Defense, diplomacy, economy: the reasons for good Franco-Indian understanding

Fifth world power with annual growth of more than 7%, member of the G20 and increasingly influential in the sphere of the Global South, India is an essential economic and strategic partner, the stakes of which France recognized has already twenty-six years of forging a strategic partnership in defense.

Since then, this partnership has continued to grow. Thus, the last visit of President Emmanuel Macron to Jaipur and New Delhi (northern India), on January 25 and 26, with a delegation of around fifteen business leaders, had the clear objective “to consolidate and to deepen Franco-Indian diplomatic and economic relations, as well as to strengthen ties within the framework of their bilateral defense cooperation,” declared the Ministry of Defense in a press release.

India and France play short-term and have every interest in supporting each other to face the hyperpowers that are China and the United States. This interest is shared, even if it means putting differences aside,” explains Olivier Da Lage, specialist in India and associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS). This cooperation is based on three pillars: a strategic partnership based on a common vision of the Indo-Pacific, industrial collaboration and joint operational training.

Defense: France transfers its technology

Because France has never condemned India’s five nuclear tests which occurred in May 1998, and because advanced aeronautics is one of its industrial flagships, it has established itself as a trusted partner from the start. January 26, 1998, date of signing of the first Franco-Indian strategic partnership. “The contracts for the Scorpène class submarines signed in 2005 and the Rafale aircraft concluded in 2016 have raised India to the rank of leading buyer of French equipment in Asia,” recalls Jean-Joseph Boillot, specialist in emerging economies and he also an associate researcher at IRIS, specifying that “France currently supplies 30% of the Indian military arsenal”.

Beyond the sale of the Scorpène and Rafale, manufacturing is relocated to Indian soil thanks to the transfer of French technologies. Launched in April 2022, the Vagsheer (last of six Scorpène class submarines) was entirely built in India thanks to technology transfer from Naval Group. And on the sidelines of Emmanuel Macron’s trip, we learned that the Safran group was ready to transfer 100% of its technology to the Indian group Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to design the Shakti / Ardiden 1H turboshaft engine, the result of a French collaboration. -Indian and which already equips HAL’s military helicopters and perhaps in the future its combat aircraft.

But it is above all on a common vision of the Indo-Pacific region that the Franco-Indian relationship is based. “In a region that has become the new epicenter of commercial, diplomatic and military relations on the planet, the two nations want to work to stabilize and secure this strategic area,” points out a note from the French Ministry of Defense. […] The French and Indian armies regularly organize joint maneuvers to ensure the security of the Indo-Pacific region. […] India and France developed a joint strategy in 2019 which was expanded in 2022 with a roadmap on the blue economy and ocean governance.”

And since 2018, France has opened its ports and naval bases in the Indian Ocean (Mayotte and Reunion), Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) and Djibouti to the Indian navy. Djibouti is very strategic “because China has a full base there,” underlines Olivier Da Lage.

Diplomacy: a springboard in both directions?

Although an emerging power dreaming of itself as leader of the nations of the Global South, Gandhi’s country, known for its non-alignment, today wants to strengthen its weight on the international stage. Unlike its great rival, China, India is not a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. And France is the first of the five permanent members to have supported the Indian candidacy of 2010. We still need a reform of the UN and we are far from it…

“France has every interest in linking up with a growing middle power to remain a power that counts on a global scale.”

But the place enjoyed by France in major international bodies is seen by India as a major asset that can help it rise. “France, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and India, aspiring to this status, seek to chart their path independently of traditional alignments. Both support each other to make a place for themselves on the international scene dominated by China and the United States,” observes Olivier Da Lage, author of India, a fragile giant, published in September 2022 .

For his part, Jean-Joseph Boillot sees in the Franco-Indian couple a relationship becoming more and more “asymmetric”, in which India and France are to date two average powers, but one (India ) going “strengthening” and the other (France) “declining”. According to the economist, “France has every interest in linking up with a growing middle power to remain a power that counts on a global scale.”

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