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Will the Political Spat Between India and Canada Erode Their Defense Ties?

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Will the Political Spat Between India and Canada Erode Their Defense Ties?

While the ongoing row has strained relations, its impact on military ties appears limited as both countries benefit from security cooperation.

Will the Political Spat Between India and Canada Erode Their Defense Ties?

Army chiefs and heads of delegations of 30 armies participating in the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs Conference in New Delhi, India, September 25-27, 2023.

Credit: X/ADG PI Indian Army

The ongoing diplomatic tension between Canada and India following Canadian allegations of Indian government involvement in the assassination of Canada-based Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia has raised questions about its impact on bilateral military cooperation.

According to Canada’s Deputy Army Chief Major-General Peter Scott, the dispute is primarily a political issue and is not affecting military ties between the two countries. The question is whether military cooperation can remain unaffected while diplomatic relations face challenges.

India and Canada have had strong diplomatic and economic relations for decades. While they have encountered diplomatic challenges in the past, their military cooperation remained mostly intact.

For instance, during the Cold War, Canada and India pursued different geopolitical alignments, with Canada leaning toward the West and India adopting a policy of non-alignment. Despite this, they maintained defense ties, focusing on areas of mutual interest, such as counterterrorism and peacekeeping. The historical continuity of military cooperation highlights the pragmatism that underpins such partnerships. Nations recognize the enduring value of security alliances and cooperation, even when political differences arise.

Diplomatic Strains

The current diplomatic tension between Canada and India revolves around Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s public announcement of “credible allegations” linking Indian agents to Nijjar’s shooting. It triggered a highly charged debate in both countries. India vehemently rejected any involvement, labeling Trudeau’s statement as baseless.

The heated exchange is noteworthy because it occurred very suddenly between two nations that have traditionally maintained friendly relations. It highlighted the intricate and delicate nature of their diplomatic relationship. This incident has placed a considerable strain on their bilateral ties, raising questions about its impact on various other aspects of their relationship.

Complex Interplay of Political and Military Relations

Scott’s assertion that the diplomatic row is not affecting military ties raises intriguing questions. Can military cooperation truly remain insulated from the impact of strained diplomatic relations? To answer this question, it is crucial to differentiate between the political and military aspects of bilateral relations.

Political relations primarily concern the interactions and policies of national governments in the international arena. These include diplomacy, trade agreements, economic cooperation, and the management of bilateral disputes. On the other hand, military ties revolve primarily around defense cooperation, joint exercises, arms sales, and security partnerships. In practice, it is possible for political tensions to strain military ties to some extent, but the degree of impact can vary significantly.  What has been the impact of the diplomatic row on Canada-India relations?

The Canada-India diplomatic row is primarily a political issue based on allegations and rebuttals. Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to raise these allegations in Parliament added a layer of gravity to the situation. India’s strong denial and dismissal of the allegations further exacerbated the tension. Such a high-profile dispute at the political level undoubtedly strains diplomatic relations.

It is essential, however, to consider the nuanced nature of international relations. Military cooperation is often built on long-term strategic interests and security imperatives. These ties are not easily severed by a single political or diplomatic incident. Most countries usually maintain defense agreements and commitments that endure despite political disputes.

Scott’s assertion that military ties between Canada and India remain unaffected likely stems from the recognition that both countries have significant interests in maintaining their defense cooperation. They have participated in joint military exercises, shared intelligence, and have a mutual interest in preserving regional security in the Indo-Pacific. These shared interests constitute a stabilizing factor in their military relationship.

Canada’s participation at the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conference in New Delhi from September 25 to 27 indicates that both nations prioritize security cooperation over political issues. Such multilateral engagements can serve to mitigate the impact of bilateral political disputes on military relationships.

The Significance of Diplomacy

While Scott emphasized the separation of political and military issues in the bilateral dispute, it is worth noting that diplomacy plays a crucial role in preserving military ties during periods of diplomatic strain. Diplomatic channels allow nations to address disputes, de-escalate tensions, and find common ground. They can help prevent the escalation of conflicts and pave the way for a peaceful resolution.

Trudeau’s request for India’s cooperation in an independent investigation is a diplomatic approach to easing tensions. It is in the interest of both countries to manage this issue through diplomatic means to avoid collateral damage to their broader relationship.

Military Ties are Crucial in the Face of Strategic Challenges

Moreover, the Indo-Pacific region is witnessing a complex interplay of strategic rivalry among the major powers. China’s rise as a global power and its assertive behavior in the South China Sea have prompted many nations to enhance their security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Canada and India, along with other like-minded nations, have recognized the need for collective security efforts to address the common challenges.

Canada’s participation in the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conference reflects its recognition of this need. Likewise, for India, maintaining strong security partnerships is crucial to safeguard its maritime interests and counter regional security threats. Canada’s participation in regional security initiatives aligns with India’s objectives, making it unlikely that the current diplomatic dispute will significantly impact on their military collaboration.


In the complex landscape of international relations, the distinction between political and military ties is crucial. While the diplomatic row between Canada and India has strained their political relationship, the impact on their military ties appears limited. Both nations have significant interests in maintaining their defense cooperation and security partnerships.

Diplomacy will play a pivotal role in resolving the dispute, as it offers a pathway to de-escalate tensions and help both governments find common ground. The history of bilateral relations, shared interests, and the geopolitical significance of the Indo-Pacific region all contribute to the resilience of the military ties between Canada and India.

Ultimately, both nations recognize the enduring value of their defense collaboration and are likely to prioritize its continuation despite the diplomatic challenges that they will face from time to time. This pragmatism underscores the intricate balance that nations must maintain in managing the complex nexus between political and military relations in an interconnected world.