Antony’s Visit to Saudi Arabia: Boosting Defence Ties - IDSA brief

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    More details coming out on Antony's visit to KSA

    Antony’s Visit to Saudi Arabia: Boosting Defence Ties | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses


    The visit of A. K. Antony to Saudi Arabia on February 13-14, 2012 is the first ever visit by an Indian Defence Minister to the Kingdom. The visit was intended to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, the foundation of which was laid by the high level visits by King Abdullah to India in 2006 and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2010. Antony was accompanied by a high level defence delegation which included the Defence Secretary, Vice Chief of Army Staff, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and an Air Vice Marshal, clearly indicating that strengthening defence ties and broadening defence engagement between the two countries was the principal objective of the visit.

    Antony’s visit to Riyadh provides a thrust for India’s defence diplomacy in the Gulf region. India has been engaging with other regional countries like Oman, UAE and Qatar by signing defence cooperation agreements and conducting regular exchanges and high level meetings. Though both Saudi Arabia and India are important countries in their respective regions, defence cooperation between the two has not received adequate attention. It is only in recent years that the two countries have begun to conduct joint naval exercises. Indian ships have visited Saudi Arabia on port calls and India has been providing training to some Saudi defence personnel. During his interactions, Antony also suggested an active role for the Saudi Navy in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, thus indicating the Indian Navy’s desire to work with the Saudi Navy in future.

    During the visit, both countries agreed to set up a joint committee to work out a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation, another MoU on cooperation in the field of hydrography, joint military exercises and high level visits, etc. Importantly, the committee would also explore the possibility of cooperation between the defence industries of the two countries. At present there is no formal defence cooperation agreement signed between India and Saudi Arabia. There is no supply of any weapons and equipment nor are there any joint Research and Development (R&D) projects.

    Cooperation between the defence industries for joint R&D and production would certainly be beneficial for both countries. But it would take time to fructify as Saudi Arabia imports arms and weapons of high quality and precision from Western countries like USA, UK, France, etc. Indian arms and weapons may not be preferred by the Saudi security forces, as the weapons procured from West would have technical advantages over their Indian counterparts. Despite that, both countries can focus their energy on specific R&D projects of mutual interest. India’s seriousness has been reflected by Antony’s invitation to Saudi Arabian officials to visit India’s defence production facilities, which is a clear departure from the past. That Saudi Arabia is also keen on cooperating in this regard was reflected in its acceptance of the Indian invitation. The delicate political and security situation in the Middle East, Saudi ambition for a regional leadership role and the available oil wealth are some of the major factors that would drive Saudi interest in this sector in future. Thus, it is wise to engage Saudi Arabia in defence production although cooperation in this arena is certainly going to take time. In the meantime, however, India should continue to focus on strengthening existing areas of cooperation such as joint naval exercises, conducting training programmes, holding joint military exercises, etc.

    Saudi interest in signing an MoU on cooperation in hydrography stems from the fact that the 13,500 strong Royal Saudi Naval Forces have to further strengthen their power keeping in view the changing security situation in the region. Cooperation with Indian Naval units and training from India on hydrography would strengthen their knowledge and expertise for navigating in deep waters and thus increasing their capabilities in the region. Several Saudi defence personnel have been undergoing training at the National Institute of Hydrography, Goa, and a formal cooperation agreement would help in further deepening these ties.

    During his visit Antony reiterated India’s commitment and readiness for cooperation to fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean and has suggested that both the India and Saudi navies should jointly explore practical cooperation in the high seas against the pirates. In the past, both India and Saudi Arabia have been victims of piracy off Somali coast. The safety and security of the SLOCs is directly linked to the trade and commerce of both countries. Active cooperation between the two powers in the high seas would certainly help in deterring the pirates. Though both countries have deployed ships in the Gulf of Aden to check piracy, operational cooperation between the two navies have not been established.

    Similarly, terrorism is an important issue on which cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia is crucial. Collaborating with each other in combating terrorism has become necessary keeping in view the transnational nature of terrorist funding, operation and ideology. Antony discussed the issue of terrorism with his Saudi counterpart Prince Salman and both countries have reiterated their pledge to fight the menace together. India is reportedly helping Saudi Arabia set up a jungle warfare college in the country, which is intended to train Saudi security forces fight against al Qaeda operating in the mountainous terrain along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

    Saudi Arabia is an important country in the region for India in many respects. The 2010 Riyadh Declaration has been termed as ‘a new era of strategic partnership’ between the two countries. Although ties in the fields of trade and commerce remain strong and India and Saudi Arabia are engaged in identifying issues of mutual political concern, cooperation in the defence sphere has been conspicuously absent. Antony’s visit attempts to fill that gap as both countries have decided to take the first big step by agreeing to form a joint committee to work out the future course of action in this regard.
     
