Headline : Old new friends Editorial 24th Aug’19 IndianExpress
For long, India did not reciprocate France’s efforts for greater relationship:
- For nearly four decades, from 1980s, successive French presidents made repeated efforts to elevate the engagement with India to a higher level.
- While France was eager for greater relationship with India, India was distracted and preoccupied with other major powers — US, Russia and China — and burdened by its inherited bias towards Britain.
- As a result, Delhi could hardly appreciate the pivotal value of France, and more broadly that of Europe, in transforming India’s international position.
This changed over the recent years:
- The one-sided interest has begun to change as Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid greater strategic attention to France and Europe in the first term.
- Many pending issues relating to Europe were sorted out during 2014-19.
- However, it was the boosting of ties with France that stood out as an important feature of Modi’s foreign policy in the first term.
- The PM’s summit with French President in August 2019, and participation in the G-7 outreach in Paris marks the strengthening of the bilateral strategic partnership that was unveiled in 1998.
Critical time for the two countries due to cracks in international order:
- The closer ties between France and India driven by their leaders (Macron and Modi) is coming at a critical time for the two countries.
- The relative harmony between the major powers seen since the Cold War is now coming to an end.
- The growing tensions between the US on the one hand and China and Russia on the other are having international impact.
- Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric are leading to increasing differences in the Western countries.
India facing complications in relationships with world powers:
- With China:
- The rapid rise of China — and the expanding gap in the national power in its favour — have altered the balance of power in India’s neighbourhood.
- With Russia:
- During the Cold War, India had turned to the Soviet Union to ensure a stable regional balance.
- In the last few years, Russia has been drawing steadily closer to China, for its own strategic reasons unrelated to India.
- Russia’s broader and deeper economic and political relationship with China means India will find it harder to rely on Russia to balance China.
- With the US in the Trump era:
- After the turbulent 1990s (over nonproliferation and Kashmir), India and US settled into a period of stable and expanding partnership between 2001 and 2017 (under the presidencies of George Bush and Obama).
- The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House in early 2017 has begun to produce complications for India on a range of issues — from bilateral trade to regional and global affairs.
- While Trump is not trying to target India in particular, Delhi has been affected by sweeping changes in the foreign, economic and national security policies unleashed by Trump.
- He has turned hostile to the WTO and walked away from many multilateral arrangements.
- He has been harsh on long-standing US allies for being a burden on the American exchequer.
- As he withdraws from some of the conflict zones, Trump insists that America’s allies and friends do more for their own security. His recent call on India to join the fight against Islamic State in Afghanistan is part of that belief system.
Other major nations also concerned by US, China and Russia:
- Trump’s presidency has unnerved most of America’s partners in Europe and Asia.
- For many nations, including India and France, coping with the muscular assertiveness of China, the resurgence of Russia and the retrenchment of America become the central challenge of their foreign and security policies.
India and France can help build new coalitions for an uncertain era:
- In the current international context, India and France recognise the urgency of constructing coalitions that can provide a measure of stability in an increasingly unstable world.
- France (which had sought strategic autonomy within the framework of its alliance with the US) and India (which has valued independent foreign policy) are natural partners in building the new coalitions for an uncertain era.
- India and France see that strengthening bilateral cooperation and building coalitions with like-minded countries is critical for the protection of their long term interests.
Five-fold agenda for India and France
- The new imperatives driving India and France have manifested themselves in a five-fold agenda for the leaders of the two countries.
- Enhancing bilateral cooperation in strategic sectors including AI:
- France has always been an important partner in the development of advanced technologies.
- This is set to advance further with the consolidation of civil nuclear cooperation and enhancing space cooperation.
- The recent summit saw the placing of artificial intelligence and the unfolding digital revolution at the top of the bilateral agenda.
- Buyer-seller relationship to Make in India in defence:
- The two nations must show a new commitment to go beyond the buyer-seller relationship in the field of weapons procurement.
- When India comes up with clear policies for making arms in India, the synergies between India’s large defence market and the French strengths in armament production would come into full play.
- Increased political cooperation:
- Political cooperation between India and France is relatively new, beginning with French support for India in limiting international sanctions on Delhi after its 1998 nuclear tests.
- Today, France has emerged as India’s most reliable partner on issues relating to terrorism and Kashmir.
- Regional partnership in the Indo-Pacific:
- The relationship between India and France has gone beyond the bilateral to focus on the regional.
- India and France have have agreed to intensify maritime and naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean and more broadly the Indo-Pacific.
- There is a sweeping and ambitious ocean agenda awaiting the two countries — from maritime governance to oceanographic research and from interoperability between their armed forces to capacity building in the littoral.
- Global agenda-setting together:
- It is the prospect of global agenda-setting that is beginning to make the India-France strategic partnership very exciting.
- After their joint efforts to limit climate change and develop the Solar Alliance (ISA), India and France have turned to more ambitious ideas.
- The road map on cybersecurity and digital technology issued during Modi-Macron summit in 2019 provides the framework for long-term cooperation on a set of issues, whose weight is growing by the day.
Way ahead – deeper engagement with Europe on global issues:
- France also opens the pathway for deeper engagement with Europe on global issues.
- Since independence, India has experimented with different institutions — including the NAM and BRICS — to shape global norms.
- The new partnerships with France, Germany and other like-minded countries like Japan could turn out to be far more consequential for India’s influence on the global stage.
GS Paper II: International Relations