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Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane. (PTI)
Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane. (PTI)

India’s approach to security must shift to a multilateral one: CDS Rawat

  • Rawat drew attention to the rise of China economically and militarily and its moves to increase its influence in the region which, he said, had attracted a lot of international attention

NEW DELHI: Chief of defence staff general Bipin Rawat on Friday called for strong regional linkages for India -- bilaterally, trilaterally and multilaterally -- to maintain its strategic autonomy and leverage in a “tough neighbourhood" and an “increasingly contested" Indian Ocean region.

Addressing the opening session of the two-day Global Dialogue Security Summit, organised by the Global Dialogue Forum think tankRawat said India’s approach to security must shift from unilateral to a multilateral one that should include increased training with partner nations to ensure a joint response to future challenges.

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Rawat drew attention to the rise of China economically and militarily and its moves to increase its influence in the region which, he said, had attracted a lot of international attention.

Noting that at present “over 120 warships of extra-regional forces are currently deployed in the Indian Ocean Region in support of various missions," Rawat also pointed to a “race of strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean Region which is only going to gain momentum in times to come."

Given India’s geography – sitting astride sea lanes of communication connecting the Suez Canal to the Straits of Malacca – the Indian Ocean Region and the larger Indo-Pacific were areas of interest for India, he said.

The comments come against the backdrop of China’s increasing aggressiveness in the region and increasing its influence in South Asia along India’s land and maritime peripheries. India considers South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region as lying within its spheres of influence. In recent years China has opened a military base in Djibouti besides building and controlling Gwadar port in Pakistan as part of its China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor project.

“Based on the challenges that we face as a rising regional power…we need to maintain our strategic autonomy, cooperative relations with extraregional powers underscored by strong regional linkages that would provide us with a greater degree of strategic leverage," Rawat said.

“We need to build upon other bilateral, trilateral and multilateral mechanisms," he said pointing to groups like India-Australia-Japan and India-US-Japan and India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

This was against the backdrop of the Indo-Pacific region lacking a comprehensive security architecture, he said, pointing to increasing challenges like maritime terrorism besides unregulated and unreported fishing – the last two seen as threats emanating from China.

India has been increasing its profile as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region – helping littoral states with hydrographic surveys against the rise of such Chinese activities. In recent weeks, the Indian Navy conducted maritime exercises with its counterparts from the US, Japan and Australia besides Singapore and Thailand as well as with Russia. In July, the Indian Navy conducted passage exercises or drills with passing warships of the US Navy's Nimitz Carrier Strike Group as the latter transited through the Indian Ocean on its way from the South China Sea where China has been seen as intimidating many of its smaller neighbours.

Rawat’s comments come days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov launched a broadside against Western countries accusing them of adopting an “aggressive and devious" policy to engage India “in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies."

India’s ties with China – though previously mired in suspicion – have deteriorated sharply since May when New Delhi discovered intrusions by China into Indian territory, Many rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic levels have not yielded results.

In his remarks, Rawat also said the world appeared to be on the brink of a new era as new centres of power and alliances based on geo-politics were emerging, putting pressure on the Bretton Woods institutions.

"Today, we are facing increasing security challenges, and to my mind, the best guarantor of peace and stability is to have dissuasive deterrence. For a nation like India, the security of land borders remained our primary concern," he added.

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