French defense minister Florence Parly, during her visit to India in December 2021, assured that France is ready to meet any requirement for more Rafale combat jets from India.” She described the use of Rafale jets by the air forces of both countries as a “real asset and strength” for bilateral cooperation. Parly also noted that more aircraft will be needed for India’s new aircraft carrier. “We are open and ready to provide any other Rafales if this is India’s decision,” she said.
Unfortunately, neither France nor the US bothers to understand the fragile security environment of South Asia. This region has long been bearing the brunt of Western military hardware sales to India. Apparently, the so-called civilized West knows that, unlike other regions, South Asia is unstable and home to territorial conflicts between two nuclear-powered archrivals.
Therefore, every defense deal directly contributes to instability
With the Modi government’s overwhelming spendings in the defense sector; France has seen a new lucrative defense market in India. The strategic engagement between the two countries has expanded and deepened in significant ways. India and France have agreed to step up their bilateral defense and security partnership by improving intelligence and information sharing, conducting more joint military exercises, and pushing for new initiatives in the maritime, space, and cyber domains. During the annual India-France Strategic Dialogue held earlier in Jan 2021, French Presidential Diplomatic Advisor Emmanuel Bonne said that France is willing to support PM Modi‘s vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) and India’s defense industrialization.
Earlier in 2016, Indo-French defense cooperation witnessed a massive increase when the Modi government signed a controversial deal with France for the sale of 36 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). This resulted in a political hue and cry in India where opposition parties accused the ruling party of overpaying for the combat jets and of promoting crony capitalism. Under the agreement, France’s Dassault Aviation agreed to invest 50 percent of the 7.8 billion euro Rafale contract in India to manufacture aircraft components with Indian billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense; Ambani is known to be a close ally of BJP and in particular PM Modi. This also indicates the fact that PM Modi and his ruling political party are obsessively engaged in building a military-industrial complex in India.
France‘s defense industry may have benefited from its weapons export to India, but it has added to the regional instability. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report 2020, France’s weapons export reached its highest level for any five-year period since 1990 and accounted for 7.9 percent of total global arms exports in 2015–19, a 72 percent increase. France’s dramatic increase of its weapons export to India without considering South Asia’s security dynamics is troublesome.
What is the way forward?
The Indo-French bonhomie cannot be seen only through the prism of France’s hustle to secure mega projects for its otherwise aging defense sector but this new strategic partnership has developed an appetite for expansion in a variety of areas of mutual interest. This includes France’s active role in the Asia-Pacific region, its direct investment in the Indian defense sector, and, in the long run, French assistance in India’s nuclear power sector.
France’s defense partnership with India, particularly its selling of Rafael jets has two major implications. First, unlike a civilized leadership, India is currently ruled by hawkish and insane leadership which is constantly threatening regional peace. Therefore, it’s unwise to boost defense cooperation with such an aggressive leadership.
Secondly, India is one of the world’s largest arms importers. A further influx of sophisticated military hardware will allow India to experiment with its military doctrines. It will not only undermine regional stability but also push the region to an unending arms race. Such a scenario is neither good for the region nor the world community.
South Asia is considered to be one of the most volatile regions of the world. Strategic communities around the world are unanimous in their views that India and Pakistan’s violent relationship has the potential to trigger a nuclear war; more importantly, the massive influx of deadly weapons in the region without taking care of regional anxiety is worrisome. Unfortunately, France has become a direct party in fueling regional tensions with this transaction.
Indo-French defense cooperation may be driven by the lucrative Indian market, but its regional ramifications are disastrous in the long run. India, under Modi rule, is emerging as a revisionist power, which in itself is a real threat to global peace. Therefore, it is critical for the French leadership to realize the severity of the French weapon sale to India. France needs to understand that it is Pakistan that will bear the brunt of this latest French-manufactured war machinery provided to India.