On November 8, the ten-day naval exercise Malabar began in the area of the east coast of Japan with the participation of US warships, Japan itself, India, and Australia. For the past ten years, they have been held annually and represent a notable event in the process of changing the situation in the Indo-Pacific region, which is regularly commented on by HBO.
The format and region of Malabar exercises have repeatedly undergone significant changes that reflect well the evolution of the political picture of what is happening in ITR and in the world at large. From the early 1990s to mid-decade zero, they had a bilateral US-India character. The space of the exercises was mainly confined to the waters of the Arabian Sea in the area of the southwestern (Malabar) coast of the Hindustan Peninsula.
The very fact that these exercises were initiated reflected the radical changes in the world order that had occurred with the end of the Cold War. Having lost the support of USSR (previously the main external support), India responded positively to signals from Washington about the possibility of establishing relations with the United States, i.e., a new adversary in the political games of the time.
In the second half of the 2000s, a contender for the role of Washington’s new main adversary, standing alone at the top of the world political hierarchy in the post “Cold War” period, was definitely identified. Not only high-profile scholars of political science (which is exactly what they had predicted ten years earlier, but even the leaders of a number of states realized that China would assume such a role in the coming years.
Some of these recent worrisome expectations led to the idea of forming the Quad, an anti-China bloc, within the above countries for the first time in the mid-2000s. And as early as 2007, the Malabar exercises were held with the participation of warships from these four countries (with the participation of Singapore).
The following year, however, the Labor Party came to power in Australia and headed for a significant improvement in relations with Beijing. India’s “Congress” leadership also did not support the idea of creating a Quad. Therefore, this constellation was forgotten (so to speak) for the next 10 years. By 2013, Malabar exercises had returned to a primarily bilateral US-India format. But the exercise area gradually began to shift eastward, coinciding with the intensification of Indian foreign policy in the same direction.
This trend in New Delhi’s positioning in the foreign policy arena has found full support not only in Washington but also in Tokyo, which has set out to build comprehensive relations with India. Whereby this course met with full understanding. Especially after the Bharatiya Janata Party, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power in New Delhi in 2014 in place of the Indian National Congress. Since then (i.e., 2014), Japan has become a constant participant in all subsequent Malabar exercises.
Since the second half of the last decade, the gradual intensification of confrontation between the two main world powers could not be without impact on China-Australia relations. The Conservatives, who replaced the Labour Party at the levers of power in Canberra in 2013, followed their “big brother” in relations with Beijing. It came to pass that the then Australian Prime Minister S. Morrison joined the demand of the US Secretary of State M. Pompeo that Beijing should pay compensation for the “spread of Chinese infection,” i.e. “Covid-19.”
At the same time, the Quad emerged from its (apparent) non-existence. In this context, the Malabar exercises have adopted the 2007 format from 2020, i.e., Australia has rejoined them. This seems to be definitive, despite the fact that it came in May this year. The new leadership of this country (“almost” the 2008-2013 format) announced its intention to improve relations with China. Even so, the course for a comprehensive rapprochement with Japan continues, which causes an understandable reaction in Beijing.
It would be quite conceivable that as part of the overall strategy, the NATO zone of responsibility for the (already quite insecure) borders of the Euro-Atlantic, as well as the increasingly frequent integration of security issues in this region and the ITR into a single whole, ships of some countries’ navies from leading European countries will also participate in the Malabar exercises.
Some signs of this can already be observed. For example, in April 2021, in addition to the regular exercises of Quad member countries in the Bay of Bengal, the three-day La Perouse exercises of a group of French ships were held here. A month and a half later, a group of British ships led by the newest aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth transited the Indian Ocean toward Japan and back.
Despite the fact that the defiant actions of both countries against Beijing are not only military, London recently decided to put pressure on Beijing’s most painful corn by sending Deputy Minister of International Trade G. Hands to Taiwan. There he was “gratefully” received by President Tsai Ing-wen. The photo of the meeting is worth taking a look at.
This occurs against the backdrop of an unmanageable number of internal problems. The newly appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak, the formation of a new government, accompanied by constant scandals, cannot be completed in any way. The most unpleasant of these was perhaps the resignation of Defense Minister B. Wallace, which followed threats leaked to the press that allegedly came from him to “cut the throat” of a (apparently negligent) subordinate. Then again – what to make of a former commander of a company of Scottish riflemen…?
But neither France nor the UK are taking part in the next Malabar exercises, which began this November 8 in the Japanese port city of Yokosuka, and which are in the Quad configuration. And perhaps that is what stands out first in the current Malabar exercises. The warships of these two European powers did not participate in the “International Fleet Review” held the previous week (in the waters of the same port complex in Yokosuka) and organized by Japan to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its own Navy. The event was organized to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its own Navy.
Admiral Pierre Vendier, Chief of Naval Staff of the French Navy, who attended the 18th Western Pacific Naval Symposium held in the aforementioned city of Yokosuka, explained the absence of the warships under his command at such an important event of a major Asian (almost) ally by a series of rather fortuitous circumstances.
According to official explanations, the hurricane that hit the western Pacific prevented the British naval vessel, “stuck” somewhere in the Philippines, from reaching Yokosuka. Warships of such famous naval powers as Brunei and Singapore were able to survive this attack, but the British were not able to at all.
Perhaps the widespread absence of leading Europeans at the seminal (still vital) event of the “collective West” in Yokosuka was indeed a coincidence. Especially since, three weeks earlier, the very same P. Vandier, in an extensive interview with the authoritative publication Defense News emphasized the “critical importance to the defense of sovereignty” of his Department’s willingness to act on a “global” scale.
However, in President Macron’s subsequent speech (which generated quite a bit of media coverage) on the topic of France’s forthcoming new defense strategy, there is an apparent shift in the focus of the country’s (future) armed forces from “expeditionary missions” to “high-intensity conflicts.” With a transparent designation of Europe as the region from which they originate. Something was also said about the upcoming Franco-British summit on the same general topic of defense and security. At the same time, nothing was said about Germany’s participation in this event, whose chancellor, by the way, recently visited Beijing.
The belligerent statement of J. Borrell, who is responsible for foreign policy in the EU (so in this case a “non-core” European politician), which sounded at the same time as E. Macron’s speech, could not go unnoticed either.
Something in Europe has once again “smelled burnt”. Is the provocation of the conflict in Ukraine a “pen test”?
We started tracing the history of some international naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific region and eventually came across the (increasingly alarming) situation in Europe. That is, they were on the other side of the globe.
And not artificially at all. It all sort of happened on its own.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”