Looking Ahead: France, the ally and partner
France has a special place in PM Narendra Modi’s heart as he hasn’t forgotten that Paris stood for New Delhi when the world declared it a pariah after the nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998
NEW DELHI: Russia sells long-range weapons and radars to China, the US sells hardware and fighters to Pakistan, but France is the only country that does not supply any weapons to India’s adversaries. Among the five permanent members of the UNSC, France is India’s most trusted partner. The US and Russia are too, only they sometimes tend to choose a different path. The UK has its own agenda, and nothing can be expected of China, which represents the interests of its client state Pakistan on the high table.
France has a special place in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart as he has not forgotten that Paris stood for India when the world declared it a pariah after the Shakti series of nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998 by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, citing China as the real reason for India to build nuclear deterrence. While India’s national security planners remain tight-lipped on the role played by France in building India’s precision-guided delivery platforms, it was Paris that provided the inertial guidance system for the first Prithvi short-range nuclear missile, at a time when the world had imposed sanctions on India for Pokhran II, and when India was targeted by China in the UNSC through resolution 1172.
France has also been at the forefront of blocking Pak-China conspiracies to designate innocent Indians working in Afghanistan as global terrorists and efforts to push India into a corner on Kashmir.
It is for these very reasons that India also makes it a point to stand by France. When Australia suddenly cancelled a $40 billion submarine contract with France and decided to go for the US-UK-built nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines on September 15, it was PM Modi who made the first call to an upset Emmanuel Macron a week later to discuss the issue.
Today, the India-France relationship has reached a different level with defense cooperation touching new heights and is set to become the cornerstone of the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” campaign.
While the Indian Air Force used top-of-the-line French equipment such as the Mirage 2000H during the 1999 Kargil war and two decades later for striking the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot in hinterland Pakistan, the latest submarines of the Indian Navy, Project 75, are derivatives of French Scorpene submarines.
It is understood that the French have agreed in principle to manufacture heavy thrust Safran aircraft engines, used to power Rafales, through the Make in India route, then allowing India to export these engines without any technology license conditions. The two countries are also looking at the joint development of conventionally armed nuclear submarines as well as manufacturing precision-land-attack guided loitering ammunition, land attack missiles such as Hammer and Scalp, and long-range Meteor air to air missiles in India.
French defence minister Florence Parly and diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne are at the heart of these strategic discussions. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was in France in early November for these discussions, followed by defence secretary Ajay Kumar, who is believed to have paid a visit to a French submarine line.
External affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is expected to travel next to France to cement the friendship further. With France having a military presence from Djibouti in Africa to the UAE in West Asia to the Reunion Islands in the far Indian Ocean, the two countries have decided to be strong partners in the Indo-Pacific with Abu Dhabi joining hands to secure the sea lanes of communications in the Persian Gulf and beyond. Indeed, the UAE offered to refuel French Rafale fighters on their way to India using the Airbus Multi-Role-Transport-Tanker for free as a gesture of goodwill among the three countries.
Being like-minded middle powers, India and France have strong political convergence with deep cooperation in all areas including space and manufacturing high-end critical systems such as land, air, and sub-surface inertial navigation systems, and infrared seeker systems. The best part is that unlike other friends of India, France is willing to share the entire technology with India without any caveats.
Apart from the capacity and capability building of India, the two countries also share similar views on Islamic radicalisation and terrorism with PM Modi supportive of the French leadership after a wave of terrorist attacks in France in recent years. Trust and loyalty make this one of India’s strongest bilateral relationships.