Last year saw India formally receiving its first French-made Rafale jet in France, which marked a new phase in the defense ties between the two countries. This year is likely to see ever-increasing cooperation between the two countries, with the first few Rafale jets arriving in India later this year. Apart from this, the two countries also will conduct a series of joint exercises between the various wings of their armed forces.
New Delhi has a serious set of challenges to contend with in the Indo-Pacific. While on the one hand, it faces an unstable neighborhood, on the other hand, China will make further forays into the region. At the same time, New Delhi will continue with its “Act-East” policy push.
Meanwhile, the United States under President Donald J. Trump is embroiled in a series of challenges all across the world and it remains to be seen how much time and attention Washington will be able to devote to the Indo-Pacific. The Iran question will certainly be at the top of President Trump’s mind along with the North Korean issue. Hence, it will be naïve for New Delhi to expect that it can count on the United States alone when it comes to the Indo-Pacific. New Delhi therefore needs other democratic partners in the Indo-Pacific and France fits the bill perfectly given the long-standing nature of the France-India relationship, shared democratic principles, and similar aims in the Indo-Pacific.
Within the wider gamut of France-India ties, it is the maritime realm that may see the biggest amount of cooperation between India and France. Early on during his first term, Modi had outlined the concept of the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) in March 2015—but clearly for New Delhi, much work remains to be done.
Meanwhile, as India’s population increases and more and more Indians flock to cities, urban spaces will come under increasing stress. It is here that France can help India with critical and green technologies since the pollution issue has affected many of the larger Indian cities. At the same time, the Indian and the French space research organizations are also cooperating in many areas.
2020 is going to see ever-increasing cooperation between India and France as their interests converge in a free and open Indo-Pacific. For France too, the Indo-Pacific is a region of critical importance with 93 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone being located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
In addition, the Indo-Pacific is also home to nearly 1.5 million French citizens and close to 8,000 French soldiers. France’s support will also be critical in the energy sector as India will have to meet a rising energy demand as its economy grows. India and France have already inked an agreement to develop six reactors as part of a 10,000 MW project in western Indian state of Maharashtra.
France’s support will also be crucial in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) since it is a veto-wielding member of the same. China has often tried to use the UNSC to put pressure on India on the Kashmir issue and also has been very intransigent on the issue of taking up Pakistan-sponsored terror.
Hence in 2020, cooperation between India and France will be essential in ensuring peace and stability in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region.
Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Research Fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. The views expressed are personal.