French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Credit: AP Photo / Francois Mori
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was recently in France as part of a three-nation visit to Europe that also included Denmark and Germany. Modi tweeted to say that although his visit to Paris was short, it was “fruitful.” He also characterized France as “one of India’s strongest partners”, collaborating across a range of strategic sectors, including nuclear, aerospace and defense. French President Emmanuel Macron and Modi discussed a number of bilateral and global issues.
The collection announcement published during Modi’s visit captured the essence of the France-India Partnership, one based on mutual trust, commitment to international law, vision of a “multipolar world-reformed and effective multilateralism.” Both leaders also reiterated their commitment to the core principles of the liberal international order, including democracy, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and human rights.
As major Indo-Pacific powers, Modi and Macron also noted the importance of their “premium strategic partnership” for maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. The two leaders also noted that they have a common vision of a free, open and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific, with a commitment to “international law, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and a region free from coercion, tensions and conflicts. ”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was also discussed during the Macron-Modi meeting. It is clear from the joint statement that India is still not ready to condemn Russia. Instead, India joined France to express “serious concern” over the ongoing conflict. Both leaders stressed “the need to respect the UN Charter, international law and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”
Bilateral defensive ties were prominent in the discussions between the two leaders. France agreed to support India’s “Make In India” initiative and further transfer of technology to India. The construction of six Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Dock Limited was cited as an example of this. The sixth Scorpene submarine, INS Vagsheer, was launched in April 2022. The submarine will now undergo extensive testing and trials for about a year to ensure its operational dignity. The timely delivery of Rafale fighter jets despite the pandemic increased India’s confidence in France, as highlighted in the joint statement.
Defense co-operation between India and France has remained strong with a number of joint exercises, including Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight and Garuda, performed regularly. The joint statement noted that given France’s Indo-Pacific commitments, maritime cooperation between the two has “reached new levels of trust and will continue through exercises, exchanges and joint efforts throughout the Indian Ocean.” India has growing maritime security problems in the Indian Ocean due to the rising Chinese footprint in the region and Beijing’s warlike intrusion, for example into India’s exclusive economic zone in the Andamans. Against this background, it is likely that New Delhi will pursue Paris in order to step up bilateral commitments, but also strengthen its naval preparedness in the region as a deterrent.
Spatial cooperation between the two countries was also highlighted in the Joint Declaration. France, along with the United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), has remained one of India’s closest space partners. Recently, the two countries decided to work together on ways to secure outer space against a range of growing security challenges in space, including challenges in counter space. “Maintaining a secure access to space for all” and discussions on the global governance of space are some of the relatively new areas on the India-France agenda.
Last September, Indian media reported that New Delhi should start a dialogue on space security with Paris. This is important for a few reasons. India has similar security dialogues with only two other countries – the United States and Japan. But given that France has remained one of India’s oldest and trusted strategic partners, a space security dialogue with France is no surprise. In addition, India is involved in a new space security dialogue an indication of the deteriorating space security environment.
With an increasing number of anti-satellite (ASAT) tests and cyber and electronic warfare in space, the need for like-minded partners like India and France is real to discuss possible ways to effectively curb the current trend. The Joint Declaration noted that the bilateral strategic dialogue on space issues will bring different stakeholders, including experts from space and defense departments, to discuss the various challenges in space and the norms and rules required to regulate space activities.
The two sides agreed to conduct the first dialogue later in the year. It is crucial to develop a common understanding of the security challenges and to develop certain traffic rules involving major space actors in the Indo-Pacific. China’s growing space and counter space capabilities have pushed many Indo – Pacific powers to develop their own appropriate deterrent measures to protect their assets. Together with capacity development, it is equally important to design new road rules that regulate space conditions, something that is gaining more traction among the most important space players in Indo-Pacific.
Similarly, the development of a common understanding of cyber security challenges and “promotion of cyber norms and principles” to effectively address cyber threats and enable a “peaceful, secure and open cyberspace” was also adopted by India and France.
Terrorism, climate change, clean energy and sustainable development also received attention during the Macron-Modi discussion. The two sides agreed to advance their anti-terrorism agenda by addressing a number of areas, including the financing of terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism, as well as the misuse of the Internet for terrorism and violent extremism.
Given the long-standing and trusted partnership between India and France and the growing geopolitical trends in the Indo-Pacific region, New Delhi and Paris are likely to build an even closer partnership that will focus on building India’s military subsidies. France seems ready to promote India’s Make In India initiative, which could possibly help both countries. Although the bilateral relationship is strong, India and France must create more minilateral in the Indo-Pacific and get more countries to support the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy. In addition to diplomatic support and weapons, France’s actual material capacity to help counter China in the Indo-Pacific is yet to be seen.