French President Emmanuel Macron is on a visit to India. On top of the agenda for discussions, reportedly, is maritime security. In a series of preparatory visits, French officials have underlined the need for a deeper nautical partnership with India.
- During a visit to New Delhi in October 2017, defence minister Florence Parly stressed “strategic cooperation in defence”, particularly maritime cooperation in South and South-East Asia.
- Earlier this year, foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian came calling, highlighting the need for stronger security measures in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
India-France security relationship –
- For many in the Indian establishment, France’s long-standing political support for New Delhi makes it an ideal partner in the regional commons.
- Paris has always stood by New Delhi, even in moments of crises. Not only has France routinely assisted India with vital defence equipment, it also played a key role in pulling New Delhi out of its international isolation in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests.
Maritime security pact –
- Macron’s visit is expected to result in the signing of a reciprocal agreement granting French naval vessels access to Indian ports for repair and resupply, and Indian vessels the right to routinely use France’s Indian Ocean military bases.
- Besides the French base in the Réunion Islands, Paris is likely to allow Indian warships to utilise its military facilities in Abu Dhabi and Djibouti, where the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) already operates a logistical base.
- French facilities are likely to add to India’s network of nautical outposts in the IOR, including in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Seychelles, where New Delhi plans to build and operate a military base.
Significance of Indo-French Maritime Cooperation –
- Official accounts suggest Indo-French naval cooperation is aimed at securing the critical sea lanes.
- The desire to pool operational resources in littoral Asia is driven ostensibly by the need to effectively combat security threats—piracy, trans-national crime and terrorism—as also to build security capacities in the Indian Ocean.
- For New Delhi, however, the more substantive pay-off of a nautical pact with France is a potential expansion of the Indian Navy’s operational footprint across the Indo-Pacific region.
- France is the only European power with a strong military presence in both the Indian Ocean (Réunion and Mayotte) and the Pacific (French Polynesia and New Caledonia). Its utility as a catalyst for India’s cross-theatre maritime outreach is immense.
- Crucially for New Delhi, a nautical pact with France sends a strong message to India’s geopolitical antagonists in maritime Asia.
- India will be hoping for a closer engagement in the Western Indian Ocean, where France has one of the most forward-deployed armed forces in the world.
- India’s naval leadership would be keen to expand the scope and complexity of the Indo-French bilateral naval exercise VARUNA, while also exploring opportunities for French warships to participate in trilateral drills with Quad-partners (Japan, Australia and the US).
- A partnership with the French navy in littoral South-East Asia would allow the Indian Navy to influence the security-dynamic of the Pacific, even extending operations to the Southern Pacific Islands.
the true test of Indo-French maritime ties will lie in each side’s ability to meet the other’s expectations. While both parties would want to optimise gains by combating threats jointly, none is likely to be ready for a concession that amounts to a strategic compromise.