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Lessons from 2020 - Next Steps for the France-India Partnership

Lessons from 2020 - Next Steps for the France-India Partnership
 Harsh V. Pant
Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation

On December 8-9, Institut Montaigne and the Observer Research Foundation co-organized the closed-doors track 1,5 dialogue Moving Forward the France-India Partnership. On the basis of the discussions, Prof. Harsh V. Pant and Mahika Sri Krishna from ORF present their analysis of possible next steps forward for Franco-Indian relations. 

One of the most striking features of year 2020 has been the paradox between a growing need for multilateralism juxtaposed with increasing weaknesses of existing multilateral institutions. France and India have shared a common belief in the importance of multilateralism and have a common respect for international rules and regulations. These shared beliefs can form the basis for a cooperation agenda, in particular in four areas: strengthening multilateralism, carving out a roadmap for the Indo-Pacific region, dealing with the increasing role of geotechnology and furthering climate governance.

The global order and multilateralism

The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated the emergence of cracks in various multilateral institutions. The use of these institutions as a space for competition instead of cooperation has resulted in calls for reform and inclusivity, in order to effectively deal with urgent global risks. The need for reformed and well-resourced multilateral bodies with equitable approaches has increased, as opposed to existing structures which largely benefit more powerful countries. Newer challenges to the global order have been global public health, climate and technology - all areas in which existing institutions have indicated the need for reform to be effective.

France and India can pave the way on this front, considering their most recent multilateral success - the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Coordinated efforts by France and India to engage with developing nations resulted in a platform for effectively addressing issues specific to these countries. The action-oriented and issue-specific nature of the ISA enables results at scale for the countries involved, as opposed to standard multilateral models. Additionally, France and India can work towards building strengthened coalitions within existing multilateral systems. 

The ongoing debate on the Covid-19 vaccine being a global public good has demonstrated a lack of leadership on a multilateral level to ensure its equitable distribution. By cooperating within frameworks such as COVAX and ACT, France and India can work towards engaging with and defending the interests of Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) who have been side-lined in multilateral forums addressing the current Covid-19 crisis. The organic evolution of issue-based multilateral institutions such as the ISA, Alliance for Multilateralism, ACT and COVAX have left room for leadership - where France and India must aim to step in.

A roadmap for action in the Indo-Pacific

The idea of the Indo-Pacific is being increasingly operationalized, both by countries in the region, and those with interests within the region. Similarities between India and France’s definition of the Indo-Pacific strategy being one of inclusivity, sovereignty, engagement and freedom of navigation creates room for cooperation.

France and India have shared a common belief in the importance of multilateralism and have a common respect for international rules and regulations.

The two countries must continue to work together in areas such as Maritime Domain awareness, terrorism, cybercrime, piracy, disaster relief and the blue economy. Engagement on a multilateral level through the QUAD, ASEM and trilateral engagements such as the India-Australia-France dialogue must also take place.

The Indo-Pacific strategy must be looked at from beyond a focus of purely containing Chinese actions. However, while this framework is not directed specifically against China, cooperation will still loosely be based around curtailing the growing influence of China within the region.

By building coalitions to constrain behaviour from China and defending values of multilateralism, India and France must translate their converging views on the Indo-Pacific into action. This could even take place through the development of an organized multilateral institution in the Indo-Pacific, or through the creation of dialogue and institution-building between EU countries and Indo-Pacific countries. Regardless of the chosen format for cooperation, India’s role as a natural partner to France within the Indo-Pacific framework is unmistakable.

Geopolitics and technology

The impact of the tech industry has rapidly grown, as debate over various powerful new tech initiatives has spilled over into the geopolitical realm. Increasing Chinese domination of certain sectors of tech has brought important questions about leadership in technology, diversifying tech supply chains and protecting data. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic and our high dependence on tech services has revealed the need for regulation of systemic risks and protection of democratic values in tech.

The idea of digital sovereignty is becoming increasingly important to India and European countries, as the protection of data has become as important as the protection of natural resources. As countries become more weary of a supply-chain heavily dependent on one country, initiatives such as off-shoring and near-shoring have become more common. This begs the question – are we headed towards a state of deglobalization and tech nationalism?

Considering the similar aspirations France and India have towards sovereign, secure and democratic regulation of tech - there are many areas they can collaborate on. The rapidly developing nature of the industry calls for fast-tracked initiatives for cooperation in areas such as data protection, data localization, investing in Indian technology and supply chain diversification. As with the ISA, initiatives to help developing countries develop their digital identity can also be jointly undertaken. Furthermore, India and France must work together on international regulations for digital data, to ensure independence from both China and the U.S.

India and France can work towards creating a financial mechanism within the ISA and develop action-oriented and need-based multilateral initiatives to tackle climate change.

Climate change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In regard to climate initiatives, both India and France are undertaking important steps to push their climate commitments further, this year leading to new momentum and increased climate ambitions. However, multilateral forums have largely failed developing nations on this front. As with the ISA, France and India can spearhead the development of multilateral initiatives which accommodate the voices of those who are most at risk. The ISA can move to provide incentives for LMICs, by leveraging finances to fund renewable energy projects. India should be viewed as a partner to Europe in relation to establishing the Green Deal and facilitating climate diplomacy.

To achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), the overarching view is that 2020 marks the decade of action. There is no better tool to direct investment than policy. India and France can work towards creating a financial mechanism within the ISA and develop action-oriented and need-based multilateral initiatives to tackle climate change.

This past year has served as a wake-up call for a large number of countries who have faced vulnerabilities as a result of global threats. France is a crucial partner for India, and needs to play a key role in terms of India’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific, honouring climate commitments, combatting challenges to the global tech order and rebuilding resilience in multilateralism. By reinforcing shared values and commitments to these challenges, the France-India partnership can be taken to a new level this decade. 




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