Thursday, July 25, 2024

A Strategic Impression: 2+2 Dialogue

By Admiral Sunil Lanba (r)

Adm. Sunil Lanba, Former Indian Navy Chief

A ‘two plus two dialogue’ is a term adopted in foreign engagement as a mechanism for dialogue between the defence and external affairs ministries of countries with the aim of establishing a diplomatic approach based on a holistic overview of the environment to address an approach on security, issues and strategic interests. The 2+2 ministerial dialogue enables the partners to understand and appreciate each other’s strategic concerns and sensitivities, taking into account political factors on both sides, in order to build a stronger, more integrated strategic relationship in a rapidly changing global environment. India has 2+2 dialogues with four key strategic partners: the USA, Australia, Japan, and Russia. 

The inaugural 2+2 dialogue was held with the USA on 6 Sep 2018, Japan on 30 Nov 2019, Australia on 11 Sep 2021 and Russia on 6 Dec 2021. A dialogue partner hosts the meeting yearly. The USA is India’s oldest and, in my opinion, the most important partner. 

The first 2+2 dialogue between The US and India was held during the last administration in September 2018 in New Delhi. The dialogue was seen as a “reflection of the shared commitment” by India and the USA to provide “a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-US strategic partnership and to promote synergy in their diplomatic and security efforts”, especially in the Indo Pacific region. The second and third editions of the 2+2 dialogues were held in Washington DC and New Delhi in 2019 and 2020, all of which have produced a number of tangible results. India and USA have signed the three foundational agreements of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, which was followed by the Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 as part of the first dialogue and the third, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020 for deeper military cooperation and engagement. 

The strengthening of the mechanisms of cooperation between the USA and India and their militaries is significant in the context of an increasingly aggressive China, which threatens countries in its neighbourhood and beyond and has been challenging established norms and international rules. The fourth 2+2 dialogue took place in Washington on 10 Apr 2022, where the leaders of the two nations joined and set the tone of the world’s two major democracies willing to work around their divergences/differences to arrive at mutually acceptable outcomes. Despite the differences over the Russia-Ukraine crisis, India and the USA have committed to build on the momentum of recent years and not lose sight of the larger strategic picture. 

The defence partnership has continued to grow, and new avenues of cooperation have been identified in the Indo-Pacific. The relationship between the militaries is unmatched and continues to deepen with growing engagements, exercises and exchanges. The dialogue saw the signing of the memorandum of understanding on space situational awareness, and new opportunities to extend the operational reach of the militaries and coordinate more closely in the expanse of the Indo-Pacific were also identified.

Similarly, India and Japan are important partners in the Indo-Pacific. Japan was the second country after the US, with which India is engaged in a 2+2 dialogue which has been initiated as a mechanism to advance the ‘special strategic and global partnership’ agreed upon in 2014 between India and Japan. It adds to the already existing mechanisms for strengthening defence and security cooperation. Crucial issues of common concerns and interests, including maritime safety and security, shared objective of peace, prosperity and progress in the Indo-Pacific and identifying mechanisms and ways to deepen strategic defence and security cooperation, were discussed during the inaugural dialogue. India and Japan have also signed the crucial logistic agreement, ‘Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement’ in September 2020 with the goal of enhancing the operational capabilities and reach of each Navy.

Australia and India enjoy a growing relationship, which was elevated to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ in 2020, and a Free Trade Agreement was signed recently. The growing maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific have brought the two nations closer. Australia has been included in the Malabar Exercise besides the annual AUS-India maritime exercise. The 2+2 dialogue is the right platform to take this relationship forward and ensure a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Australia is fully committed to QUAD, which has been reinvigorated in the past four years, with summit level meetings taking place between the leaders of the nations. 

The inaugural 2+2 dialogue with Russia took place on 6 Dec 2021 in New Delhi. Russia is a long-standing strategic partner of India and has shared innovative technology with India, including nuclear submarines. Russia’s war in Ukraine has global ramifications; however, India has maintained a neutral position on the Ukraine crisis and has consistently called for a dialogue to end the hostilities, not condemned Russia and abstained from voting in the UN. India’s approach is underpinned by clear principles that it holds dear in the Indo-Pacific and which are applicable in the Ukraine crisis, respect for territorial integrity and the sovereignty of States, the UN Charter, and international law. India’s stand has been in line with safeguarding its strategic interests to emerge as a leading player in the rapidly changing international order and system.

For the last two months, the world has turned its attention to the war in Ukraine. It appears the conflict will turn into an extended one, and a solution may be found through diplomacy and dialogue. However, the major strategic challenge for India is in the Indo-Pacific, where the focus must continue. USA, Japan and Australia are also members of the QUAD, and the four members share a lot in common regarding the strategic challenges facing the region. The joint statement issued post the summit of the leaders in March 2021 committed to ‘‘promoting a free, open, rule-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values and territorial integrity. We commit to working together and with a range of partners.’’ Experts and officials have continued to meet regularly, and such meetings of heads of Defence and Foreign Ministries/Department at regular intervals keep the focus on the pressing issues facing the Indo Pacific Region. The first in-person summit of the leaders of QUAD was hosted by President Biden on 24 Sep 21. The four leaders unveiled a slate of new initiatives on a range of pressing global issues — from climate change and COVID-19 to technology, infrastructure and education and formalised plans to meet annually. 

The Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use will guide the region and the world toward responsible, open, high-standards innovation. A space cooperation working group to exchange satellite data for monitoring and adapting to climate change, disaster preparedness, and responding to challenges in shared domains was set up by the leaders, and the next summit is proposed by the Prime Minister of Japan in Tokyo on 24 May 2022.

The 2+2 format has been conducive to creating a mechanism whereby the strategic arm of government in the foreign and defence ministers can produce tangible outcomes while being cognizant of strategic sensitivities and foreign policy stances. Both the QUAD engagement and the 2+2 dialogue have ensured that there is a focus on the Indo-Pacific Region, which is of vital national interest to India. The economic and security areas are directly linked to the Indo-Pacific and remain the driving force for the focus.  


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