power is expected to fill the power vacuum that a declining US is creating. Thirdly, India is trustworthy. India has exercised restraint in use of military power as a strategy in the past, most countries can trust India. A most cogent and dispassionate Japanese analysis of the strong need for a strategic partnership between India and Japan.

 


India has the potential to become a security provider in Southeast Asia. For example, India has the desired geographical potentiality. Historically, empires in subcontinent have not been able to project their land power far beyond South Asia because South Asia is surrounded by mountains. But as a naval power, the influential area of the Chola Empire could extend to Southeast Asia. The history of the Cholas has indicated that “Sea is open for India”. This implies that India has the potential to become a security provider for Southeast Asia

There are two reasons as to why India is perceived as a trustworthy partner by Japan, US, Australia and ASEAN. When we try to understand military strategy of other countries, we collect information by not only reading official documents but also by exchanging opinions between experts in and out of governments. Freedom of expression in India proves that experts can voice their complaints against government institutions freely. Thus, people can trust these experts in India

Nowadays, cooperation in military relations between Japan and India is becoming more and more plausible. Japan and India have already started a 2 + 2 dialogue (at secretary level) and an annual exercise called (JIMEX). It was the first time in 2012 that Japan participated in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). It is important to bear in mind that Japan has not entered into such kind of a deep security relationship with any other countries except US and Australia. This makes the military ties between Japan and India a very important exceptional case. But why does Japan need India? What kind of interest does Japan have in a tie-up with India? In my opinion, there are three reasons to account for this inclination.

 

India is likely to be a strong naval power

Firstly, India will possess enough naval power to be projected as a strong naval power in the future. For example, the number of surface combatants whose full load displacement is more than 3,000 t has been increasing rapidly in the Indian Navy. The number was only 14 in 1990 which rose to 21 in 2012 and will reach 27 in 2013. Generally, a big ship can operate in a wider area than smaller ones. As a “Blue Water Navy”, the capability of Indian Navy is improving rapidly.

Figure 1: The number of surface combatants *The load displacement is more than 3,000 t in the Indian Navy

Japan needs India to fill the power vacuum Secondly, India’s strong naval power is expected to fill the power vacuum that declining US is making. After the cold war, US lost the reason to maintain large number of warships in their navy. In 1990, US Navy possessed 15 aircraft carriers, 258 surface combatants and 127 submarines which included 126 nuclear submarines. However by 2012, US Navy consisted only of 11 aircraft carriers, 110 surface combatants and 72 nuclear submarines. And by next year, US will decrease one aircraft carrier and nine surface combatants though they will add one nuclear submarine. Despite what the US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, “By 2020, the navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50-50 per cent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60-40 split between those oceans”1, the number of deployed warships in the Pacific will be nearly the same in 2020 because the total number of warships are declining. This information implies that US power has been declining for the last 23 years and in theory, declining power leads to a power vacuum.

Firstly, India is likely to be strong a naval power. Secondly, India is expected to fill the vacuum made by declining US power. Thirdly, India is trustworthy. Thus, in Asia, Japan needs India to stabilise the region

On the other hand, China has been modernising their navy for the last 23 years. The Japanese White Paper of Defence points out that the nominal size of China’s announced national defence budget has more than doubled in size over the past five years and has grown approximately 30-fold over the past 24 years.2 Further, the focus of China’s military modernisation is navy and air force. As a result, Chinese Navy has been increasing their capability as “blue water navy”. This can be illustrated thus. In 1990, China possessed 55 surface combatants, 16 of those 55 are big warships which are more than 3,000 t of load displacement. By 2012, the total number of surface combatants has grown from 55 to 78 and 37 of those 78 are big ships. Generally, a big ship can operate in a wider area than a small ship. As a “Blue Water Navy”, the capability of Chinese Navy has been improving considerably. China also possess an aircraft carrier in 2012. Their submarine forces have modernised with the number of nuclear submarines that has increased from 5 to 10.

As a result, theoretically it can be concurred that China’s assertiveness in the West Pacific and in the Indian Ocean reflects this power shift in Asia. US needs an ally or a friendly country to fill the power vacuum as against China. For example, Mr Richard L Armitage, former US deputy secretary of state, pointed out that US needs ‘strong Japan’ when he published the report “US-Japan Alliance” co-authored by him and Prof Joseph S Nye of the Harvard University.3 As a “Natural Ally”4 or a “Linchpin”5, US needs a strong India too. Japan and India are candidates to fill the power vacuum in Asia. Hence, US would want to support the coalition of Japan and India.

