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C Raja Mohan Writes on Pm Modi in Paris: What India Can Gain From Europe — and Europe From India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris this week is expected to produce a bounty of new agreements, especially in defence and space, and raise the bilateral strategic partnership to a higher level. The visit is not just about what advanced technologies and arms Paris can give Delhi. It also highlights a theme not often discussed — what India can do for France and Europe.

Reflecting on that proposition should not be difficult if you notice the contingent of Indian armed forces marching smartly down Champs-Elysees during the Bastille Day celebrations. Those young men and women remind us of India’s forgotten past contribution to European security.

Nearly one million Indian soldiers in the First World War and two million in the Second helped secure peace in Europe at critical moments. Unlike his predecessors in Delhi, who chose to ignore this history, PM Modi has sought to remember and respect India’s consequential contribution to European and global security.

Since his first visit to Paris in 2015, when Modi visited the memorial for the Indian soldiers who fought for Europe in the First World War, paying homage to our fallen men worldwide has become a part of our diplomatic practice.

During his visit to Tanzania last week, the external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar paid homage to the Indian troops buried at the Commonwealth War Memorial in Dar-es-Salaam. “Their sacrifices in various theatres of war are an important aspect of our history. They are a reminder of India’s global impact,” Jaishankar tweeted.

If India played a major part in securing Europe in the first half of the 20th century, Delhi withdrew itself from global security politics in the second half. To complicate matters, India found itself on the side of the Soviet Union in the great European divide.

India’s growing security dependence on Moscow severely constrained it from engaging effectively with European security issues. Its strategic autonomy to criticise unacceptable Russian actions, like the Red Army’s crackdown on democratic uprisings in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), steadily diminished. The fear of losing Moscow’s veto on Kashmir in the United Nations Security Council became a perennial justification for Delhi to bite its tongue on Soviet transgressions of the international order.

India’s dependence on Russia and deference to Kremlin’s sensitivities endures. India refused to criticise the Russian annexation of Crimea through military occupation and a referendum in 2014, notwithstanding the eerie parallels to India’s Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. India’s hesitation to call out the Russian aggression against Ukraine since February 2022 is part of the same pattern.

In Paris this week, PM Modi has several reasons to take a fresh look at European security and prospects for renewing India’s role. For one, Modi will arrive in Paris just after the conclusion of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which is expected to announce some significant decisions on Ukraine and European security.

Two, the NATO summit will also reveal deep differences within Europe and across the Atlantic on how to end the war in Ukraine and build peace with Russia. It is no secret that French President Emmanuel Macron’s views on Ukraine and European security are quite different from those in the US, Britain and some Central European states. Macron is a good interlocutor for India’s much-needed rethink on European security.

Three, what happens in Europe does not stay in Europe. The outcomes of the war in Ukraine will have profound consequences for Asian security. The interconnection between European and Asian theatres is underlined by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled their “partnership without limits” just weeks before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

China is not alone in raising its European profile. Turkey, Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Australia actively engage with the new European dynamic triggered by Ukraine. The important but unfinished debate in NATO on dealing with the China challenge points to the inevitable integration of European and Asian theatres.

Four, the PM would undoubtedly want to understand better Macron’s positions on China that have generated some controversy in Asia. Modi would also want to know how serious France and Europe are on “de-risking” their economic ties with China and diversifying their Asian commercial engagement with India and other partners.

Five, at the top of the Modi-Macron dialogue, is the potential French role in modernising India’s defence industrial base through co-development and co-production of weapons. Significant moves in this direction will boost India’s comprehensive national power and help Delhi stabilise the balance of power in Asia. That, in turn, should reduce the burden on Europe to contribute directly to Asian security.

Six, the war in Ukraine has given India a rare political incentive to recalibrate its European strategy. Since the second half of the 20th century, Delhi has unfortunately seen Europe through the Russian eyes. Correcting that historical error has been long overdue. This does not, however, mean Delhi should start viewing Russia through European eyes today. For India, it is not a question of taking sides between Russia and Europe on Ukraine. What Delhi needs is an integrated view of European security. Sooner than later, Ukraine, Russia, and the West will begin a formal exploration of the possibilities for a negotiated settlement. China is already positioning itself for such an eventuality with its so-called peace plan for Ukraine. India, which has big stakes in European peace, could be an equally valuable, if not better, interlocutor between the West and Russia.

Seven, having transformed India’s Asian security policies, Modi is well-placed to reverse India’s long-standing passivity on European security issues. The near-term necessity of working with Europe on the Ukraine question ought to be complemented by the long-term imperative of deeper engagement with European security institutions.

These include the well-established NATO as well as the emerging European ones like the mechanism for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on defence issues among the members of the European Union, the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre (INTCEN), and the intelligence-sharing forum among the EU’s national spy agencies, Club de Berne.

Finally, Paris is the right place, and the 25th-anniversary celebrations of the bilateral strategic partnership is a good moment to begin India’s re-engagement with European security. Our troops on Champs-Elysees this week underline an important fact — that Indian soldiers saved Europe’s bacon twice in the last century. Intense and wide-ranging defence cooperation between India and France today could contribute immensely to Eurasian security this century.

Source : Indianexspress

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