The Rising Vitality of 2+2 Dialogues for the Indo-Pacific

Australia and India 2 plus 2 dialogue
Credit: Ministry of External Affairs, India

The ‘2+2’ (or two-plus-two) dialogue represents a mechanism where the defence and foreign ministers (or secretaries) of a nation meet with their counterparts from another. It has become the highest-level institutional mechanism between many nations today. In the coming weeks, India will host the inaugural session of the India-Russia 2+2 dialogue along the side-lines of the Indo-Russian annual summit. The President of the Russian Federation will be meeting the Indian Prime Minister. In the same month, India will also be having the fourth annual 2+2 dialogue with the US. 

Amidst the ongoing S-400 deliveries and the CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions ACT) sanctions looming large on India, the triangular dynamic between India, Russia, and US has attracted much attention. As of now US has avoided making any sanction related announcements. It remains under speculation whether the US will be making any announcement overlapping with the Indo-Russian annual summit or would be courting India through waivers at the Indo-US 2+2 dialogue later in December. 

In many opinions, US stands to self-harm its geopolitical heft in case India is lost as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region. This region has become the most important area for the US geopolitical considerations, highlighted in the recent developments revolving around the AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) pact, the concerns over Taiwan, and in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis. All of these are seen as a direct result of the weakening US clout. 

The rising importance of the Indo-Pacific is the central element in the exponential increase of the 2+2 dialogues as well. Besides Russia and US, India has 2+2 dialogue mechanism with Australia and Japan. India has held 2+2 dialogue with Japan since 2010. While the dialogues were convened on secretarial level till 2019, they were scaled up to the ministerial level, given the increased emphasis on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region in light of increasing Chinese dominance. India started the 2+2 secretarial level dialogue with Australia in 2017, which has been upgraded to the ministerial level this year. India has also extended the 2+2 mechanism to South Korea which is now seen as a vital part of India’s ‘Act East Policy’.

Japan: Mastering 2+2 for the Indo-Pacific

Japan has used 2+2 dialogue extensively in engagement with its most important strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region. The roots of the concept can be traced back to the US-Japan ‘Security Consultative Committee’ (SCC), based on the ‘Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security’ signed in 1960. The SCC meeting served the two countries as the major mechanism to coordinate the agenda for bilateral security cooperation and is considered by both as an important vehicle for agenda setting. The SCC provided the framework to review a broad range of exisitng initiatives, to identity new avenues for strengthening capabilities, and to consider urgent priorities in the evolving regional security environment. Japan and US officially started using the term ‘2+2’ since 2005, although the term 2+2 was also highlighted in the press release for the 2002 SCC meeting. 

The maiden Japanese-German 2+2 dialogue was held this year through teleconference, which emphasized on closer coordination for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP). It also focused on concerns related to the East China Sea, South China Sea, Hong Kong, and the situation of Uighur’s Human Right violations in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. With Australia, Japan held the ninth edition of the 2+2 dialogue this year, focusing on the shared strategic vision between the two in Indo-Pacific and beyond. Further, amidst the AUKUS pact related developments, which led to the cancellation of Australia-France submarine deal, France is now looking towards India and Japan for a greater collaboration in the Indo-Pacific. This will be highlighted at the inaugural session of the Japan-France 2+2 dialogue expected to happen in December this year. 

Australia and 2+2: Expanding Visions

Besides India and Japan, Australia is another major player in the Indo-Pacific region who has utilized the 2+2 dialogue to deepen strategic relations.

The seventh edition of the Australia-Indonesia 2+2 dialogue was convened this year in September, having held the inaugural edition back in 2015. The same month, Australia had fifth edition of the 2+2 dialogue with South Korea, and the fourth edition of 2+2 dialogue with India. A Free and Open Indo-Pacific has been the key agenda in all these dialogues. In an interesting development, before the AUKUS announcement the maiden edition of the Australia-France 2+2 consultations was also held in August this year, which reflected on the strength of their strategic partnership for the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific.’ 

Russia: An Outlier

Moving beyond the ‘QUAD’ members (India, Japan, Australia, and US), the 2+2 dialogue mechanism has also been adopted by Russia. While the first 2+2 with India will be happening in December 2021, Russia has also convened the 2+2 dialogue with the UK, Japan, and Egypt, with the inaugural session with all three happening in 2013. 

The first edition of the Egypt-Russia 2+2 dialogue was held in November 2013, signifying the growing importance of Egypt for Russia in the chaotic West Asian region amidst the ongoing Arab spring conflicts. The first Russia-UK 2+2 dialogue, held the same year, aimed to strengthen bilateral cooperation on issues of international security. It specified the fundamentals of the 2+2 mechanism by stating that the 2+2 strategic dialogue generally neither replaces current channels of cooperation of foreign and defence departments, nor any other contacts established already. The dialogue was suspended post-2014 Russia-Ukraine conflict. Similarly, the Russia-Japan dialogue was suspended, but resumed in March 2017 in Tokyo where both sides confirmed focusing on combating terrorism, ensuring international information security, and combating corruption, besides discussing issues related to the Middle East and Syria. 

Russia has criticized the Indo-Pacific construct as an exclusionary concept aimed at containing China. Considering how the 2+2 mechanism has  revolved heavily around the Indo-Pacific, it will be interesting to see how India and Russia will structure their maiden 2+2 dialogue. 

What Lies Ahead for the 2+2 mechanism?

The 2+2 dialogues are complimented for bringing synergy in bilateral relationships by getting the defence and foreign policy priorities and issues under one roof. Today, they also symbolize deepening and advancing bilateral relationships. Given the predominance of the 2+2 mechanism by countries in the Indo-Pacific region (and QUAD countries in particular), an expansion of these dialogues is also signalling the growing efforts to counter increasing Chinese presence and dominance in the Indo-Pacific region. As more countries look towards balancing a rising China, the 2+2 mechanism is becoming significant for showcasing the amalgamation of security and foreign policy concerns in the region. A multilateral version of this mechanism is not far from imagination. Going ahead, it would be interesting to see how India and Russia lay the foundation for their 2+2 dialogue, as it is expected to be different than India’s dialogue with other partners. Given how India-US 2+2 dialogues have seen some important agreements like COMCASA and BECA (for strategic coordination) inked at past editions of their 2+2 meetings, the upcoming editions with both Russia and US can be expected to prove vital as well. 

Divyanshu Jindal is a Doctoral scholar at OP Jindal Global University, India and Research Intern at Europe and Eurasia Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, India.