Indo-French Relations: The New Strategic Contours

 By Thejus Gireesh
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INTRODUCTION

India and France have been enjoying a steady and fruitful relationship over the years. Post-Independence, India experienced a globally stable yet a ‘fluctuative relationship’ with France until the 90s, Post-2000, Indo- French relations have undergone tremendous change after the strategic dialogue held in 1998 between the then French President Jacques Chirac and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee[1]. While Indo-French relations having matured over the years, it becomes imperative that the similar tenents, objectives, and concepts of a multipolar world and the maintenance of rules-based order that both the countries enshrine within themselves is worked upon. This article aims to look at the trajectory of  India-France relations in the 21st century, in terms of their strategic cooperation.

 The Diplomatic Relations in BriefIndia- France ties witnessed a tremendous change post the strategic partnership signed in 1998. The strategic partnership agreement enabled high-level meetings between the diplomatic advisor to the French President and National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India[2] twice a year. This move laid the framework for better strategic relations between the two countries. France’s greater impetus onto Asia lies in its perception, which is aptly mentioned in the French Defence White Paper of 2008, which states that “Looking to 2025, Asia will be one of the major centers of international life, alongside Europe and America. New powers will have emerged, China and India were foremost among them”[3].France’s recognition of the future outlook of Asia is a very significant step, and it is highly visible in its diplomatic ventures in the sub-continent, especially in its outreach to India.

France is among the major resident powers in the Indian Ocean region, as two of the major overseas territories, i.e., the Mayotte and Reunion Islands lay in the Southern Indian Ocean region. These islands are strategically important to France as major Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) and International Shipping Lines (ISLs) pass through in close proximity of these islands which facilitates the shipping moving towards Malacca, Sunda and the Hormuz straits. By partnering with India, France seeks to broaden and maintain its economic, security interests in the region.

The concept of Nuclear Multipolarity imbibed by both of the countries is also among the significant factors that led to the improvement of   Indo- French bi-lateral relationship. As it came at the onset of the first nuclear test conducted by India in 1974[4], wherein India received widespread condemnation from many western countries, leading to the US withdrawing the supplies of nuclear reactors to India. Therefore making the France replace the US to supply nuclear fuel to India in 1983[5]. Also, when India conducted its second nuclear tests in 1998 under the Vajpayee government, the then French President Jacques Chirac publicly condemned the sanctions placed by the US on India[6]. Later, France supported India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a special waiver in 2008 to let India engage in civil nuclear trade. France continues to bid India’s position to become a permanent member of the NSG.

As India- France relations having matured over the years, this has led to France is one of India’s important strategic allies who share the same global outlook. Frances’s role in supporting India to join the three out of the four crucial International Export Control regimes such as Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016, Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) in 2017 and the Australia Group (AG) in 2018[7] shall improve India’s credentials in the field of Non- Proliferation despite India not signing the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) officially. While China vehemently opposes India’s entry into the NSG, France’s extensive support for India’s entry into the forums such as MTCR, AG, etc. have only strengthened India’s bid into the NSG and France’s continued support thus becomes essential for India’s entry to the NSG along with the other International players including USA, UK, etc. Also, it is essential for India that France continues its support for  a permanent seat in the UNSC, which is indeed crucial to ascertain itself as a global power in the long run. The maturity of India- France relations can also be seen in the matters regarding Kashmir, wherein France regards the Kashmir situation as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan[8]. Post abrogation of Article 370, France held onto its stance of the abrogation being an internal matter of India[9].

Apart from the arms trade between India and France, a significant aspect of the defence cooperation between the two countries lies at the shared strategic interests. India and France’s involvement in the important multilateral forums such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and France’s dialogue partnership at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) helps in strengthening cooperation and coordination between the states involved. As France is as resident power in the Indian Ocean not only through its territories in Region but also through its military bases in Djibouti[10] and in UAE[11], provides greater an impetus in the region militarily. India signing the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) with France in 2019[12] has provided the Indian Navy with greater a accessibility in the region as well as increased operational endurance of the Indian naval shnips deployed in the vicinity against piracy and illegal trade, especially in the Southern Indian Ocean region. Indian and French armed forces conducting exercises such as the Exercise Varuna with the Indian Navy, Exercise Garuda with the Indian Air Force, and Exercise Shakti with the Indian Army also showcases a positive step in improving the interoperability and jointness between the two country’s forces. The conduct of Joint Patrols and also the exchange of information to foster maritime surveillance[13] is also an very important step taken by both the countries to ensure stability and security in the region.

Interestingly, the co-operation between both the countries in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations is another facet of improving ties between both the nations. Especially around the “Vanilla  Islands,[14] there has been in the past instances wherein Indian Navy was one of the earliest responders to the Cyclone hit Madagascar in January 2020[15] or even the rescue of Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy by a French Patrol Vessel[16] in the vicinity of the Île Amsterdam Island in 2018 is one another fine example of joint manship between the two forces, which sets a roadmap for further cooperation between the two nations in SAR (Search and Rescue Operations), HADR so on and so forth.

