External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s first three-day visit (February 13-15) to the Philippines marks the beginning of a new era of common priorities and concerns for the two democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. The $375 million deal to export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines featured prominently during his meeting with his counterpart, Teodoro L Locsin Jr, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The agreement covers three batteries of the supersonic missile system; each battery includes two missile launchers, radar, and a command and control center, and can fire two missiles in 10 seconds. This supersonic missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture, can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land platforms.
To promote peace and security in the region, it is essential to strengthen the commitment to defense capabilities, to invest in capacity building, maritime security and the fight against terrorism and to defend the state of right. In his address to the Conclave of Air Chiefs of Staff earlier this month, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the deteriorating geopolitical landscape necessitated a strengthening of security frameworks, based on the principles cooperation, collaboration and coexistence. Seen in this context, the BrahMos deal is India’s first export of this critical strategic weapon system, which will have significant strategic implications.
This agreement repositions India in two strategic perspectives:
On the one hand, internally, India’s strong response and stance taken in the stalemate with China in the Galwan Valley and subsequent construction, reassured the country and smaller regional nations on our determination to challenge China’s territorial ambitions and our willingness to share our capabilities with them. India’s determination adds enormously to the global message that China’s diplomacy or coercive strategy against fragile, weak or failing states in the region will not work. And that a credible regional position against China is possible.
Second, in its role as a regional security provider, this agreement reflects the broader strategic scope in pursuing regional stability by strengthening the security architecture in Southeast Asia.
China’s aggressive policy of unilaterally settling territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia through the outrageous nine-dash line, 2,000 km from China’s shores, and Beijing’s rejection of the decision of the International Court of Justice demonstrated China’s power in the region.
The Philippines sees BrahMos as a deterrent against any attempt to undermine the sovereign rights of the country. Mischief Reef (217 km from the island of Palawan), the Chinese naval presence around Scarborough Shoal (222 km west of Luzon), Subi Reef and the Fiery Cross Reef are now in the BrahMos range of 290km. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have also expressed interest in acquiring the anti-ship missile and may obtain these systems shortly.
BrahMos adds a new dimension to the evolution of the much-needed idea of collective regional deterrence to challenge arbitrary actions like the nine-dash line. India’s successful test-firing of the next-generation BrahMos 2 hypersonic missile (Mach 7 and extended ranges) will, in due course, provide a powerful collective deterrent. The tacit endorsement of Southeast Asian countries to AUKUS is also seen as an attempt to balance China’s growing influence in the South China Sea region.
The Philippine Department of Defense recently hailed this agreement under HORIZON 2, the national security modernization program underway since 2020, as an essential added value for the country’s effective deterrence to secure its maritime region. proximal.
China’s encirclement of Thitu Island, one of the largest Spratly Islands in the Philippines, by hundreds of Coast Guard and fishing militia boats, the hostile pursuit of the Philippine Navy vessel in its own waters and the declaration of administrative control over the disputed lands of the islands have seriously increased China’s threats to the Philippines.
China’s provocative deployment of a geological prospecting vessel – Haiyang Dizhi – and coastguards, which has disrupted oil exploration projects in India and Vietnam, is compounding the challenge at the regional level.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s September 23, 2020 address to the United Nations General Assembly reiterated the nation’s need for its longtime security ally, the United States. In addition, a rare projection of its missile power in the maritime region challenged by large-scale military exercises (Eksesais Kerismas and Eksesais Taming Sari) by the Royal Malaysian Navy in the South China Sea also clearly went against the Indonesian doctrine of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. – Relations with China.
India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are in their eighth year of strategic partnership and their 28th year of relations. The presence of the full ASEAN leadership on Indian Republic Day 2019 reflected the strategic depth and trust between these nations and was an affirmation of India’s Act East policy.
The need for a credible regional security architecture to curb China’s brazen coercive diplomacy and expansive policies plaguing ASEAN members is indeed urgent. Regional deterrence will be the new imperative, the new counter-narrative to China’s irresponsible conduct. Vietnam’s acquisition of BrahMos, Indonesia will add tremendously to a credible regional deterrent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for India’s role as an internet security provider in the Indian Ocean region is now taking shape. As a result, India’s relationship with ASEAN, a cornerstone of our foreign policy, could finally be cemented by adding that critical dimension of security that ASEAN members have long expected from Indian leaders.
Lieutenant General Arvinder Singh Lamba is the former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army
Opinions expressed are personal