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Revitalizing the India- Korea Strategic Partnership

Friday, August 12th, 2016


Despite India’s new “ACT EAST" policy nothing seems to have changed on the ground as far as India’s engagement with the East is concerned. Actually in some cases, bilateral relations between some regional countries have gone from bad to worse.

Korea is such a case in point. Only a few years ago the trade growth rate between India and Korea was among the highest. Now it has come to be among the lowest. It used to be thirty percent a year, but now it has come down to around three percent a year, The trade target of $40 billion by 2015 is all but forgotten.By the end of 2015, trade was stagnant around $18 billion and the trade deficit against India is said to have reached $8 billion. Furthermore, CEPA has become completely dysfunctional. It has failed to provide any new impetus to the business relations between the two countries.

Similarly the strategic partnership seems to have completely collapsed and reached a dead end. India has been completely pushed out of strategic considerations for Korean defense policy. Korea has failed to get anywhere on the ongoing Quad Dialogue for East Asia among Indian policy makers and strategic thinkers.. What is more, current Indian policy in Korea has become completely ineffective, irrelevant, and failed to stop the further downward slide of India in Korea’s strategic thinking. Serious engagement on substantial issues of mutual interest seem to be seriously lacking. India-Korea strategic partnership have completely failed to have any preventative effect on the fast deteriorating "Balance of Forces" in the region.

Today the “Balance of Power ” is under serious challenge in the Indian Ocean. To stop the further deterioration of the situation, the USA has been attempting to rope in regional countries like India to help it save the day.

Although the recently signed “Logistics Support Agreement’ is a step in the right direction, it is too little too late. To save the emerging situation from total collapse, India needs to follow a proactive engagement policy in East Asia. Thus to help preserve the “balance of power” in the region India can to take the following steps:

First, help strengthen the trilateral USA-Japan–Korea alliance through various economic, diplomatic, defense and strategic measures . This trilateral alliance has been the bedrock of regional security for the last 60 years. India must do whatever it can to ensure that this trilateral alliance survives as long as possible deep into the second half of the twenty-first century. As long as this alliance is intact no regional navy, no matter how powerful it might be, can ever threaten the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. Today this important alliance is under serious stress and might collapse within a decade if something is not done soon to strengthen it, leaving the whole region vulnerable to military might of emerging regional power.

Second, develop closer naval ties with regional navies with changing “balance of forces’ in mind and strategic perspective. Ties need to be developed at both the bilateral and multilateral levels...The establishment of a multilateral defense alliance between major regional countries such as Korea. Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and India under the banner of ‘United for Free and Open Indian Ocean” (UFOIO) is strongly recommended.

Third, start developing Indian defense capabilities with East Asia in mind. So far India has been mainly focusing on Pakistan and China while preparing its defense doctrine and building its defense capabilities. It is high time for India to change the focus from Pakistan to East Asia. Today what is happening in East Asia is very crucial and, if ignored any longer, can have serious repercussions on Indian security.

Apart from developing multilateral alliances in the region, India also needs to focus on bilateral alliances with major regional countries such as Korea. India-Korea strategic partnership started with much promise, but as noted above has lost its momentum lately. There is an urgent need to take immediate steps toward keeping the great potential of this alliance alive.
Five principle components to revitalize the India-Korea Strategic Alliance could be the following:

First, both countries acknowledge that established regional order is under threat and that India or Korea separately cannot stop the fast changing “balance of forces” in the Indian Ocean and in the East Asian region at large. Thus developing the Common Situation Perception (CSP) between the two countries could be the starting point from which to build a long-term sustainable alliance.

Second, acknowledge that cooperation between the state-of-the-art Indian and Korean naval capabilities will be very critical for keeping the SLOCs open and free for use by all in the Indian Ocean. Developing the ‘Joint Conceptual Framework of Regional Defense’ (JCFRD) can have a positive effect on stabilizing the fast deteriorating situation in the region and can also reinvigorate the strategic alliance between the two countries.
Third, both countries acknowledge that the defense of the South China Sea is interconnected with the defense of the Bay of Bengal and the East & West Sea, and thus vital to develop a conceptual framework of ‘Inter Connecting of Strategic Interests” between India and Korea. It can help in building a stronger foundation to support a sustainable India-Korea defense cooperation for the longer term.

Fourth, both acknowledge cooperation between Japanese and Korean naval forces will be very critical in keeping the East and South China Sea open for international trade. Development of any serious differences between these two countries will have serious consequences for the whole region. India, who already has established trilateral security dialogue between India, Korea and Japan, needs to re-activate this dialogue in order to strengthen this trilateral cooperation.

Fifth, acknowledge the USA is fast losing its grip on the situation. The era of USA led East Asia is on the verge of ending. However India and Korea as strategic partners together must coordinate with the USA to keep the ‘balance of forces” in the region as long as possible deep into the future.

A lot will depend on how these two great Asian powers conduct themselves in regional diplomacy. Let us hope these two countries will rise to the occasion for the peace and prosperity of the whole world.

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