Policy Convergences

  • Stance on tensions in West Asia: After US’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) whose signatory parties were Iran, the P-5+1 and the European Union, along with the US’s imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran has led to increased tensions in the Middle East over time. Post US withdrawal from JCPOA, in which France is already a signatory, had condemned US for enacting more stricter sanctions on iran[17]. Adding to it, India for its varied interests including the Chabahar Port Project, Oil Imports, etc. have been closely monitoring the increasingly hostile situation in the Middle East. As the interests of both India and France converge for a stable Middle-East, both the countries have raised concerns regarding the same. This was reiterated in a joint statement between India and France on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France in August 2019 which stated: “France and India agreed that full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was needed to ensure regional and international peace and security and that current issues need to be resolved peacefully through dialogue, including through efforts towards de-escalation of ongoing tensions”[18].
  • Vision on Climate Change: India and France share the same foresight on climate change. These actions can be observed in agreements such as the recent Paris agreement signed and ratified by India in 2016[19], to limit the CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions & to keep the global average temperatures rising above from 1.5 degree Celsius. India and France have signed an at the International Solar Alliance (ISA) signed at the COP21[20] in Paris is another key initiative taken by both the countries in order to promote the use of Solar energy and also to reduce the dependency on non-renewable sources of energy.

 The Quest for a Multipolar World: As observed in the recent years, there has been a drastic change in the US foreign policy which has contributed to a sudden power vaccum in some of the most sensitive parts of the world. Instances such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, withdrawal from the JCPOA as iterated above or even the policy paralysis that the US concurrently faces on its deployment of troops in northern Syria[21], has left the world surprised. Due to these prevailing scenarios and the rise of Chinese power across the world, many nations including France and India argue for a more multipolar world instead of a new bipolar scenario comprising of US and China . As both countries are playing a significant role in the world stage, India & France’s Quest for a multipolar scenario remains significant.

Conclusion

As France looks upon India to seek more relevance in the greater power dynamics of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, similarly latter’s desire to be a more vital player and to be a “net-security provider” in the Indian Ocean can be given a significant boost with the concurrent strategic partnership. India plans on connecting culturally with the countries in the Indian Ocean region through Project Mausam[22] and it considers to move ahead with more positive ventures with many likeminded Indian Ocean states; It presents both the countries a case to indulge in enhanced strategic posturing in the Indian Ocean Region especially address critical challenges such as the increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region. Both India and France are also intrested dealing with non-traditional threats, as well as providing economic support to developing countries in the region. Hence the relationship is a sustainablilty of his relationship even in the times crisis seems to be a more promising one.

End-Notes

[1] Indo-French Relations.” La France en Inde / France in India. French Emabssy in New Delhi, September 17, 2019. https://in.ambafrance.org/Indo-French-relations-12465

[2] Ibid

[3] THE FRENCH WHITE PAPER ON DEFENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY 2008. NEW YORK: ODILE JACOB PUBLISHERS, 2008. http://www.mocr.army.cz/images/Bilakniha/ZSD/French White Paper on Defence and National Security 2008.pdf

[4] Sarkar, Jayita. “There’s No Nuking Indo-French Ties.” The Business line. The Hindu Business Line, June 29, 2015. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/theres-no-nuking-indofrench-ties/article7367533.ece.

[5] ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Agencies, ET Online and. “Boost for NSG Membership, India Joins Australia Group.” The Economic Times. Economic Times, January 19, 2018. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/boost-for-nsg-membership-india-joins-australia-group/articleshow/62568821.cms?from=mdr.

[8] Press Trust of India. “France Says Kashmir Bilateral Issue between India and Pakistan.” India Today, August 21, 2019. https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/france-says-kashmir-bilateral-issue-between-india-and-pakistan-1590052-2019-08-21.

[9] Ibid

[10] MELVIN, NEIL. “THE FOREIGN MILITARY PRESENCE IN THE HORN OF AFRICA REGION.” SIPRI Background Paper. STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL PEACE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, April 2019. https://sipri.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/sipribp1904.pdf.

[11] Ibid

[12] Peri, Dinakar. “Navy Seeks Access to French Base in Djibouti for Refuelling.” The Hindu. The Hindu, April 18, 2019. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/navy-seeks-access-to-french-base-in-djibouti-for-refuelling/article26881399.ece

[13] Peri, Dinakar. “In a First, India, France Conduct Joint Patrols from Reunion Island.” The Hindu. The Hindu, March 21, 2020. https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/in-a-first-india-france-conduct-joint-patrols-from-reunion-island/article31129323.ece.

[14] A group of exotic island states in the South Western Indian Ocean — The Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion, Seychelles — joined hands a few years ago to promote tourism towards their side of the Indian Ocean.

[15] Indian Navy Launches ‘Operation Vanilla’ to Provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief at Madagascar.” Press Information Bureau, January 29, 2020. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=197712

[16] Goswami, Dev. “Updates: How Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy Was Rescued.” India Today. India Today, September 24, 2018. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/live-updates-abhilash-tomy-stranded-indian-navy-officer-rescued-safely-1347408-2018-09-24

[17] “Iran Nuclear Deal: France Condemns US Move to Re-Impose Sanctions.” BBC News. BBC, May 11, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44079831.

[18] “MEA: Statements: Bilateral/Multilateral Documents.” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Ministry of External Affairs, August 22, 2019. https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/31755/IndiaFrance+Joint+Statement+on+Visit+of+Prime+Minister+to+France+2223+August+2019

[19] Shrivastava, Kumar Sambhav. “India Ratifies Paris Climate Treaty: Here’s All You Need to Know.” Hindustan Times, October 3, 2016. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/what-signing-the-paris-climate-change-treaty-means-for-india/story-RsDH1IAohQNEqRxb426YbM.html

[20] Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères. “International Solar Alliance.” France Diplomatie – Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, 2019. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/climate-and-environment/international-solar-alliance/

[21] Chulov, Martin. “Deadly Clash in Syria a Vivid Reminder of US Troops’ Ill-Defined Mission.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, February 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/13/syria-us-troops-mission-qamishli-quagmire.

[22] “Press Information Bureau |Government of India| Ministry of Culture.” Project Mausam, July 24, 2017. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=168923