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  3. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    IndiaÂ’s Arab sprint - Indian Express

    Riyadh and Delhi are quietly drawing closer, acknowledging their many shared concerns

    Amidst last week’s focus in the Indian media about a coming conflict between Iran and Israel, not much attention was paid to a historic visit to Saudi Arabia by the defence minister, A.K. Anthony.

    Several interesting facts marked Anthony’s path-breaking travel across the Arabian Sea. First, the visit was the first ever such official visit by an Indian defence minister to the epicentre of the Arab world. Second, it came in response to persistent invitations from the Saudi government. Anthony was unable to make the trip on two earlier occasions when an invitation had been issued, but finally made it after a third call from Riyadh. Third, the defence minister was accompanied not just by diplomats and civilian officials but by three senior defence officials — the vice chief of army staff, the deputy chief of naval staff and an air vice marshal. Fourth, Anthony had one-on-one talks with his counterpart Prince Salman and an extended audience with King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

    At the end of what has been described as “wide-ranging” talks, India and Saudi Arabia have agreed to set up a joint panel of officials who will together draft a defence cooperation agreement and a “road map” for defence cooperation that would include joint exercises between the three services of the two nations, training and co-production of defence equipment. The militaries and navies of both countries will undertake joint patrolling of the Arabian Sea, fighting sea piracy and disruption to maritime traffic.

    For any single visit by a defence minister to another country, and that too, the very first visit announced with little fanfare just 48 hours before the visit occurred, these outcomes are significant. They have raised eyebrows around the world, most importantly in the Middle East and in South Asia. The Arab and Pakistani media seem to have taken greater note of this visit than the Indian media!

    For all his low-profile manner, Anthony knows a thing or two both about domestic politics and strategic affairs. He timed his visit well, with an eye on politics at home and developments abroad.

    If Iran seeks to meddle in domestic Indian politics by creating disaffection among the Shias of Uttar Pradesh, what better way to counter that by reminding all concerned that while the Shias maybe an important vote bank in UP, they constitute only 10 per cent of Indian Muslims, while the Sunnis account for an overwhelming 90 per cent.

    Anthony’s visit would have also reassured the hugely important Malayali community in the Gulf, which has been unnerved by the resentment against expatriate workers in a region where economic disparities have come to the fore in the wake of the so-called “Arab Awakening”. Besieged Arab elites facing the anger of their masses have been tempted to point to foreign workers as the villains taking away jobs from the locals. But the region’s wiser political leadership has resisted such attempts in the knowledge that the Indian community in the Gulf constitutes the economy’s backbone.

    As the threat of war looms large over the Gulf, India’s diplomatic activism, with the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, visiting Israel, Anthony visiting Saudi Arabia and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon visiting the recently active Qatar, is clearly aimed both at averting conflict and insuring India against the risks of one if it became inevitable.

    India’s main concern is energy security and the security of the Indian community in the region. Already, rising tensions have pushed the price of oil up. Even if hostilities were not to break out, the persistence of raised risk levels will keep oil prices high. Finally, if Iran were to lay mines in the sea as a pre-emptive or provocative act, this would seriously disrupt the movement of oil tankers. Any sustained rise in the price of oil will hit the Indian economy hard.

    King Abdullah has, it is reliably learnt, offered cast-iron assurances to Anthony that Saudi Arabia would step in and help both in making more oil available to India and in assuring the safety and security of Indian expatriates in the region.

    An interesting aspect of the bilateral understanding reached between Anthony and Prince Salman is that India and Saudi Arabia would also undertake joint research and projects in the field of hydrography, exchanging information on nautical cartography and hydrographic surveys of coastal areas, ports, harbours and designated sea areas. In the near term this would also facilitate de-mining!

    The people of India and Arabia have interacted across the waters between them for thousands of years. Omani and Gujarati seafarers were among the earliest and Arabs reached the Kerala coast as traders and teachers, not conquerors. In fact, among all the Muslim communities of the Middle East and Central Asia it is only the Arabs who never sought to conquer India. The Turks, the Persians, and the Central Asians came by land to plunder or rule. The Arabs came by sea to trade and teach.

    While history has its limitations in shaping contemporaneous and forward-looking strategic choices, it does shape popular perceptions. What is, however, driving the India- Saudi relationship today is not this benign history but shared concerns about stability and growth in the Arabian Sea littoral and the Gulf.

    Saudi Arabia is as concerned about events in Iran as it is about trends in Pakistan. Riyadh’s outreach to New Delhi is also an indicator that the Saudis are worried about what is happening in Pakistan. In this “arc of instability” Riyadh hopes India would be a reliable and credible guarantor of stability.

    The writer is director for geo-economics and strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and honorary senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research
     

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