All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC - Strengthening bilateral relations between India and France
Published on Sept. 11, 2019, 6:07 p.m.

Strengthening bilateral relations between India and France

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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

Bilateral ties between New Delhi and Paris cover a gamut of issues including defense, maritime, space, security, and energy. The two nations have managed to carve out a forward-looking partnership that is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation on issues such as terrorism, climate change, sustainable growth and development, infrastructure, urbanization, and science and technology.

Although the two sides had declared a strategic partnership way back in 1998, Delhi and Paris had struggled to take full advantage of its many possibilities. That has begun to change under Modi and President Emmanuel Macron.

  • The first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council
  • Helped India set up the Sriharikota launch site
  • France supports India’s membership of Multilateral Export Control regimes- NSG and MTCR. Its support was vital in India’s admission to MTCR in 2016.
  • France was the only western country to publicly support the 1998 Indian nuclear tests. 
  • Fighter jets bought from Paris form a crucial part of the Indian nuclear air vector. 
  • Most recently, France became the second country, after the United States, to sign a military logistics support agreement with India, in March last year. Under this agreement, the Indian navy will have access to French bases across the Indian Ocean including one in Djibouti.

The new French Indo-Pacific strategy advances three key threats to be met by Paris, beyond dealing with North Korean belligerence: 

  • Transnational terrorism
  • Chinese challenges to the multilateral order in the region
  • Climate change

First, enhancing bilateral cooperation in strategic sectors:

  • To advance further with the consolidation of civil nuclear cooperation and enhancing space cooperation
  • Cooperation in artificial intelligence and digital revolution 

Second, the 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.

Third, political cooperation between India and France is relatively new

  • It began 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. Paris has offered unstinted support for India on targeting the sources of violent extremism in Pakistan and helped limit the international backlash against Delhi’s effort to rewrite the rules of engagement in J&K. 

Fourth, the relationship between India and France has gone beyond the bilateral to focus on the regional. 

  • Modi and Macron have agreed to intensify maritime and naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean and more broadly the Indo-Pacific— from maritime governance to oceanographic research and from interoperability between their armed forces to capacity building in the littoral.

Finally, 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, India and France have turned to more ambitious ideas. 
  • The road map on cybersecurity and digital technology provides the framework for long-term cooperation on a set of issues, whose weight is growing by the day.

A Two-way Street

The relations between Delhi and Paris are not a one-way street. France has reasons to see Delhi as a strong partner on bilateral, regional and global issues. A rapidly expanding economy makes India a valuable commercial partner— in a range of sectors including high technology, defence and the unfolding digital revolution. On the regional front, Paris is as concerned as Delhi at the rising Chinese profile in the Indo-Pacific. It would like to work with India to offer credible alternatives to Chinese economic and military assistance in the region. 

On the international front, France is deeply concerned about the breakdown of the global order under relentless assault from Trump’s unilateralism. Macron’s decision to have Modi as a special invitee at the G-7 summit is part of the French effort to mobilise India’s political weight in building a new “alliance for multilateralism” with like-minded countries. Modi and Macron have equal stakes in building on this agenda.

Conclusion

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 would hopefully turn out to be far more consequential for India’s influence on the global stage.

The Strategic Partnership has already created a solid foundation; other aspects have now received the much-needed focus. Proper implementation can add to the growing strategic convergence that draws India and France together.

Connecting the dots:

  1. Discuss how India-France relationship has evolved over time. Outline major aspects.