By Patrick Pascal, former Ambassador and President of the ALSTOM Group in Moscow for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. He is the founder and president of “Perspectives Europe-Monde”.
It is time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Strategic Partnership between France and India and this event coincides, on March 2 and 3, with the meeting in New Delhi of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the G20 in which Ms. Colonna participates. The contract which has just been concluded for the supply to Air India – owned for a year by the Tata Group – of 430 aircraft produced by Airbus and Boeing, including 40 long-haul A350s, also confirms the place now occupied by India in international politics, even beyond economics.
“The largest democracy in the world” in size is indeed on its way to overtaking China demographically; it is also asserting itself as a major economic power, including in the field of advanced technologies. It is no longer reduced to being on the regional level only the colossus of the sub-continent, but is likely to shine as a global power, anchored in non-alignment since its contemporary origins at the end of the partition in 1947.
Wouldn’t the state of the world be reduced to an all-out competition between China and the United States? Would international relations not be limited to a simplistic East-West opposition, as described in the narrative of Putin’s Russia? This new order in the making – which would be characterized by a multiplication of the poles of power evolving towards a real multipolar system -, would it therefore ultimately not reproduce the only confrontation of blocs, like that of the Cold War? In this new context, where do the interests of France and Europe lie?
The aircraft mega-contract
Let’s dwell for a moment on the aircraft contract. The “deal” with Airbus and Boeing is one of the largest ever concluded in civil aviation. It was announced with regard to the European group during a videoconference bringing together Prime Minister Modi, the President of the Republic, the CEO of Airbus and a representative of the Tata family which owns Air India.
Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus, felt on this occasion that “the time was right for India to become an international hub”. Partners within Airbus will naturally also benefit from the contract. It is indeed in the United Kingdom that the wings of the Airbus are designed and produced; Rolls-Royce powers the A350s. The first 6 A350s will be delivered during the year. India will become the third largest air transport market over the decade, behind the United States and China. This perspective confirms the place that India now occupies in the field of high technologies as well as its role as the “workshop” of the world, which is no longer reserved exclusively for China. For example, Apple is in the process of relocating the manufacturing of iPhones to India from China. However, this process is complex.
India at the heart of the international system
India has already been a regional power for decades playing a notable role in multilateral forums. Because of the quality of its nationals, their language skills, the involvement of the Indian armed forces in peacekeeping operations, we have witnessed for a long time an over-representation of India, compared to the budgetary contributions , in the international civil service. This observation is exactly the opposite of the situation prevailing for example for Japan, yet one of the very first contributors.
Reflections on UN reform have always included an Indian “factor” for the reasons previously stated. It has thus been envisaged for more than twenty years to enlarge the UN Security Council so that it is more representative of the state of the world. Although this complex process has come up against major political obstacles, France for its part has, on several occasions, publicly declared itself in favor of the entry of India, Germany, Japan and a large country in Africa. India and France have also been linked by a strategic partnership since 1998. But if we take into consideration the single case of India, whose candidacy was indisputable according to several criteria (cf. demographic weight and economic, participation in UN activities), it was then clear when the question appeared to have reached maturity at the end of the 1990s, that such a candidacy would then inevitably give rise to a counterclaim by Pakistan. This last country was also considerable but also had the disadvantage of having carried out nuclear experiments in 1998. This was therefore not possible, apart from the respective relations of the countries concerned with the great powers, even though nuclear proliferation had become a major concern and could therefore not be “rewarded” in any way.
What about today when India is on the way to acquiring the status of a world power? And was India ever just a regional power? India, blocks and alliances The characteristics of the current period, highlighted in particular by the war in Ukraine, are the breakdown of the international system – made particularly visible by the division and deadlock of the Security Council – and the temptation to reconstitute power blocs. If these trends are a priori unfavorable to India, traditionally non-aligned and focused on multilateral cooperation, New Delhi can paradoxically take advantage of the new situation.
The creation in September 2021 of the AUKUS alliance in the Indo-Pacific zone between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States preceded the ongoing war on the European continent. France was excluded with the termination of the contract to supply Australia with submarines and India is not part of it either. But the latter is on the other hand a member of the group of four founding countries of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) which brings together Japan, the United States, Australia and India at the initiative of Washington. For Japan, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been particularly active in promoting a platform bringing together four democracies, but such an Association had difficulty finding its coherence and its personality.
Prefiguring an “anti-Beijing system” like the AUKUS, it is not certain that Japan and India, the first exposed, wished to depart from a certain caution and from their policy of balance vis-à-vis -with respect to China. India is actually increasing its presence in international forums. It is, as such, a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with China and Russia and even Pakistan now. This diplomatic strategy allows him to preserve his identity, in the tradition of non-alignment which is his DNA. We remember that during the SCO Summit in Samarkand, a few months ago, Prime Minister Modi had even scolded the Russian President, saying that “the time was not for war”. The head of the Indian government and the Chinese president are also credited with having expressed warnings to Russia about the possible use of unconventional weapons in the war in Ukraine.
The relationship between India and France developed throughout the 1980s in the strategic, diplomatic and economic fields, culminating in the 1998 Strategic Partnership concluded by President Chirac. Since then, France has supported India’s legitimate candidacy for a seat as a permanent member of the Security Council. By wishing to promote a different voice in the Council, Paris can only find the advantage of seeing its own room for maneuver increase in this forum. France has also encouraged over the years a greater presence of India in forums – or alongside them – such as the G8, which has become an enlarged G7, or the G20, which New Delhi currently chairs. Franco-Indian cooperation encompasses very broad sectors, whether civil nuclear cooperation, defense (NB: India has purchased Rafale aircraft, Scorpene submarines and has modernized its Mirage 2000. It is at the heart of France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific zone. In a world in turmoil, characterized by a cracked international system to say the least, the role that India can play on the international scene takes on increased importance.
Paris and New Delhi can further bring together their specificities which in no way separate them in order to contribute to undertakings aimed at re-establishing a more stable international order oriented towards development and progress. India, today a power of global dimension, is already a pole of the new multipolarity.