Indo-Pacific Triangle Can Be a Regional Force

By Walter Lohman & Lisa Curtis

As advocates for trilateral co-operation among the US, Australia and India, we have watched with interest the attention given to the idea in the media over the past few weeks. To be clear: we are not proposing a security treaty.

What we are proposing is co-operation across a broad range of shared interests, from counter-terrorism to proliferation, and many areas besides. We also suggest a formal diplomatic process - a dialogue - to support this co-operation.

Several such mechanisms already exist. There is an active US-Japan-Australia trilateral and a US-Japan-India dialogue to commence later this month. China has dialogues that serve its interests with South Korea and Japan, and with Russia and India.

However, a formal diplomatic mechanism is not the most important part of what we propose. That is the practical co-operation the three countries can achieve on matters of mutual interest.

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In partnership with scholars at the Lowy Institute and India's Observer Research Foundation, we released a report on this topic last month in Sydney and New Delhi entitled Shared Goals, Converging Interests: A Plan for US-Australia-India Co-operation in the Indo-Pacific.

Each side of this triangle is already well under development. Australia enjoys a level of access, planning and co-operation with the US defence establishment that only a handful of its allies can claim. The US-India relationship took off with the civil nuclear agreement and 2005 defence framework agreement. India is a major American arms sales partner and conducts more military exercises with the US than with any other nation.

On the India-Australia side of the triangle, the 2009 Joint Declaration on Security Co-operation was a major milestone. The areas of shared interests identified in that document, including maritime security and defence, are several of the same areas identified in our report.

The recent decision on uranium sales has opened up the prospects for fulfilling the declaration's purpose. In New Delhi, we heard at every turn how positive a gesture on uranium would be for India-Australia relations, and by extension, how it might improve the prospects for trilateral co-operation.

The three countries can further develop thinking about India's relationship to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the global nonproliferation regime that accounts for the reality that India, although a positive force in stemming proliferation of dangerous weapons technology, is unlikely to join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.

President Barack Obama has stated his intention to bring India into the four major nonproliferation groupings: the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group and Wassenaar.

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Lisa Curtis is senior research fellow and Walter Lohman is director, Asian Studies, with the Heritage Foundation.

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