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Beyond the Quad: Exploring the Indo-French Strategic Impetus Towards Indo-Pacific Stability.

Updated: Jan 15

During President Macron’s New Delhi visit scheduled for January 26th, he assumes the role of Chief Guest at India's 75th Republic Day celebrations. The focal point of discussions is expected to revolve around bolstering bilateral ties, particularly in defence collaboration. A key element under scrutiny is the potential finalisation of agreements related to Marine combat aircrafts and the construction of three submarines.



Illustration of Indo-Pacific strategic cooperations

Illustration by Team Geostrata


The Joint Statement of September 10, 2023, mentions the terms, "partnership," "cooperation," "progress," and "areas” the most, in reference to the term, “Indo-Pacific”. The phrase "Indo-Pacific" is notably reiterated ten times in the abovementioned statement, signifying its centrality in bilateral discourse.

This emphasis aligns with the overarching commitment of Prime Minister Modi and President Macron in fostering collaboration across various domains, including defence, energy, sustainability, infrastructure, and disaster resilience within the broader Indo-Pacific context. These diplomatic exchanges highlight France and India as pivotal contributors to Indo-Pacific solutions, showcased through joint initiatives in the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.


Dr S. Jaishankar, Indian External Affairs Minister recognized Paris as “very much an Indo-Pacific player” with a deep-rooted presence in the Indian Ocean, and said both sides can work jointly to guarantee peace, stability, security and progress in the region.

This piece aims to explore France's nuanced engagement with India in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR), emphasising defence collaboration and maritime stability, which reflects adept diplomatic maneuvering. Despite not being a Quad member, France's proficient utilisation of multilateralism enhances its presence and influence in the region, contributing to a nuanced Indo-Pacific strategy.


India's role as a crucial defence partner complements France's comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy. Simultaneously, India's expanding global ties position it as a potential world power, providing France with credibility in the region. This collaborative bridge between the Indian subcontinent and the European Union reinforces the geopolitical landscape. Strengthening these alliances, as argued in this piece, not only elevates India's global standing but also counters China's hegemonic influence, contributing to a multilateral approach for regional stability.


INDIA's CRITICAL ROLE IN SAFEGUARDING FRENCH INTERESTS IN THE INDO-PACIFIC


India and France’s stable relations stem from their alignment on the objectives for the IPR region. The sentiment was echoed by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Colonna, aiming at building an “area of stability, rule of law, prosperity and environment protection”. Furthermore, she added that “what applies to Europe and the Indo-Pacific applies everywhere: France and India reject a world where ‘might makes right’. As specified in their joint Indo-Pacific Roadmap, PM Modi’s idea of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and President Macron’s vision of security and cooperation established in the Indo Pacific Strategy of France converge thoroughly.


The aim of this cooperation is comprehensive, encompassing defence, security, economic, connectivity, infrastructure, sustainability and human centric development. France and India’s defence ties primarily focused on maritime security, further expanding to air power, with agreements on India procuring 26 Rafale Marine combat aircraft, as well as three submarines to be constructed. India considers France to be one of its major partners on the global scene, as well as being part of its ‘Extended neighbourhood’.


France has high stakes in maintaining stability in the region, specifically in the Indian Ocean. Reunion Island and Mayotte are home to 1.6 million French citizens. Thus, security remains imperative, and partnering with India reveals to be crucial. An important aspect of this approach is the organisation of combined navy and force exercises in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) (Ministere Des Armees, 2019, p. 8).


The Pacific Ocean also contains French territories, namely New Caledonia and French Polynesia. If independence calls are rising in the latter, strengthening ties with Australia would also be necessary, so as to ensure peace, and protect these strategic territories and their population. India’s and France’s commitment towards a more multipolar world can clearly be seen in the patterns set by their respective geopolitical apparatuses.



India's collaboration with France serves as a potential deterrent to China's ambitions. The French Navy's permanent bases in Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, Reunion Island, and Mayotte establish a formidable presence in the Indian Ocean, aligning with India's interests. This alliance not only enhances regional security but also acts as a counterbalance to China's growing footprint, reflecting the evolving dynamics of geopolitical competition in the strategically significant Indian Ocean region.


THE QUAD DILEMMA: FRANCO-INDIAN STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE IN INDO-PACIFIC COOPERATION


It is imperative to note that President Macron was invited as India’s Republic Day’s Chief Guest, only after the initial invitee, US President Biden had declined to assume the role. Biden had to cancel due to internal duties. Thus, reciprocating Modi’s attendance to France’s National Day as the Guest of Honour seems to have come as a secondary option.


Hence, it could be argued that Indo-French relations are of utmost importance for France, while not being India’s priority. Despite maintaining sometimes wavering ties, namely due to India’s proximity with Russia, the US and India’s rapprochement gets strengthened by their common defiance towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC).


The fact that India holds  2+2 Ministerial Dialogues with the US, Australia and Japan, – i.e. the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) members – but not France, appears to be revealing of such a pattern. Some could argue that the close relationship between the Indian and French leaders would mean stronger ties.


However, in terms of Defence and Strategy, specific diplomatic arrangements, particularly engaging Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, express an explicit commitment. Despite not being a member of the QUAD, France has worked to enhance its presence in the IPR through a skillful utilisation of multilateralism with its stakeholders. 

Initially, France did not consider becoming a part of this multilateral arrangement, whose aim essentially is to counter the growing global hegemon, China. Nevertheless, Beijing has led France, as well as the EU by extension, to perceive it as increasingly ominous. Academic literature has been concentrating on the idea of France potentially joining the Quad. Indeed, France diplomatically and strategically engages with all four members.


Paris already cultivates close ties with the US (specifically through NATO), as well as aforementioned solid relations with India. Relying on the latter, France, India and Japan have come together in Sri Lanka to discuss concerns about China’s expansion and influence, touching upon maritime security.


On 2 May 2018, President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at Garden Island naval base in Sydney, in which he advocated the emergence of a new “Indo-Pacific axis”, with France, India and Australia. This axis would aim at limiting the expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence in the region.

In addition, he presented “France’s four key commitments in the Indo-Pacific: 1) the support to peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue, 2) French contribution to regional peace and security, 3) French involvement to sustain regional States sovereignty, 4) the need to take actions against climate change.”


Australian Prime Minister Albanese asserted that "Prime Minister Modi is the boss," highlighting the significance of the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. The evolving bilateral ties between India and Australia are equally crucial for France, as they provide France with an enhanced platform for robust negotiation networks.

Trilateral dialogue with Australia started in September 2020, when India and France launched a unique model of Triangular Development Cooperation, working on setting up the Indo-Pacific Triangular Cooperation (IPTDC) Fund


President Macron's role as Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations underscores the deepening ties, particularly in defence collaboration. This bilateral partnership, fortified by joint initiatives in solar energy and disaster resilience, not only elevates India's global standing but also serves as a crucial countermeasure to China's regional influence. The evolving ties, notably in trilateral dialogues, position France as a strategic player, adeptly navigating geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region.


 

BY JEANNE LUSSOT AND ARTH AGARWAL

18 Comments


Coming together of France and Australia in matters related to Indo Pacific Region (IPR), perhaps became a bit nuanced when Australia cancelled the multi-billion-dollar submarine deal with France which stoked a diplomatic crisis. How they come together from this fallout and partner other countries as a potential deterrent to China's ambitions needs to be seen.

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Insightful article.

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This article effectively analyses the geopolitical dynamics.

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Detailed analysis of France and India's take. Great read!!

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Great analysis on Indo- French strategic partnership!!

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