“France’s state-led dirigiste (interventionist) development strategy, with its focus on fostering big national champion engineering firms, left it well placed to succeed in highly regulated sectors such as infrastructure, energy, and defence in countries such as India, where state support and centralized investment decisions still play an outsized role in economic development.And India is an ideal low-cost base from which to export to the rest of the emerging Indo-Pacific, as the region is understood by both India and France.”
The above intervention by foreign policy expert and scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney Salvatore Babones, ought to get the Indian establishment thinking.
Facing a Democratic Administration under US President Joe Biden which has already started making noises on China, Pakistan, security, terrorism, liberal values, human rights, and identity politics which are at variance from New Delhi’s perception of these issues, India needs all the leverage it can get in terms of its relationships with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council sans China.
While it is fashionable nowadays to assert that the global balance of power is shifting, and there certainly is a lot of flux, there’s no getting around the fact that the P-5 still dominate the global high table. So, with Beijing making no secret of its ambition to supplant the USA as the foremost global power in which effort it sees India as a relatively minor irritant, Moscow now increasingly transactional in its approach towards India, and the United Kingdom focussed almost exclusively on striking trade deals with all-comers post-Brexit to prevent economic ruin, Paris beckons.
For Washington, many argue, the Indo-Pacific is but an extension of the Pacific Ocean area patrolled by its Japan-based 7th Fleet; for its allies Japan and Australia, too, the Pacific comes first. But for France, the Indo-Pacific begins east of Africa and continues to the Western American seaboard, mirroring India’s understanding of geography. “While the USA and its Quadrilateral Security Dialogue partners Australia and Japan see Indo-Pacific strategy as a way to draw India into their geopolitical standoff with China, France has taken the term at face value and put India at its centre,” writes Babones.
France’s Indo-Pacific strategy document emphasizes the country’s role as a “mediating, inclusive and stabilising power” in the region. There is an element of discomfort among some in the region given France’s colonial past, but it is not a deal-breaker. Paris too has gone out of its way to assuage such concerns ~ successfully, as its elevation last month to full-member status of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (with India’s strong backing) showed. President Emmanuel Macron has spoken passionately in public of answering the “call of history” to fulfil France’s Indo-Pacific “destiny.”
But it’s not just about French flair with words. France has 8,000 troops in the region and a highly capable nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to back them up. The only rule in contemporary geopolitics is that there are no rules when it comes to protecting and promoting the national interest. As things stand, New Delhi might do well to consider a pivot from Washington towards Paris in the Indo-Pacific.