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India-Italy to re-engage in defence

November 3, 2017 By Ranjit Kumar Photo(s): By PIB
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with the Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on October 30, 2017.

The first Prime Ministerial visit from Italy in a decade was intended to mend the relations with an emerging Asian giant and a rising economic power, which is also set to be the biggest defence market in the coming years. The visit of Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni from 29 to 30th October has melted the ice in the frozen India-Italy relations. The arrest of two Italian marines in 2012 who killed two Indian fishermen from Kerala in Indian maritime boundary, led to unnecessary diplomatic tensions and bilateral relations suffered a lot. The domestic Kerala politics and local sensitivities besides the judicial processes prevented the Central government from helping the Italian government to help secure the release of the two Italian marines, who are now in Italy on Supreme Court directives.

Now that the dust is settled, it was high time for Italy and India to let the bitterness in relations evaporate, and give a fresh start to bilateral relations, with which India had friendly relations. The Modi-Gentiloni summit resulted in clearing the path for resumption of defence cooperation between India and Italy. With this view the two Prime Ministers agreed to enhance bilateral defence cooperation for which a structured dialogue will be held in Rome or New Delhi in the first half of next year. The Prime Ministers also okayed the Italian proposal to allow the defence companies from both the countries to meet and discuss areas of cooperation. PM Gentiloni underlined Italy’s industrial expertise in this sector, and the renewed interest of Italian industry in participating in defence manufacturing under the “Make in India” initiative. The two sides will also discuss in the appropriate Working Group the draft Technical Agreement on Sharing of White Shipping Information between the Navies. The forthcoming structured dialogues is now expected to look into the issue of Finmeccanica-India relations. Finmeccanica had last year threatened to review the ongoing cooperation with Indian armed forces.

Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni meeting the President, Ram Nath Kovind, at Rashtrapati Bhavan

Italy being a leading member of the powerful 28 nation block of European Union, had indeed played a role in adversely impacting India EU relations. As a result India and EU could not hold the annual India EU summits for two consecutive years. The marines issue was followed by the Agusta Westland VVIP helicopters kickback scandal which led to the blacklisting of the parent firm of the VVIP chopper, the Finmeccanica. This Italian defence behemoth has substantial defence cooperation with India and scuttling of relations with the firm has led to cancellation of all future deals. The Finmeccanica is engaged with Indian armed forces in many critical areas and had emerged as a major player in the Indian defence market. Finmeccanica has supplied to Indian Naval ships 76 mm and 127 mm guns, besides spare parts for Sea Hawk Helicopters along with radars on several warships and helicopters. In view of India’s ambitious acquisition programmes, Finmeccanica had termed India as an “ interesting market. Last year in May the company had hoped that an agreed and transparent solution was found as soon as possible . The company had then warned it will nor refrain from assessing the situation given the limited size of the ongoing business in the country. In spite of this warning the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that the government had decided to cancel all ongoing tenders for defence equipment won by Finmeccanica as a precursor to blacklisting of the firm, which is being investigated for bribery in the Rs 3600 crores VVIP choppers deal. He had also declared that whenever there is a capital procurement of Finmeccanica and its subsidiaries, all Requests for Proposals will be closed.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni witnessing the Exchange of Agreements between India & Italy, at Hyderabad House

Thus India effectively kept out the Finmeccanica from all Indian defence tenders, which is hurting the company’s financial interests very much. Italy now wants to restore the era of cooperation in the pre- chopper scandals days. It is learnt that the Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni had raised the issue of blacklisting of Italian firms from Indian defence contracts during one to one talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is reported to have assured full cooperation with the Indian agencies in the investigation of the choppers deal.

Indian government also realises the hurt caused to the Indian armed forces because of immediate blacklisting of the foreign arms majors, involved in kickbacks for supplying defence equipments to Indian armed forces. Hence the Modi government took the initiative of inviting the Italian Prime Minister and put the relations on track. The visit turned out to be more of a goodwill than with the intent of any substantial discussion on issues of cooperation of major interest to India. Informing about the visit of the Italian Prime Minister the Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had already clarified, “the visit is aimed at strengthening the bilateral political and economic relations between the two countries.”

Hence, mindful of the rising menace of terrorism and cyber crimes, the Italian and Indian Prime Ministers resolved to fight terrorism and violent extremism in all their forms and manifestations. They condemned in the strongest possible terms recent terror attacks in India, in Europe and elsewhere and emphasised the need for strengthening international partnership and concerted action by the international community in addressing the menace of terrorism.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni interacting with the Indian & Italian Business Leaders for boosting economic & investment cooperation

Indirectly hitting at China and Pakistan, India and Italy emphasised the need for effective implementation of existing international commitments on countering terrorism including UN Global Countering Terrorism Strategy, UNSC resolutions and targeted sanctions relating to terrorism. According to the Joint Statement, In this context, the leaders also called upon all UN member countries to designate terrorist entities in line with the relevant UNSC Resolutions. Both leaders also called for an early conclusion of negotiations and adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN, as an instrument that would reinforce the message that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism. They also called upon all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens and their infrastructure and networks and halting cross-border movement of terrorists.

After signing six agreements of cooperation, the two prime ministers underlined the historical importance of Gentiloni’s visit to New Delhi, which not only sets a new momentum in bilateral ties but also seeks to revitalize ongoing engagements between the two countries. The Joint Statement said that the two leaders agreed on the need for a closer partnership between India and Italy based on shared principles and values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights and territorial integrity of States. The two leaders expressed their shared desire to work together to support a rules-based international system that upholds agreed international norms, global peace and stability, and encourages inclusive growth and sustainable development in all parts of the inter-connected world. They welcomed the growing India-Italy convergence on contemporary global issues and agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in multilateral forums. Significantly, the Italian Prime Minister also supported India’s intensified engagement with Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group, and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) which strengthens global non-proliferation efforts. The visit thus ended in a happy note with Italy getting the promise from India to re-engage in defence arena.