Especially in India’s case, India has the potential to become a security provider in Southeast Asia. For example, India has the desired geographical potentiality. Historically, empires in subcontinent have not been able to project their land power far beyond South Asia because South Asia is surrounded by mountains. But as a naval power, the influential area of the Chola Empire could extend to Southeast Asia. The history of the Cholas has indicated that “Sea is open for India”. This implies that India has the potential to become a security provider for Southeast Asia.

India is trustworthy

Thirdly, India is trustworthy. There are two reasons as to why India is perceived as a trustworthy partner by Japan, US, Australia and ASEAN. When we try to understand military strategy of other countries, we collect information by not only reading official documents but also by exchanging opinions between experts in and out of governments. Freedom of expression in India proves that experts can voice their complaints against government institutions freely. Thus, people can trust these experts in India.

Because India has exercised restraint to use military power as a strategy in the past, most countries can trust India. Below is given a list of India’s military operations. This list proves that most of India’s operations are reactive and Indian Army has not crossed border since 1972 except for peacekeeping or peace building operations. India’s restraint to use force is a consistent strategy. Hence, for most countries, India’s perception is that of a trustworthy country.

India is an important partner for Japan

Finally, deducing from the arguments presented above, it can be concluded why Japan needs India as strategic partner. Firstly, India is likely to be a strong naval power. Secondly, India is expected to fill the vacuum made by declining US power. Thirdly, India is trustworthy. Thus, in Asia, Japan needs India to stabilise the region. However, there is still one question. Does India have the required will? Japan is waiting for India to show up as a great power in the world.

  1. “Leon Panetta: US to deploy 60% of navy fleet to Pacific” (BBC, 2 June 2012).
    Web source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18305750
  2. Japan Ministry of Defence, Defence of Japan 2012, Part 1 Chapter1 Session
  3. Web source: http://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/pdf/2012/07_Part1_Chapter1_Sec3.pdf
    “Video: The Armitage-Nye Report: US-Japan Alliance: Anchoring Stability in Asia”, Center for Strategic and International Studies (2012).
  4. Web source: http://csis.org/multimedia/videothe-armitage-nye-report-us-japan-alliance-anchoring-stability-asia 4. “India a natural ally of US: Pentagon” (The Times of India, 23rd November 2010).
    Web source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-a-natural-ally-of-US-Pentagon/articleshow/6974025.cms
  5. Rajat Pandit and Sachin Parashar, “US, China woo India for control over Asia-Pacific” (The Times of India, 7th June 2012).
    Web source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-06-07/india/32100282_1_asia-pacific-defence-cooperation-defence-secretary
  6. Satoru Nagao, “The Emerging India is Not a Threat, Why?: An Assessment from Japan” Asia Pacific Journal of Social Science, Vol. III, July-December 2012, pp. 99-109. In this list, I have divided India’s military operations into three categories. Firstly, ‘Active’ or ‘Reactive’, referring to who sent combat troops first. Secondly, there are five types of operations, 1. ‘Limited war’ (The probabilities of total wars may have reduced after World War II. Thus, most wars are limited wars), 2. ‘Coercive diplomacy’ (Coercive diplomacy is one kind of diplomatic persuasion by using military intimidation and coercive diplomacy is not war or deterrence. In a war, one country compels its opponent by using military operation. In coercive diplomacy, it attempts to persuade the opponent. “Whereas deterrence represents an effort to dissuade an opponent from undertaking an action that has not yet been initiated, coercive diplomacy attempts to reverse actions which have already been undertaken by adversary”), 3. ‘Peace building’ (Peace building is forceful operation for peacekeeping), 4. ‘Peacekeeping’ (Peacekeeping is military operation based by agreement of all warring parties); and 5. “Counterinsurgency” (domestic operation to maintain law and order). Thirdly, ‘Area of operation’, which refers to ‘Inside’ or ‘Outside’ of India when India started the operation.Web source: http://isapsindia.org/APJSS/6.5.%20Satoru%20Nagao.pdf (accessed on 31 August 2012).

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