In considering the Indo-Pacific, it is not enough for India and other democracies to deter the disruptor, or “le perturbateur”, in Admiral Castex’s terminology, that China has become. What must be discovered is what positive bonds connect such a variety of vigorous democracies over vast reaches of ocean. What things might connect the United States, Japan and India, Australia and New Zealand, beyond circumstance ?
What is India to Australasia and Australasia to India ? In the first the missing depth to Nicholas Spykman’s Rimland doctrine. The Chinese think in terms of chokepoints and strangleholds. Our task is to deter so as to relax such grips, and as Canakya pointed out in the Arthshastra in the Mauryan period, circumvallation and circumvention are the ways. Spykman’s doctrine sounds like a perpetual bandage or compress or swab is applied to Asia or the Eurasian Heartland, of Halford Mackinder. Both India and Australasia disclose depth and not just arcs of island chains.
Throughout its history, India has been the source of new states abroad. This has been the case whether Indians or Indian governments intended this or not, whether governments in India have been indigenous or occupying powers. One class of state are the South East nations, and states of the Bahasa-speaking nations, which received Sanskritic, Buddhistic and Islamic civilisations from India. A second class are island nations in the Indian Ocean like Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Then there are those islands and countries to which India sent migrants in the British period – Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana.
But the prime fact of British power is that the British colonies in Southern Africa and Australasia would not have been possible without India as the strategic keystone. However it is always in the interest of a great power external to the Indian Ocean to keep its assets and allies divided from each other and to rule through bilaterals. The British sharply divided administration between the Colonial Office ( and later the Dominions Office) and the East India Company, and later the India Office and ” Government of India” which we term the Raj. Any other ambitious external power would seek divide and rule as well. We democracies must discover each other all over again and find common interests beyond the immediate challenge to peace.
The thing to note is that India did not need to export a civilisation and project soft-power for Australasia and Southern Africa to develop as they have done. India exported a civilisation to SE Asia, but it did not build states in Australasia. Yet the geopolitical structure of the Indian Ocean is such, that India was able to be the mainstay of British power, without needing an Indian ecumene to do this. This lesson holds for our time as well.
Still, there are features of cultural soft-power that India may project. Australians and New Zealanders share the British craving for Indian cuisine. Thanks to pioneering Indian restauranteurs and chefs, Australian and New Zealand wines are an agreeable accompaniment to Indian cuisine. Cricket amounts to a mania in India and Australia and New Zealand. We share no team sports with either China or the United States.
Then we come to the intangible assets of Indian Religion and Thought. Australia and New Zealand have been exposed to Hindu and Buddhist ideas for a few generations now. The concrete result of this otherwise vague sympathy and respect, is that India is a wise and dialogical civilisation, firm, precise, truth-seeking. The essence of a true democracy is the combination rule of law and the sovereign will of the people. It must be possible for courts to find against the Government. This is quite a contrast to dialectical aggression always seeking a tipping point, and never ceasing unless it is met with and contained.
In practical terms the TPP may be considered as an outreach to Australia and New Zealand, or otherwise FTAs with them such as India and Japan enjoy. Defence ties and coordination should be explored.
Australasia should also be considered as a four-part quadrilateral. First – the middle power of Australia, a nation state of considerable intellectual capital and economic power that offers synergies with India and Japan. Then the nations of what the French conveniently call ” Papouasie” – Papua New Guinea and the Melanesian nations. Thirdly New Zealand offers a small nation of Nordic capabilities and virtues, and an exceptional settlement in domestic race relations, through the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) as the compact between Government and Maori. This is a peace and reconciliation similar in spirit to those in India’s heritage. Finally Oceania – Fiji with its Indian population, and the island nations and microstates of the Pacific. Indian partnership would be invaluable in persuading island nations that Australian and New Zealand interest in them is not neo-colonial, or neo-imperialist.
An India Foundation with Australian, New Zealand and Fijian branches or chapters could be formed. A well-regarded civic minded professional and commercial Indian community has existed in New Zealand for example since the 1920s. Such a Foundation would serve as an International Relations institute, a counterpart perhaps to the Australia-New Zealand School of Government, and facilitate the exchange of soft-power and trade between our countries. The problem with the Spykman doctrine is that it reduces countries in an arc from Korea and Japan to India to a compress or bandage on China. It confirms the Sinocentric view of Beijing. It reduces India to being circumferential and NZ to a link to Antarctica on the ” third island chain”.
This is one-dimensional. NZ is a small world. India is more than a world. It is an alternative universe and a major power. We must deny circumferentiality. We must insist on the depth and extent our projections into the Ocean give us.
Even with respect to India’s neighbours, the Gujral doctrine was surely naive and optimistic ?
India, Australia and NZ need to become colleagues on the Antarctic, to resist disruption such as was manifest at CCAMLR in Hobart.
( Bernard Cadogan is a New Zealand scholar and policy analyst who held design key components of his country’s foreign policy qparts of NZ Foreign Policy during 2018-19 and influenced its Brexit policy over 2015-16. He advised UK PM David Cameron on Scotland in 2014. )