Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France in April 2015 – his first visit to a European country – highlighted New Delhi’s burgeoning ties with Paris, underlined India’s attempts to diversify its defense purchases, and re-emphasized the congruence that has existed between the two countries during most of the Cold War. France has gradually emerged as a formidable technology supplier to India in all three strategic realms: defense, space, and nuclear energy.
Foreign Policy & Security
Over the past decade, Special Operations Forces (SOF) have emerged as an increasingly critical component of modern military power. For western democracies, in particular, the frequent use of small, elite, units of clandestine operators has come to be seen as a more effective, discreet, and surgical means of projecting power within deeply contested regions. Provided they are well trained, equipped, and enabled, SOF possess the ability to act as true force multipliers, conducting key missions with small logistical footprints in austere forward environments.
Singapore’s defense minister Ng Eng Hen stated last month that his country wanted India to play a bigger role in the South China Sea. The leaders of Vietnam and the Philippines have also made similar statements in recent years. This “invitation” extended to India by the leaders of Southeast Asia to participate in that region’s security affairs is tantamount to India’s emergence as a great power in Southeast Asia, and by extension, in Asia itself.
On May 26, 2014, Narendra Modi invited the heads of all the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries to his swearing-in ceremony. While this important gesture could have marked a new beginning for regional cooperation, such cooperation in South Asia still takes place mainly in the bilateral sphere. Since 1985, India has been a key founding member of four regional initiatives, none of which have achieved any tangible results.
Russia’s interests in India have been growing since Stalin’s death in 1953. Khrushchev and Bulganin inaugurated a Third World policy that brought the leaders to India and took Nehru to Moscow, all in 1955. In the same year, when Asian and African nations met at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, Russian newspapers celebrated the event as a “sign of our age.” The Indian establishment was enthusiastic that Stalin’s successors had discarded his “dim view of India.” During the Cold War, the relationship had more flow than ebb.
Addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin and the media last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “the character of global politics and international relations is changing. However, the importance of this relationship and its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change.” Expressed on the sidelines of the 15th Annual India-Russia Summit in New Delhi, Modi’s statement conveyed his intention to enhance cooperation with Russia. Concurrently, it also implied India will not support western sanctions against Russia.
The drastic increase in trade volumes over the last few years is an impressive testament to the new Indian pivot to Sub-Saharan Africa; trade between India and Sub-Saharan Africa stood at $60 billion in 2012. Still, trade volumes in the same year were markedly eclipsed by those of the EU ($567.2 billion), the U.S. ($446.7 billion), and China ($220 billion). Nevertheless, India’s engagement shows a successful new focus on the region where it has implemented specific programs in the economic, political, and, especially, pan-African sphere.
The astounding mandate secured by Narendra Modi has led scholars and commentators alike to focus on what more the U.S. can do to win India’s favor. Whilst some argue that the Obama administration ought to “modi-fy” its advance, others recommend changing the playing field and developing “a new relationship with India.” In most instances, punditry appears focused on the immediate future, and perhaps for good reasons.
In February 2014, India managed a rare diplomatic coup de force when it hosted, in the same week, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif. The timing of these visits is hardly fortuitous; over the past two decades, India has adroitly managed to develop relations with diverse Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Palestine, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Some see this balancing act as indicative of a broader new approach to the region, defined as India’s “Look Middle East” Policy.
The outbreak of conflict in South Sudan last December led to the shut down of India’s multi-billion dollar oil project in the young country. The instability sent Indian diplomats scrambling to play damage control as ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), the international arm of India’s national oil company, was forced to evacuate its personnel from the region. Competition from China is often regarded as the biggest challenge for India in acquiring global oil resources.