India’s foreign policy priority is ‘transformational’ relations with countries around the world. In other words, focus on countries that can help India overcome the enormous barriers that stand in the way of its ambition to massively grow its economic and political capacities. This is the missing element in the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. India and France share a reputation for prickliness when it comes to the rest of the world, including a strong preference for going it alone. When India was on the margins of the international system, France’s guerrilla tactics against the US-backed global consensus was useful to India. Today, when India is moving into the international inner circle, France’s diplomatic utility is fading. And it isn’t yet clear what will replace this strategic bedrock.
Mr Sarkozy and his delegation have signed many agreements during his trip to India. Defence contracts are likely to be discreetly announced after Mr Sarkozy leaves. Everything short of actually signing a contract, presumably because of civil nuclear liability concerns, has been accomplished on the nuclear front. France has also repeated its long-standing support for India’s membership to the United Nations Security Council and followed the US in endorsing India for the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Nonetheless, there is little strategic content in the Indo-French relationship. Much of what has been done this week is business transactions — ones that could have been done with half-a-dozen other countries. The endorsements are rhetorical: France lacks the clout to do any diplomatic heavy-lifting in either case. The sense is of a friend with limited ability to deliver.
This bedevils most of India’s relations with Europe. Europe has little military presence in Asia. Its terrorism problems overlap only slightly with India’s. What is worrying is the lack of strategic economic content in what is collectively the world’s largest economy. Japan’s proposed industrial corridor will leapfrog Indian manufacturing infrastructure by half a century. The US has put forward a smorgasbord of game-changing options — with education and technology topping the menu.
Other than Germany’s dynamic small and medium industrial enterprise system, it is hard to see any European country having anything to contribute that is unique and transformational to India. Civilian nuclear power is seen as an area where the two countries can fuse their capabilities, hence the fuss this sector attracts. But the truth remains that reactors aren’t enough. The paucity of civil society links, in part because of pan-European immigration barriers, does not augur well. Like David Cameron before him, Mr Sarkozy is the latest European statesman to fail to fill the strategic void between India and Europe