By Nakshatra Jagannath & Dr. A Adityanjee
To understand the depth of the bilateral relationship, one would do injustice to history by ignoring the 1971 war with Pakistan that resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign nation. This era is characterized by the US, providing massive support, both diplomatic, and military to Pakistan in its war against India. However, despite US posturing the French moved ahead with complete autonomy and leaned towards India making it evident how concerns of India for an urgent political settlement were legitimate. Though France in this era, was not very happy with India’s strong relations with the then Soviet Union, it decided to keep that aspect aside or at least partly aside when it came to the decision-making. Moving ahead, France saw India not only as a huge market for exporting its goods, it also saw India as a potential trusted partner in cooperation in the defense, space, and tech sector. The French also tried to balance the dependency of India on Russia for defense and dual use supplies. Though France has been one of the defense suppliers since 1949, gradually by 1980s-90s it became a major defense supplier to Pakistan. This was a genuine cause of worry for the Indian government. Finally in 2011 the French leadership decided to stop supplying heavy weapons, and military equipment to Pakistan to ease Indian concerns. France did not want to be memorialized as a key partner in Pakistan’s quest for military ambitions. India and France have both been trusted defense partners, right from the start to the landmark Rafale deal to the latest scorpene’ submarine deal. It is quite evident that both the countries will continue to cooperate on the defense front.
The early 1990s witnessed the landmark liberalization, privatization, and urbanization (LPG) reforms in India. The mid 1990s witnessed unstable Indian governments changing in quick succession while the late 1990s witnessed the historic nuclear tests at Pokhran. Post the Pokhran chapter, the western world under the William Jefferson Clinton administration in US, decided to impose strict sanctions on India. Subsequently these sanctions were eased later with exceptions and allied procedures. During the period of Western sanction galore to isolate India, France was the only western nation that criticized actions and measures taken against India. It openly supported India’s nuclear tests and nuclear ambition- as is evident from the 1998 agreement, and the subsequent 2008 civil nuclear deal.
Introduction to Strategic Partnership
Paris and New Delhi have a long-standing friendship and partnership, based on the foundational pillars of mutual trust, respect, and commitment. “Liberty, equality and fraternity” is the national motto of France. Despite being part of the WW-II allied powers, France charted its own independent course and was at times odds with the NATO and the US. In the last 3 decades France has emerged as not only a reliable ally, but also a strategic partner to India. The journey of France, from being India’s one of the European colonial powers to an ally and finally a reliable, trusted, and committed strategic partner is indeed a fascinating story. History records that the recent ties between the two middle powers are independent of external narratives and events. This is evident from the fact that despite the west turning against India during the Indian nuclear odyssey – it was France alone which stood strong by India’s side. Following the Pokhran-1 peaceful nuclear explosion of 1974, France did join the so-called London Club in 1975, the forerunner of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In India’s quest to becoming a nuclear power, France provided enriched uranium fuel to the Tarapore nuclear plant in the 1980s when the US reneged on the contract. France also signed a civil nuclear deal with India in 2008- which happened to be India’s first civil nuclear deal with a western country despite western sanctions after the 1998 Pokhran-2 nuclear tests. It will always remain laudable that France stood against nuclear isolation of India, and despite intense pressure by the US, it charted its own independent India policy. France has been traditionally suspicious of the undeclared Anglo-Saxon alliance (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) dominating the geo-politics and maintains its strategic autonomy wherever it can. France received a rude shock recently when Australia reneged the French contract worth $66 billion to provide 12 conventionally powered submarines and stealthily entered the AUKUS alliance in favor of nuclear submarines.
Analyzing further the background, India-France Bonhomie
Moving ahead, India and France have been trade partners, clocking over 10 billion USD of bilateral trade in the last 2 decades. France was India’s largest Arms supplier between 2017-21 and a reliable ally that has been supporting India’s bid for a permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) perpetually. India has supported the Paris convention concerning the urgent matter of climate change. Both nations jointly laid the foundation of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) recently to promote solar energy, or green and clean energy broadly. This is a huge opportunity for India, to become the energy supplier of the world, as it is gradually transitioning towards green and clean energy considering global warming, and climate change. India is quite well positioned to become a key player in solar energy front, as is evident from the presence of some of the World’s largest solar power plants- Bhadla Solar Power Plant in the Northern Indian state of Rajasthan, and Pavagada Solar Power Plant in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Another vital aspect of the strategic partnership is the Indo-Pacific front which happens to be of key importance to both the countries, speaking from a maritime point of view. Both India and France are committed to ensure peace and tranquility in the region. Both support innovations coming from the 3rd World countries in the Indo-Pacific region. France is keen to join BRICS plus mechanism. India is the new emerging leader of the Global South now. India can serve as a strong and reliable shoulder for the Global South, and more importantly as a bridge between the western world and the global south. India can help France in this process of harmonization.
