Middle Power Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific: India and Australia at the Forefront

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
58(4) 513 –529, 2022
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00208817211056742
Research Article
Middle Power Cooperation
in the Indo-Pacific: India
and Australia at the
Shubhamitra Das1
Indo-Pacific has emerged as a region of great movement, conflict and
cooperation, contestations and coalition-building. The emergence of minilateral
and multilateral cooperation by the middle powers is increasing in the region,
with the regional countries enthusiastically mapping the region focussing on their
centrality. History proves that the role of middle-power countries became more
prominent during the moments of international transition. The two contrasting
powers like India and Australia; one with a post-colonial identity in foreign policy-
making, subtle emphasis on non-aligned movement (NAM) and emerging as an
influential power, and, on the other, a traditional middle power with an alliance
structure and regionalism akin to the Western model, have equal stakes in the
region and it is inevitable for them to take a leadership position in building what
is called a middle power communion in the Indo-Pacific. This article will explore
the understanding of middle powers and how India and Australia, as middle
powers; are strategically placed and, being great powers within their respective
regions; take the responsibility of region-building and maintaining peace with
great powers, and how the Indo-Pacific and Quad are emerging as discourses
within their foreign policy-making.
Middle powers diplomacy, Indo-Pacific, Quad, emerging power, coalition-building,
international politics
1 Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Corresponding author:
Shubhamitra Das, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 110067,
E-mail: shubhamitra70@gmail.com
514 International Studies 58(4)
Middle powers and the Indo-Pacific are both contested concepts in International
Relations research. Middle powers are broadly understood as those that are not
superpowers, but have considerable clout and respect at the global platform; with
a military capability sufficient for securing the country but not for waging a war
all by itself, hence they either depend upon an alliance with a superpower or
pursue a norms-driven foreign policy and are unaligned. The emergence of the
Indo-Pacific; as a concept and as a region, has brought the middle powers to rise
in prominence, not only in cooperative mechanisms but also in a wide range of
activities bringing regional bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral and multilateral
arrangements within their fold. The increasing interaction between Australia,
India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam has the
potential to institutionalize and regionalize an Indo-Pacific community. The
formation of region usually happened due to the physical and cultural features of
a particular zone, thus framed by the colonizers1 or as a military strategy of an
existing hegemon, for convenience in administrative and surveillance purposes.
The formation of the Indo-Pacific as a region will be an effort of the regional
countries themselves, with a strategic and security perspective as the primary
agenda. The driving force is due to multipolarity and the experience gained from
the legacies of World Wars, Colonial rule and Cold War; a bunch of vibrant and
dynamic regional countries with economic power, political and cultural aspirations
of being a legitimate constructive player at the global stage has emerged. These
countries are grabbing the opportunity; the term Indo-Pacific gave them; their
centrality for recognition, a ‘Sense of belongingness’ and the responsibility of
making a region peaceful, inclusive and free. These are the middle powers of
Asia. The Indo-Pacific is defined loosely, making the concept ubiquitous and
abstract at the same time.
The middle powers in the region have the onus of building a region in the Post-
Cold War, Post-COVID-19 for an endurable, sustainable and cooperative grouping
of countries at a level playing field by going beyond a ‘Containment Zone’
hedging China. The global pandemic taught that the need of the hour is the rise of
a more inclusive leadership, which is norm-driven. The present crises, created
through balancing and rebalancing by the USA and China, could escalate weapons
of mass destruction (WMDs) and conflicts, on the one hand, and the rise of
transnational insecurities like cyber-crime, illegal and unsustainable fishing on
the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, climate change, human and drug trafficking,
piracy and terrorism. Hence, the region requires ‘institutionalization’ as it brings
in new systems, rules and norms, and has the potential to alter and transform the
existing order. Furthermore, multipolarity leads to challenging the old order, thus
leading to a multidimensional and pluralist agenda for a new world order. The
convergence in policies, both domestic and foreign, within the like-minded states
is possible if Indo-Pacific is institutionalized by the middle powers, with
collaboration, unbridled interaction, contribution and confidence-building being
the core values. The major concern of middle powers is to maintain a multilateral
partnership in the Indo-Pacific region to balance both China and the USA (Daniel,
3/2017) and the regional countries that may become a place for proxy wars
between the great powers. The middle powers will exercise their agency, shape

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