Since the end of the Cold War, India has signed “Strategic Partnership” agreements with more than 35 countries. Among the earliest was the one with France, signed in January 1998, during President Jacques Chirac’s visit to India.
Last week, the strength of this partnership was in evidence at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) when China sought to raise the subject of Kashmir in an informal, closed-door session, originally convened to discuss the situation in Mali. France, supported by Russia and the United States (US) and other non-permanent members, led the move to block the Chinese initiative.
India and France share a common trait of civilizational exceptionalism, and after the Cold War ended, both countries were quick to espouse the virtues of multipolarity. French discomfort with a unipolar system was clear when French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine described the US as a hyper puissance. Visualizing the changing geopolitics with focus shifting from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, France decided on India as its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean.
Even before India’s nuclear tests in 1998, France declared that the nation’s exclusion from the global nuclear order was an anomaly, and that needed rectification. After the nuclear tests, France displayed an instinctual understanding of India’s security compulsions. The strategic dialogue that began in 1998 has grown over the years to cover nuclear, space, defense, cybersecurity, intelligence-sharing and counter-terrorism cooperation.
Bilateral military exercises between the three services, beginning with the navies in 2001, followed by the air forces in 2004, and the armies in 2011, have now became a regular feature.