Raja Mandala: European liaisons

With Russia moving closer to China and an unpredictable administration in the US, India and Europe have much to offer each other.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:May 30, 2017 1:02 am
modi angela merkel meet, modi in europe, india euro relations, german chancellor, indian express German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, walk through the garden of the government guest house Meseberg Palace, during a meeting in Meseberg, about 70 kilometers north on Berlin, Monday, May 29. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s travels this week to Russia, France, Germany and Spain provide an opportunity to recalibrate India’s approach to European geopolitics. The current uncertainty in the relations between America, China and Russia demands that India move closer to the European middle powers — France and Germany. Delhi must also devote more attention to other parts of the continent, from Spain to Sweden and Portugal to Poland, that have so much to offer India. Modi’s two tasks on this trip are somewhat contradictory.

He needs to arrest the growing drift in relations with Russia, which is privileging the China partnership over that with India, and intensify the engagement with Europe. If the best days of the Russian romance are behind us, an enduring European liaison has become an urgent Indian priority.

Although Indian resources contributed massively to the victory of the allied forces in the First and Second World Wars, India and Europe found themselves marginal to each other in the second half of the 20th century. India’s domestic political confusion in dealing with the Second World War, the Partition of the Subcontinent and the Cold War put India and Europe on opposite sides of the great political divide. Delhi aligned with the Soviet Union and Europe was divided into Russian and American spheres of influence.

After the Cold War, and the historic rapprochement between the West and Russia, India did announce the intent to construct bilateral strategic partnerships with Germany and France and collectively with the European Union. Although these partnerships have grown, they have hardly flourished. Europe has been preoccupied with its own integration, India on its neighbourhood and the major powers. Europe and India have remained loveless after the Cold War. Can Modi change that? As the world enters a period of geopolitical convulsion, India and Europe need each other more than ever before.

In the old continent, the facile talk of a “Common European Home” has given way to renewed tensions between Russia and the West. If Russia was miffed by NATO’s eastward expansion, Europe has been taken aback by the Russian annexation of Crimea, its powerplay in eastern Ukraine and political assertion across the old continent. If the political understandings negotiated during 1989-91 between the West and Russia have broken down, no European fix appears round the corner.

Meanwhile, India’s long-standing faith in Russia as the most reliable international partner has been shaken by Moscow’s deepening alliance with Beijing and its political flirtation with Pakistan. It is not that Russia has turned adversarial to India. Not at all. Russia’s contradictions with the West have meant Moscow has decided to put a special emphasis on ties with China. Delhi should not let its sentimentalism towards Russia obfuscate the fact that Moscow’s political preferences have evolved over time. While the PM must try and preserve what we must and expand what we can in India’s engagement with Russia, he needs to recognise that Delhi is no longer at the top of Moscow’s pecking order. Beijing is.

Delhi could fudge this as long as India’s ties with China seemed stable. With Beijing increasingly constraining India’s regional and global space, the fragility of the Delhi-Moscow bond has become exposed. As Russia turns to China and vacates a key position in India’s strategic matrix, Delhi must begin to explore the European option. Making the European embrace more urgent is the strange seizure that has gripped the Anglo-American powers today.

After Brexit, “Great Britain” is in danger of turning into “Little England”. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies promise great uncertainty in Washington’s engagement with Eurasia. Making matters worse are potential wild oscillations in US policy towards Russia and China.

The Europeans fear that Trump might abandon them in favour of a deal with Russia at precisely the moment Moscow is viewed as a threat in European capitals. India, Japan and other Asian nations are apprehensive that the American quest for a special relationship with China will leave them out in the cold. Not all these fears might come to pass. Yet, there is no avoiding the importance of insuring against the flux in US-China relations. India’s deepening ties with Japan and Australia are indeed part of that Asian hedge.

During his trip to Europe, Modi can take the first steps towards the construction of a similar middle power coalition on the western edge of the Eurasian landmass. Berlin seems ready. After Trump’s recent tour of Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the German people that the days of depending on Anglo-Americans for European security might be over.

“We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she said. France has never lost its geopolitical tradition and was the original proponent of the case for a multipolar Eurasia.

After nearly three centuries of global dominance, the Anglo-Americans are gazing at their navel. The Slavs are aligning with the Hans to construct a powerful Eurasian coalition. If Modi looks beyond the love-hate relationship with the Anglo-Americans and stops clinging to the Slavs, he might find the European alliances at once valuable and inviting.

The writer is director, Carnegie India, Delhi and contributing editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’.

