As the problem of reversing Chinese aggression in the Ladakh region carries over from 2020, strengthening Delhi’s international coalitions becomes an important priority for Indian foreign and security policies in 2021. If the intensification of security cooperation with the United States has become an important milestone in India’s foreign policy in 2020, integrating Europe into India’s new strategic calculus ought to be a major objective in 2021.
Three recent developments underline Delhi’s changing strategic perceptions of Europe. One is India’s support for France’s membership of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Second, India’s backing for a larger European role in the Indo-Pacific. Delhi has welcomed the interest of Germany and Netherlands in building a new geopolitical architecture in the Indo-Pacific. Third, security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is also emerging as an important theme in the plans to work out a decade-long road map to transform the partnership between Delhi and London, which is in the throes of separating from Europe and defining a new international role for itself.
Rebuilding ties with Europe needs a significant corrective to Delhi’s traditional strategic neglect of the continent. Both the bipolar Cold War dynamic (the East-West dimension) and the North-South framework (developing world versus the developed) prevented Delhi from taking a more nuanced view of Europe’s political agency after WWII.
Attempts to impart strategic momentum after the Cold War did not really succeed. When Europe looked at Asia, China loomed large as an attractive commercial partner. And as the economic gap between China and India widened, so did the scale of European interest in both countries. Communist China, with its special sensitivity to “inter-imperialist” contradictions, invested massive political and diplomatic effort to cultivate European political classes and economic elites. That began to pay off handsomely. India, in contrast, appeared rather indifferent to Europe.