The comments on the strategic landscape came at the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), being attended by military leaders from 30 countries, ‘Hindustan Times’ informs.
“The region faces a complex web of security challenges, including boundary disputes. The need to comprehensively deal with these challenges has led to the full involvement of the states in the region, with all their organisations, including their armies,” Indian Defence minister Rajnath Singh (photo) said in his inaugural speech at the 13th IPACC, hosted by India and the US.
Rajnath Singh pointed out that states must recognise that global issues involve multiple stakeholders and no one country can address these challenges in isolation.
The defence minister said peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific can be achieved in consonance with the ancient Indian ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family).
Singh emphasised that the Indo-Pacific is no more a maritime construct, but a full-fledged geo-strategic construct, and the region is facing a complex web of security challenges, including boundary disputes and piracy.
He explained his vision for the region through a theoretical model by American author Stephen R Covey, which is based on two circles – ‘Circle of Concern’ and ‘Circle of Influence’.
“There may be instances when the ‘Circle of Concern’ of different nations overlap with each other. International maritime trade routes passing through high seas, beyond the exclusive economic zones of any country, are relevant examples,” he said.
“This can either result in conflict between nations or they can decide to coexist by mutually deciding the rules of engagement. The concept of these circles underscores the importance of strategic thinking and prioritisation,” he added.
Singh pointed out that states must recognise that global issues involve multiple stakeholders and no one country can address these challenges in isolation.
He stressed the need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations and treaties to tackle common concerns within the overlapping ‘Circle of Concern’.
Singh was of the view that states, at the same time, must identify and seek to expand their ‘Circle of Influence’ to promote national interests on the global stage.
“This conference is an exercise where we all are trying to expand our ‘Circle of Influence’ while harmonising the overlaps of our ‘Circle of Concern’,” he added.
Rajnath Singh said security considerations have elevated the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific and the vast stretch confronts a web of challenges that no country can tackle alone, with army chief General Manoj Pande describing it as a theatre of complexities with manifestations of inter-state competitions and a top US general calling for deepening partnerships in the region to jointly promote peace and stability.
Pande said India’s outlook for the Indo-Pacific emphasised respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of force and adherence to international law.
“While efforts by countries are converging towards effecting a free and stable Indo-Pacific, yet we are witnessing manifestations of inter-state contestations and competitions.”
The army chief listed territorial disputes over landmasses and the militarisation of artificial islands in contested waters as key security concerns in the region.
India’s efforts to build robust military partnerships with friendly countries underscore its commitment to safeguard national interests and address global challenges, Singh said. “The Indo-Pacific Region has emerged as a pivotal geopolitical and strategic concept in recent years, transforming from a primarily maritime concept into a comprehensive strategic framework.”
Singh reiterated that India stands for a “free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.”
“States must recognise that there are global issues and challenges involving multiple stakeholders that no one country can address in isolation. They need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations, and treaties to tackle common concerns,” he said.
In a joint press briefing with US army chief of staff General Randy George, General Manoj Pande said the Indo-Pacific construct has come to occupy central space in the contemporary geostrategic canvass in recent years. “Its significance reflects the evolving global dynamics in the political, security, economic and environmental domains. The region is a theatre of complexities and challenges. Periodic ideation and discussions among partners are necessary, with efforts focussed on the shared responsibility for achieving and sustaining peace and stability,” Pande said.
Responding to a question on China, the army chief said the IPACC construct was not a military alliance directed against any country or group of countries, with its goal being bringing military leaders together to enhance collaboration and understanding in the Indo-Pacific, sharing best practices, planning effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and charting a roadmap for the future. “The aim is to build trust and strengthen friendships.”
General George said IPACC was looking at building a security architecture that would bind the region together and lead to unity and collective commitment. “Unity and commitment are the best deterrents,” he said, adding that the partnership between the US and Indian armies was vital for stability in the region. In a challenging global security environment, having great allies and partners is more important than ever before.”
The diplomatic row with Canada will not impact the participation of its army in the conference, and the country is an “important partner” in the IPACC journey, said Major General Abhinaya Rai, additional director general, Strategic Planning.
“It doesn’t impact us. The Canadian (deputy) chief is coming here. His delegation is coming here. Even when we look at the relationships with some of our neighbours… where we may have had a standoff but we continue to engage them at all levels, be it the military level and at the diplomatic level. And I am referring directly to China here,” Rai said at a curtain-raiser to the conference that was attended by a battery of defence attaches from the participating countries, including Colonel Todd Braithwaite from Canada.
The Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leaders Forum (SELF) will also be held alongside IPACC.
The events will provide a unique opportunity “to build common perspectives towards a shared vision” and help build partnerships and strengthen friendships across the Indo-Pacific, said Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General MV Suchindra Kumar: “It is indeed fortuitous and a matter of great pride that the triad of IPACC, IPAMS and SELF is being hosted by the Indian Army in the same year as India’s G-20 and SCO Presidency.”