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  1. R
    Raman
    May 30, 2017 at 10:02 pm
    The author got it wrong. Russia may be moving closer to China but not the USA. Rather the people who make laws in the US, do not want Russia any closer! We all know Trump to be dumb but Putin is a dangerous person. Its interference in 2016 election to elect Trump and people are really miffed. India has to be very careful dea with China and Russia. It is always good idea to wait and watch.
    Reply
    1. D
      DILIP
      May 30, 2017 at 7:58 pm
      Nothing is permanent and static in geo-politics but is vibrantly dynamic. India must avoid getting bogged down with tle tattles but only focus on economic growth and developments, building prosperity, increasing per capita income , exports, and bolstering a massive FX Reserves, over $ 3 trillion. sS someone with deep understanding of German politics this is what matters on final analysis. It is all bunkum to allude that German industrialists are not interested in India, as a matter of fact,German investors are now convinced that it is India that is the winning Rider in the game of Economic throne, not China which is fast fading into a quagmire, hit with poor credit ratings, anemic growth and mountain of unsustainable debts. India must not get too fazed with less Russian attention, is a fading power like U.K. an, Germany and France are the Troika, will provide the cutting edge technology for India to become the Super Power.
      Reply
      1. P
        Pat
        May 30, 2017 at 8:34 pm
        Other powers are not in the business of making India a super power. If any thing they will try their best to put blocks in India's path. People should stop throwing around words like "super power" in connection with India. They should put their heads down and work hard to get India where they want it to be.
        Reply
        1. D
          DILIP
          May 30, 2017 at 10:52 pm
          Who says so you do write some bull sh11t and is ignorant of realpolitik. USA AN GERMANY RUSSIA CHINA FRANCE they are well aware that ECONOMICS FACTS and dynamics are in India's favour big time if Modi is the LEADER for the next 12 years and no power on EARTH will be able to prevent India from becoming a SUPER POWER so get s tu ff ed. When you have a strong economy and buckets of money they all will bend backwards to have a piece of the G Magnum Piece De Resistance. First Laws of Nature Remember.
      2. S
        Seshubabu Kilambi
        May 30, 2017 at 7:54 pm
        Europe and Indua should work towards safer workd
        Reply
        1. D
          D. Schweppe
          May 30, 2017 at 2:42 pm
          As someone with a long connection to India, I must say the Indian PM's visit is sadly mostly being ignored by the German media. There are good reasons for this too. India is simply not high enough on the priority list of Europe. There are not neither strong economic nor geopolitical contacts. The high prioties of contemporary German foreign policy are EU integration; migration / refugee flows from North Africa and the Middle-east and EU-US relations. As is obvious India has very little to do with any of these. The French visit might be more consequential because India is a big importer of arms, but that's about it.
          Reply
          1. R
            Rajat
            May 30, 2017 at 6:24 pm
            True. India may be developing rapidly, but still lacks the power punch. Maybe a decade of rapid progress can help improve India's standing further.
            Reply
          2. V
            Virender Phogat
            May 30, 2017 at 11:01 am
            The most we can expect from Modi is that he will change his kurtas about 10 times a day and always know where the camera is placed during a meeting. A low-IQ, boorish narcissistic sociopath.
            Reply
            1. M
              mast kalandar
              May 30, 2017 at 12:17 pm
              nothing better can be expected from a "latthmaar" JAT widd an IQ lesser than that of a BULL!
              Reply
              1. D
                David
                May 30, 2017 at 12:45 pm
                Youu sound soooo dumb. Come into the real world. It's shark infested. First time in India's 1000 year history. Someone is doing a good job. Love from Harvard.
                Reply
                1. N
                  NoToQuota
                  May 30, 2017 at 3:25 pm
                  Hey Phogat, Indians are known as dirtiest creatures on the earth. When it comes to jATS, they don't have sense enough to even take a shower. I am very proud that our PM has the best sense how to represent himself in a country which you may not visit in your 100 lives. PM doesn't represent himself, but the country as w . If you understand only this part, then shut your big mouth & go wash your undies, at least rather than commenting on our PM.
                  Reply
                  1. P
                    Pat
                    May 30, 2017 at 8:39 pm
                    This from a phogat?
                    Reply
                  2. A
                    aravind
                    May 30, 2017 at 10:58 am
                    The Brits destro India's economic independence and left, still India was better than China at that time, but he Nehruvian Congress wasted the time and did not develop the country. India should build its economy, stop petty parochial and cast politics. It is a continental country and has inherent strength. Any strong country will be listened to.
                    Reply
                    1. V
                      Virender Phogat
                      May 30, 2017 at 10:53 am
                      Modi has no vision or capability, other than a penchant for cheap theatrics and cr self-promotion. As Advani once said, "he is a good event manager." Anything beyond that he cannot comprehend, much less execute.
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                      1. N
                        Narinder Dogra
                        May 30, 2017 at 11:47 am
                        I agree that Modi is a dud Prime minister. It is unfortunate that India does not have world cl leadership. Just dead wood since Indra hi's demise.
                        Reply
                        1. M
                          mast kalandar
                          May 30, 2017 at 12:19 pm
                          nothing better can be expected from a "latthmaar" JAT widd an IQ lesser than that of a BULL!
                          Reply
                        2. J
                          Joydeep
                          May 30, 2017 at 10:13 am
                          the rss-bjp hates Christians. now Europe is mostly Christians. what are they going to do about that?
                          Reply
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