In Recent Developments
On 14th July 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited as the Guest of Honor on the historic Bastille Day celebration by the French President- Emmanuel Macron. Prime Minister Modi was honored with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor- the highest civilian award in France. This visit also symbolized a historical significance. It celebrated 25 years of Indo-France strategic partnership and set the roadmap for the next 25 years. This was the second time in France’s history that an Indian Prime Minister took part in the historic Bastille Day military celebrations, the first one being the former Prime Minister- Manmohan Singh in the year 2009. The tradition of the tri-services contingent march by the Indian forces remained a graceful constant. This visit played the significant role of a notable catalyst in propelling the relation between the two great powers to heights unimaginable. During this visit, both the nations agreed on key issues and signed various agreements and released the roadmap- Horizon 2047 for the next 25 years. France and India have announced to deepen their defense cooperation. Going a step further both propose jointly developing defense hardware. For instance, after the delivery of the 36 Dassault Rafale Jets to India, the two nations decided to cooperate in advanced aeronautical technologies by rolling out a joint development program of a combat aircraft engine. This was an important part of the joint document titled ‘Horizon 2047’. This joint development program will be managed by France’s Safran and India’s DRDO.
Both countries indeed took a step further to maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region. India is now a major Indo-Pacific power, and France, is also a resident Indo-Pacific Power. India agreed to purchase 3 additional scorpene submarines to further strengthen her blue-water navy and maintain maritime peace in the region. This development comes due to the ever-growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region in global geopolitics. France understands the significance of the Indo-pacific because of the presence of French overseas island territories namely: La Reunion, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia. In this regard, the two countries pledged to take steps to maintain peace in the region. Both resolved to work towards a triangular development Cooperation fund for the Indo-Pacific region. This fund shall provide a major impetus to startups and innovations in the region in line with climate change, green energy and sustainable development goals and allied sectors. The two countries also discussed the roadmap for defense industrial cooperation. This concluded with major deals being signed between HAL and Safran Helicopters for joint development of a helicopter engine and transfer of technology for the Shakti engine. To further tread on the path of defense, technological, space and industrial cooperation, DRDO will open its technical office at the Indian embassy in Paris. Notable references to setting up of a maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) facility in India that could propel defense and technological investment and relations was made in Prime Minister Modi’s long speech. Such a development, apart from providing easy access to spare parts and repairs, would also result in the creation of significant employment in the sector which is yet to be tapped to its full capacity. Besides defense cooperation as a major pillar of the strategic partnership roadmap, the space sector was an equally important aspect of the visit and subsequent joint statements and agreements. The two countries are storehouses of massive scientific potential. Both nations reached agreements regarding the TRISHNA satellites being developed jointly by CNES and ISRO. The two countries also stressed the importance of maritime surveillance and domain awareness with key focus on peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. From India’s point of view, a strategic partner as reliable as France focusing on strengthening the partnership with key focus on Indo-Pacific would help a great deal in balancing Chinese influence over the region.
Apart from space and defense, bilateral trade is another key aspect. India is France’s second largest Asian trade partner, and various new markets, and avenues are yet to be utilized for boosting the trade sector. To give a boost to the business cooperation, India announced that she will attend the CEO’s meet in France. Such a step will serve as an appropriate forum for exchange of ideas, and aid cooperation between businesses across the two countries. The trade and business sector has always taken a back-seat in Indian diplomacy. Hopefully this domain of the bilateral partnership will receive boost with the new roadmap in place charting the way for the next 25 years.
Another important development was the implementation of India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) by France. This is indeed a milestone and a testimony to the fact that India has successfully built the most reliable, trustworthy, and easy to use UPI interface which is now being adopted by global comity of nations. The adoption process is ongoing and will complete by September 2023 with the Eiffel Tower being the first merchant in France to accept UPI payments. This development came up after an agreement signed between NPCI International Payment Limited and Lyra Collect. This is also of importance, when viewed from the perspective of an Indian tourist or business tycoon who will now be able to make transactions in rupees- thereby also giving rupee a significant added global footing.
The Road Ahead – Horizon 2047 Roadmap
The 2047 Horizon Strategic Partnership roadmap between India and France- is important for the security and sovereignty of the two nations. For the entire world and for the people it is indeed a stabilizing influence. A strong India and a strong France by working in harmony towards a multipolar world will contribute to world peace and strategic stability as we go through an era of global geopolitical chaos, changing world dynamics, and the ills of climate change and global warming.
In addition, France, and India both need to counter anti-national sentiments, and seditious elements that plague both the countries. France, in the recent past, has seen terrifying incidents of organized violence perpetrated by a section of immigrant populations. India understands French need and imperative for ensuring a safe and peaceful France and Europe at large. India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism and can empathize with the French plight. Such incidents are indeed alarming for the global community and must be managed by the French Administration without further delay
CSA Training Fellow at the Council for Strategic Affairs. He is based in Kolkata, India.
Dr. A Adityanjee
President of the Council for Strategic Affairs. He is based in Cleveland, OH, USA.
However, To conclude, both middle powers have had historic ties and have metamorphosed from being allies to strategic partners. Both have been marginalized by the dominant powers and have strived to maintain their strategic autonomy. France and India have gracefully completed 25 years of strategic partnership and have resolved mutually to further build upon this foundation and march towards the 2047 milestone. The year 2047 shall mark one hundred years of Indian Independence and 50 years of Indo-France strategic partnership in accordance with the ambitious Horizon 2047 working together hand in hand.