The two-day state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, as India’s 75th republic day chief guest is just the icing on the cake, of the long drawn strategic cooperation between India and France since decades.
The Indo-French partnership has always demonstrated the critical qualities of reliability, continuity and synergy, which has resulted in the development of not just strategic cooperation, but also has strengthened the socio-cultural ties between both the countries.
With the recent visit of President Macron, several defense deals such as purchase of twenty-six Rafale jets, three scorpion submarines are on the cards of diplomatic negotiations.
The co-development of jet engine for next gen fighter aircraft between France’s Safran and India’s DRDO is also in the pipeline and is likely to gain momentum after Macron’s visit.
However, one of the most significant strategic shifts happening between India and France, is the greater integration of economic ties.
France’s differences with its traditional Western allies, and with most European nations experiencing a state of economic slumber, India has a golden opportunity to further strengthen the strategic ties. By becoming a reliable partner to decouple the dominant global supply chain of China, and towards the realization of India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat imitative of holistic self-reliance, France has the true potential of becoming a major strategic ally of India.
The Growing Economic Potential; Heading Towards a Financial Sweet-Spot
The economic cooperation and expanding the commercial footprints, has been a priority for both India and France for more than two decades now. It is pivotal to note the fact that since 2013, and up till now, French investment has exponentially grown by eight times. France is the seventh largest foreign investor in India with an FDI of €25 billion. This number is consistently expected to grow as per the opinion of several industry stakeholders and experts.
As a testimony to this fact, the present FDI of France in India is around $25 Billion USD. Coming to the aspect of bilateral trade between India and France, the performance has exceeded the expectations on an incredible scale. There was an objective set out by the Indian Government in 2018 that by 2025, the bilateral trade should reach about 15 billion dollars, but due to the robust efforts of both the governments and private stakeholders, this target was achieved much earlier in 2022, which is three years before the expected target year. Currently, more than 700 French companies have set shore in India in various sectors, and are flourishing in their respective commercial ventures.
As far as India is concerned, more than 170 Indian companies have set shore in France, and this number is expected to grow at a rapid pace in the next couple of years. In the last four years, more than 4,50,000 jobs have been created in India, in various sectors wherein the services and manufacturing have taken a lead. France intends to further expand its manufacturing footprint with laying its hands into the critical infrastructure development. With consistent support and facilitation by the Indian government in the last decade, France can be seen actively involved in major infrastructure projects in the future. With these developments, we can clearly say that India has become a key priority market for France. It is expected that, within a decade, India would occupy a major place in the global supply chain management especially of major French companies, as Indian companies are now developing the promising capabilities to enhance their supply chain capabilities.
Promising Upswings in the Indo-France Strategic Ties:
France understands India’s political and economic compulsions and therefore has stood by the Indian interests at various occasions. After the bold decision by the Vajpayee government in 1998 to conduct the nuclear tests and publicly announcing it, sanctions were imposed by the USA and UK to condemn India’s move, but France did not impose any sanctions although it did criticize the move in several international forums including the United Nations.
Earlier to this, in the 1980’s with the supply of Mirage fighter jets, France had already established a promising defence partnership. With the signing of the Rafale deal in 2016, the Indian government achieved a major strategic milestone reaffirming the depth and gravity of India-France defence ties. And now, with the new deal to purchase 26 Rafale Jets almost being finalized, the defence cooperation has remained as the most important element in this bilateral relationship. However, with the negotiation process of the transfer of technologies (ToT) for the helicopter engines, there are some technical hiccups being reported. With persistent efforts being made in the negotiation process, some of these hiccups are expected to be resolved at the earliest.
With France, there are certain specific advantages which India enjoys, which it lacks over the other western counterparts.
