Australia, India sign new defense agreements

Australia, India sign new defense agreements

Joseph Hammond

India and Australia have signed two critical defense agreements that underscore the growing defense cooperation between the states and their partners.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) approved by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is similar to an agreement the latter signed with the United States in 2016. The deal calls for a comprehensive strategic partnership.

“At the prime ministers’ virtual summit, two landmark defense arrangements were signed, the MLSA and the Defense Science and Technology Implementing Arrangement,” a spokesperson with Australia’s Department of Defence told FORUM. “The MLSA will pave the way for deeper and more sophisticated military cooperation between India and Australia, enabling more complex military interoperability and greater combined responsiveness to regional humanitarian disasters.” (Pictured: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participate in a virtual summit.)

The documents, signed June 4, 2020, cover regional security and other issues of mutual concern, including cyber security and terrorism. As part of a vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, they call on the countries to combat “marine litter and single-use plastic waste, and target illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.” The broad-ranging agreements also includes a framework for several new economic and societal agreements.

“Both countries share the vision of an open, free, rules-based Indo-Pacific region supported by inclusive global and regional institutions that promote prosperous, stable and sovereign states on the basis of shared interests,” a joint statement from the countries said.

The two nations, along with Japan and the U.S., comprise a regional group known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which dates to 2007.

The first ministerial-level meeting of the four nations occurred in 2019 when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted his three counterparts on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, according to the U.S. Department of State.

“The MLSA is a reflection of the deepening India-Australia security partnership,” said Sameer Patil, an international security studies fellow at the foreign policy think tank Gateway House. “The rationale for such an agreement is actually in the developments in the last few years where aggressive actions of China have threatened the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. This agreement will be particularly beneficial for the Indian Navy as it enables its access to the Australian ports.”

Patil, who previously worked as a civilian intelligence analyst at India’s National Security Council Secretariat, said the agreement was not tied to the recent border clashes between India and China.

The MLSA “was supposed to have been signed during the India-Australia summit scheduled at the beginning of this year, which got postponed first because of the Australian bushfire crisis and then because of the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Patil said.

Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor reporting from the Indo-Pacific region.