China’s ascent as a global superpower has undeniably reshaped the power dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
The Indo-Pacific region is currently undergoing a transformative period in its geopolitical landscape, as India and South Korea seek to enhance their defence cooperation in response to a host of emerging threats and challenges. In this evolving scenario, both India and South Korea are compelled to depart from their traditional security approaches and acknowledge new emerging imperatives. This shift is bolstering their defence cooperation, enabling them to navigate the complex emerging dynamics of the region.
China’s ascent as a global superpower has undeniably reshaped the power dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. With its increasingly assertive foreign policy, economic clout, and expansive military presence, China has raised concerns among neighbouring nations. The South China Sea has become a focal point of regional contention, with China asserting its territorial claims and engaging in territorial disputes with neighbouring states. The maritime domain is a critical strategic area for India, given its economic and security interests.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the unpredictability of its leadership have also contributed to regional instability. The hermit kingdom’s missile tests and nuclear program pose a significant security challenge for South Korea and other nations in the region.
Russia’s growing engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the context of its strategic alignment with China, raises additional security concerns. The conflict in Ukraine has intensified tensions between Russia and the West, with far-reaching implications for the Asian region. Recent disclosures that North Korea supplied Russia with a substantial quantity of munitions and weapons for use in the Ukrainian war introduce a new element into the rapidly changing dynamics of the region, placing pressure on regional countries to reconsider their security policies. By collaborating with South Korea, India can enhance its position in the Indo-Pacific in this rapidly changing security environment in the region and contribute to regional peace and stability.
UPGRADING INDIA-KOREA DEFENCE COOPERATION
To address these multifaceted challenges, India and South Korea need to focus more strongly on several key areas of defence cooperation to make this strategic partnership effective in maintaining the status quo and peace and stability in the region.
One of the primary goals of this enhanced cooperation must be the establishment of a stronger and larger framework for joint defence policy and strategy. So far, there has been limited progress in this area, and it is imperative for India and Korea to begin developing a broader framework for joint defence policy alignment. Sharing experiences and insights in managing evolving regional dynamics and shaping a coherent and coordinated approach towards common challenges can greatly benefit both nations. This collaboration will enable both nations to respond more effectively to the changing security landscape and encourage other smaller nations to join the coordinated effort.
Building strong military-to-military relations is essential for the success of any defence partnership. Here, again, significant progress is still required. Expediting the process of building strong military-to-military relations is crucial. Given the rapidly shifting balance of forces in the region, India and South Korea should aim for expanded exchanges between their armed forces, including high-level dialogues, joint training exercises, and personnel exchanges to elevate this relationship to the next level. This exchange of knowledge and experience can lead to a more synchronised and effective response to security threats.
In an age where technology plays a pivotal role in defence, promoting defence technology exchange and innovation is crucial. Both countries need to explore avenues for sharing advanced defence technologies, jointly developing defence systems, and investing in research and development with a strategic perspective. Collaborative projects in this field will not only strengthen their respective defence capabilities but also lead to a thriving defence industry in both countries.
Space, cyber threats, and information warfare are among the new security challenges of our times. With the growing significance of space and cyber domains in modern warfare, India and Korea must work more closely together to address these challenges. Currently, their cooperation is progressing too slowly to be effective in matching the capabilities of rivals. Developing joint strategies to counter space-based threats and strengthen cybersecurity is essential. Information warfare security collaboration is crucial to protect sensitive defence information and communication systems. Both countries can benefit by creating dedicated special-purpose vehicles to streamline cooperation in these emerging areas.
Streamlining logistics and procurement processes is another important area where both countries need to strengthen their groundwork. Efficient logistics and procurement processes are fundamental to ensuring smooth operations in the defence sector. As recent Indian experience has shown, the Korean procurement process is still stuck in a Cold War mentality and can be challenging to navigate. The Korean Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) needs to adapt its approach when dealing with its Indian counterparts. By streamlining these procedures and collaborating on joint ventures, India and Korea can reduce unnecessary delays and costs, ultimately making their armed forces more agile and capable.
Given the growing threats in the Indian Ocean and surrounding seas, stronger coordination of naval forces is urgently needed. Coordinating joint naval exercises and training programs will further enhance the interoperability of their naval forces. This will not only strengthen the tactical capabilities of their armed forces but also serve as a powerful deterrent against potential threats.
INDIA-KOREA DEFENCE FORUM
Amidst the multitude of challenges and cooperative endeavours, there is an undeniable need for a high-level platform to establish a structured framework for fostering continuous dialogue between the two nations. The conceived India-Korea Defence Forum, in addition to serving as a platform for strategy formulation and decision-making, can play a vital role in addressing the intricate geopolitical shifts and threats in the region, ultimately contributing to the elevation of their strategic partnership and the maintenance of regional stability. To propel their defence partnership to the next level, there is an urgent imperative for the establishment of this forum.
Beyond its role as a high-level platform for strategizing and decision-making, this forum should serve as an institutional framework for their defence experts, officials, and policymakers to systematically and regularly exchange ideas. This endeavour will not only bring the defence community closer but will also enhance their capacity to effectively respond to evolving challenges and opportunities, ensuring the durability and adaptability of the relationship in the years to come.This forum is poised to become the institutional backbone for ongoing dialogues and cooperation, providing a structured platform to deliberate, plan, and execute various defence initiatives, thereby fostering a more robust and enduring strategic partnership.
The establishment of a robust India-Korea Defence Forum constitutes the natural progression in the enhancement of their defence partnership, serving as a cornerstone in the bolstering of regional stability. The inception of such a forum symbolises a proactive and forward-thinking strategy, aimed at reinforcing their joint capacity to counter nascent threats while nurturing a climate of harmonious security within the region.
By focusing more on defence policy, strategy, technology exchange, and innovation, as well as addressing non- traditional and modern security challenges, streamlining logistics, and coordinating joint exercises, rather than just focusing on defence trade and defence investments, we can meet the challenges of the future more effectively and successfully. Thus, there is an urgent need to liberate India-Korea defence cooperation from the prevailing mindset that defence cooperation means big profits for big firms. We have to look beyond something bigger than that. The evolving regional dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region necessitate a deeper and more sophisticated approach to defence cooperation for our two countries.It is noteworthy that India maintains a dedicated defence mission in Seoul. However, there exists an imperative need to further augment its operational effectiveness, thereby yielding substantive outcomes. Unfortunately, the past few years have witnessed numerous missed opportunities. Given the evolving circumstances, it is crucial for India to strengthen its defence mission and draw valuable lessons from past shortcomings. As both nations continue to develop and expand their defence capabilities, a stronger India-Korea strategic partnership will be pivotal in safeguarding their interests and promoting peace in the region. A well-structured defence partnership with South Korea is not only in our national interests but also contributes to the greater good of regional and global security. United we stand.
The writer is the Director of Peace & Security Studies at the Asia Institute in Seoul.