India and France – Next Phase of Strategic Partnership

Both sides agreed to find creative ways for France’s deeper involvement in the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ efforts in advanced defence technology, manufacturing and exports, through increased industry to industry partnerships

Issue: 05-2022By Ranjit KumarPhoto(s): By PIB
Prime Minister Modi dropped in to Paris to congratulate President elect Macron on his second consecutive election victory. India and France have built one of the premier strategic partnerships for advancing peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Though defence is a strong pillar of India-France relations, this was not the only item on the menu of Modi-Macron meeting in Paris on May 4, 2022. President Emmanuel Macron, who till then had not taken oath for his second Presidential term, received Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Presidential Elysee Palace and held extensive discussions not only on bilateral relations but international issues, especially Ukraine, were deliberated. The comfort level of strategic relations between European and Asian giants are so high that strategic observers have already started comparing India’s relations with Russia during cold war days to the present state of ties between India and France.

Though India’s dependence on Russia for defence equipment continue, France has emerged as a major supplier of topnotch military platforms ranging from Mirage 2000s and Rafale to Scorpene submarines and many other high-tech subsystems. Like Russian support to India in manufacturing major weapon systems, India is urging France to expand this cooperation in other sensitive areas also and help India become Atmanirbhar (Self Dependent) in defence equipment. In the backdrop of reports relating to French Naval Group withdrawal from Indian Navy’s RFP for six submarines and Indian Navy’s plan to acquire naval versions of French Rafale maritime fighters, Indian officials denied having such issues coming for summit level interaction. Giving details of the Modi-Macron discussions on defence cooperation, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said, “When two strategic partners speak, it covers the discussions in a format which is not necessarily focussed on transaction or individual platforms. India and France are very strong strategic partners and also have very strong defence partnership. The context of defence partnership is defined in case of our two countries by not just trade in different platforms, but it also extends to co-development, co-designing, co-manufacturing, This is very much sync and in line with our own domestic policy of Atmanirbharta, which also of course extends very strongly into the field of defence. So, discussions focussed more on how the two countries can partner more strongly in the field of co-designing, co-development, coproduction of different defence equipment in India.”

Later in a joint statement, India and France underscored that the long-standing armament cooperation is testimony to the mutual trust between the two sides. The six Scorpene submarines built at MDL in Mumbai illustrates the level of transfer of technology from France to India, in line with the “Make in India” initiative. As seen in the timely delivery of the Rafale despite the pandemic, the two sides enjoy synergy in the field of defence. Taking forward this momentum, and based on their mutual trust, both sides agreed to find creative ways for France’s deeper involvement in the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (Self-reliant India) efforts in advanced defence technology, manufacturing and exports, through increased industry to industry partnerships.

India and France have agreed on setting up a bilateral strategic dialogue to address the contemporary challenges that have arisen in space, in particular, maintaining its secure access. This dialogue will see the corroboration of various experts from space and defence agencies. Furthermore, the first India-France strategic dialogue on space issues will be held in 2022 at the earliest. “India and France have agreed on setting up a bilateral strategic dialogue on space issues,” read a joint statement by the Ministry of External Affairs after the talks between the two countries during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. “It will bring together experts from space and defence agencies, administration and specialised ecosystem to discuss security and economic challenges in outer space, the norms and principles applicable to space as well as unveil new areas of cooperation. The two sides agreed to hold the first dialogue this year at the earliest,” the statement added.

In an increasingly digitalised world, India and France have strengthened cooperation between their cyber security agencies. Based on a convergent outlook, they agree to join forces in promoting cyber norms and principles in order to counter cyber threats and agree to upgrade their bilateral cyber dialogue with a view to contributing to a peaceful, secure and open cyberspace. The two sides also launched a number of initiatives to connect their Start-up ecosystems and welcome recent public-private engagement to work together, based on their respective successes, on building standards and protocols for free, inclusive, innovative and open public digital infrastructure and solutions to transform the lives of the people and for the larger global good. India will be the first Country of the Year at this year’s edition of Vivatech, Europe’s largest digital fair, in Paris.

Building on this solid foundation of ties cemented by strong French support on various forums of United Nations, Prime Minister Modi discussed the next phase of strategic partnership with France as India is assured of continuity in French policy towards India, with the re-election of Emmanuel Macron as President. Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra rightly said India and France are strong strategic partners and the two leaders are also good friends. So, it was a golden opportunity for Prime Minister Modi to drop in Paris on his return journey from Berlin and Denmark for a brief working visit to congratulate President elect Macron on his second consecutive election victory. Prime Minister Modi had last visited Paris in August, 2019. As the corona pandemic put a brake on international relations and high level visits, India and France have now resumed summit level in-person visit. President Macron has accepted Prime Minister Modi’s invite to visit India as soon as possible.

Strategic relations with France assumed special significance in the post cold war era, when France came to India’s rescue on many occasions. In the post Ukraine crisis era, the world will see vastly changed geo-political equations and in this context, India and France will be more important for each other. The strategic ties are expected to go deeper and deeper with both countries increasingly getting dependent on each other for promotion of each other’s strategic interests.

Accordingly, the Joint Statement released after Modi-Macron talks said India and France have built one of the premier strategic partnerships for advancing peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. They share a vision of a free, open and rulesbased Indo-Pacific region, based on commitment to international law, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, freedom of navigation and a region free from coercion, tensions and conflicts.

Presently India and France are engaged in intense cooperation across all defence domains. Joint exercises (Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight, Garuda) illustrate efforts towards better integration and interoperability wherever possible. The two leaders asserted that maritime cooperation between India and France has reached new levels of trust and will continue through exercises, exchanges and joint endeavours throughout the Indian Ocean.