- Capability: There is no doubt that France has an advanced cutting-edge technology base, especially in defence and aviation sector, from which India has been benefitting since decades. It is well known in India’s strategic community that Mirage fighter jets played a game changing role in winning the Kargil War. In fact, despite several suggestions and lobbying being made by makers of Eurofighter Typhoon and F-16, amongst other fighter jets, Rafale emerged a natural choice of the Indian Government because, it was found to be the best in comparison with all other fighter jets in the 4.5 generation. This is the main reason why the Indian Government has shown keen interest in buying two more squadrons of Rafal from France.
- Pricing: The average cost of a Rafale jet is around $115 million for a basic configuration, and with the enhancements and upgradation of technology along with the weaponry as a holistic package, it offers a much better deal compared to its competitors such as F22 and Eurofighter jets. Allocating a large amount for defence purchases in the defence budget is an arduous task, and with the purchase of Rafale jets in two batches, one in 2016 for 36 jets and the ongoing negotiations presently for 26 jets, is both strategically and financially an astute choice. It was wise on the part of the Government to scrap the earlier deal of 126 Rafale jets, as it would have caused a huge burden on the defence budget and would have humped the fiscal consolidation goals of the Government in a significant manner.
- Reliability: One of the most crucial elements with France as a defense partner is the consistent reliability, especially in the conflict situations. They ensure that the supply of both aircraft and weaponry is both seamless and timely. The supply of spare parts is also done as per the demanded requirement, within a stipulated timeframe. The aspect of servicing and maintenance is also efficiently and effectively taken care of by the French companies. This combination of consistent supply, seamless availability of spare parts and effective service and maintenance mechanisms makes the French always reliable.
The World Order Turbulence, Indo-Pacific and the Elephant in the Room
The present world order has a potent risk of destabilization due to the hegemonic rise of China, which is considering itself as the rightful proprietor of being the true Asian pivot. In this respect, the power dynamics in the Indo-Pacific is also a matter of grave concern for both India and France, as both countries are well aware that it is the increasing presence of the Chinese, which is posing a serious threat to the freedom of navigation in the region.
It needs to be noted that France has about 9 million sq km of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in this region due to its territorial presence, whereas India has about 2 million sq km. Moreover, this region is a host to almost three-fifth of the world population, being a central zone for the transit of the global supply chains and amounts to nearly sixty percent of the global GDP, and China is well aware that destabilizing the Indo Pacific can have huge repercussions on the global economy given the size and strategic significance of this region. France’s concern here specifically happens to be the potential threat to its EEZ, by which its supply chains lead to inevitable Chinese dependency.
With the Indian assurance of scaling up the scope and efficiency of its indigenous supply chain mechanisms, the Chinese monopoly can be consistently be substituted over a period of time. Projects like sagarmala, which aims to ramp up the country’s logistical performance, and with SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) which happens to be India’s strategic vision for Indian Ocean Region, and which aims to deepen economic and security co-operation, a rigorous effort is being made to overcome the challenges posed especially by the likes of China.
The continuation of robust strategic partnership with France is critical for India too, since France has its hard interests vested in this relationship for its own strategic imperatives as well, and India has the potential to become a hard power with the French partnership.
- India gives initial nod to buy French Rafale jets, submarines- Krishn Kaushik Thomson Reuters https://www.reuters.com/authors/krishn-kaushik/
- Saint-Mézard, Isabelle. “How to Frame an Indo-French Partnership for the Security of the Indian Ocean?” THE FRENCH STRATEGY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN AND THE POTENTIAL FOR INDO-FRENCH COOPERATION, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2015, pp. 9–12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep05929.7.
- Celebrating 25 Years of the India-France Strategic Partnership: A Blossoming Alliance Ranjana Prasad https://www.investindia.gov.in/team-india-blogs/celebrating-25-years-india-france-strategic-partnership-blossoming-alliance
- India-France Strategic Partnership: Horizon 2047 Roadmap, Trade, and Investment Posted by India Briefing by Khyati Anand https://www.india-briefing.com/news/india-france-strategic-partnership-horizon-2047-roadmap-trade-and-investment-28968.html/
(Viswapramod C is a Senior Research Associate with Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Views expressed are personal)