Defence and security ties would have been high on the list of discussions between British prime minister Boris Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. But with the official visit now cancelled there is speculation that the engagement between the two leaders will now be virtual.
Had the visit materialised it would have been Johnson’s major international visit after Brexit and the first visit of a head of government to India during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is all part of the UK’s new foreign and security policy tilt towards the Indo-Pacific and an attempt by both countries to elevate their strategic partnership. But, urgent and ‘high-visible’ implementation of these enhanced ties is still required.
Elevated Strategic Partnership
The UK’s Integrated Review (IR), its first comprehensive (111-page) review of defence, security, development and foreign policy since the Cold War (titled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’) (16 March 2021), recognised India as one of the three most important powers in the Indo-Pacific region, “the largest democracy in the world” and as an “international actor of growing importance”. The subsequent 69-page UK Defence Command Paper (DCP) (titled ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’) (22 March 2021) went further by describing India as “a key pillar” of its regional approach.
This new perception of India within the broader geographical construct of the Indo-Pacific, rather than the traditional confines of South Asia, will be welcomed by New Delhi.