Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA)
India and Australia have signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and issued a joint declaration on a “Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” in a ‘virtual’ summit raising their relationship to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.
● The MLSA will allow militaries of the two countries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies besides facilitating scaling up of overall defence cooperation.
● India also concluded nine agreements including the MLSA. Both the countries have agreed to increase the frequency of meetings between the two Prime Ministers and took the “2+2” format of bilateral meetings to the level of Foreign and Defence Ministers.
● The other pacts will provide for bilateral cooperation in areas of cyber and cyber-enabled critical technology, mining and minerals, military technology, vocational education, and water resources management.
● Both the countries also called for early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) and decided to re-engage on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).
MLSA will facilitate reciprocal access to military logistics facilities, allow more complex joint military exercise and improve interoperability between the armed forces.
MLSA allows reciprocal access to military facilities in terms of logistics support which generally include food, water, petroleum (fuel), spare parts and other components.
The agreement will be useful during joint military exercises, peacekeeping operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations, scheduled deployments of military platforms, and any other exigent situations that may arise.
It will help in improving interoperability between the armed forces of India and Australia.
Significance of MLSA
Both India and Australia have island territories in the Indian Ocean at vantage locations. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Island chain straddles the Malacca Strait, one of the primary choke points across a key maritime highway.
Likewise, Australia’s Coco Islands are located near Southeast Asia and have significant strategic value.
Australia has a long Indian Ocean coastline along with one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zone and largest search and rescue zone in the world. Australia is heavily dependent upon the Indian Ocean for its trade and energy security.
India has legitimate interests in the wider Indo-Pacific with its ever-increasing trade with the countries in the region.
It faces occasional challenges in the distant waters of South China Sea, the latest being China’s deployment of a survey vessel escorted by coast guard ships, close to waters where state-owned ONGC Videsh is engaged in oil and gas.
MLSA will help improve the capabilities of both nations to operate in distant waters.
The ongoing negotiations over MLSA are in consonance with India’s recent maritime foreign policy maneuvers. In the recent past, the country has concluded several logistics agreements with various countries including France, Oman, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea.
The MLSA assumes greater importance in light of India and Australia’s limited naval capabilities. Normally, a scarcity of resources puts severe limitations on a country’s ability to project power in the distant waters, leaving its far-off assets at the mercy of other actors.
In the case of India and Australia, such a limitation does not match their ambitions in the region; it also puts them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis a belligerent China. For this reason, the MLSA holds considerable significance.
When it comes to defence, India and Australia share a common concern over China; it is that aspect which informs a lot of the bilateral transactions between the two countries. While Australia is worried about China’s presence in the Pacific, India is worried about China’s increasing activities and influence in the Indian Ocean.
The bilateral and multilateral military exercises alone illustrate that the two countries are working to increase interoperability to maintain favourable order in the region. The MLSA will add enormously to the endeavour.