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Explained: The significance of India’s talks with NATO, and next steps

India held its first political dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in December 2019. What is this alliance? Why is India's talks with NATO significant? What was revealed in the meeting? What are the next steps?

India NATO talks, NATO, What is NATO, India NATO meeting, India NATO membership, Indian ExpressThe North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, is a political and military alliance of 28 European countries and two countries in North America (United States and Canada).

New Delhi held its first political dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Brussels on December 12, 2019, The Indian Express has learnt. Attended by senior officials, including from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, the idea was to ensure the dialogue was primarily political in character, and to avoid making any commitment on military or other bilateral cooperation.

Accordingly, the Indian delegation attempted to assess cooperation on regional and global issues of mutual interest.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, is a political and military alliance of 28 European countries and two countries in North America (United States and Canada).

It was set up in 1949 by the US, Canada, and several western European nations to ensure their collective security against the Soviet Union. It was the US’s first peacetime military alliance outside the western hemisphere.

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Thirty countries are currently members of NATO, which is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The headquarters of the Allied Command Operations is near Mons, also in Belgium.

What is important about NATO’s collective defence?

Members of NATO are committed to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. Collective defence lies at the very heart of NATO, “a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance”.

This is laid out in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the founding treaty of NATO.

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Article 5 reads: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

What are the origins of NATO?

At the end of WWII, as battered European nations started to rebuild their economies, the US, which believed that an economically strong, re-armed, and integrated Europe was critical to prevent the westward expansion of communist USSR, embarked on a programme to supply economic aid to the continent on a massive scale.

The European Recovery Programme, known as the Marshall Plan after President Harry S Truman’s Secretary of State George C Marshall, promoted the idea of shared interests and cooperation between the US and Europe. The USSR declined to participate in the Marshall Plan, and discouraged eastern European states in its sphere of influence from receiving American economic assistance.

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In the 1946-49 Greek Civil War, the US and UK worked to thwart the Soviet-backed communist takeover of Greece. The western nations threw their weight behind Turkey as it stood up to Soviet pressure over control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles Strait (which connect the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara, and the Sea of Marmara and Aegean Sea, respectively) — and in 1947-48, the US committed itself to containing the communist uprisings in Turkey and Greece.

In 1948, Stalin’s government sponsored a coup in (erstwhile) Czechoslovakia, which led to the installation of a communist regime in a country sharing borders with both Soviet-controlled East Germany and the pro-West West Germany. In 1948-49, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin to force the US, UK, and France to give up their post-war jurisdictions in the country, leading to a major crisis and an 11-month airlift of supplies by Western countries to keep their part of the city going.

All these events led the US to conclude that an American-European alliance against the USSR was necessary. The Europeans too were convinced of the need for a collective security solution, and in March 1948, the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Brussels Treaty of collective defence, which meant that if any of the signatories faced an attack, they would be defended by all the others.

A few months later, the US Congress passed the Vandenburg Resolution, a landmark action “advising the President to seek US and free world security through support of mutual defence arrangements that operated within the UN Charter but outside the Security Council, where the Soviet veto would thwart collective defence arrangements”.

The Vandenburg Resolution was the stepping stone to NATO. The US believed the treaty would be more effective if it included, apart from the signatories of the Brussels Treaty, countries of the North Atlantic — Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and Portugal. From the American perspective, these countries were the links between the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and could help facilitate military action if it was needed.

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The treaty was signed in Washington DC on April 4, 1949. It had 12 signatories initially: the US, UK, Canada, France, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Iceland, and Luxembourg.

What is the significance of India’s talks with NATO?

India’s talks with NATO hold significance given that the North Atlantic alliance has been engaging both China and Pakistan in bilateral dialogue. There was a view here that given the role of Beijing and Islamabad in New Delhi’s strategic imperatives, reaching out to NATO would add a key dimension to India’s growing engagement with US and Europe.

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Until December 2019, NATO had held nine rounds of talks with Beijing, and the Chinese Ambassador in Brussels and NATO’s Deputy Secretary General engaged with each other every quarter. NATO had also been in political dialogue and military cooperation with Pakistan; it opened selective training for Pakistani officers and its military delegation visited Pakistan in November 2019 for military staff talks.

The first round of dialogue was finalised for December 12, 2019 by the Indian mission in Brussels after it received a draft agenda for the meeting from NATO.

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Upon receipt of the draft agenda, an inter-ministerial meeting was convened with representatives from the External Affairs and Defence ministries, and the National Security Council Secretariat.

The government, sources said, was of the view that engaging NATO in a political dialogue would provide New Delhi an opportunity to bring about a balance in NATO’s perceptions about the situation in regions and issues of concerns to India.

Was there any common ground?

In New Delhi’s assessment, there was a convergence in the perspectives of both India and NATO on China, terrorism, and Afghanistan, including Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, sources said.

The first dialogue, it is learnt, revealed three critical issues on which India expected only limited common ground with NATO:

i) From NATO’s perspective, it was not China, but Russia whose aggressive actions continued to be the main threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and that NATO had faced difficulties to convene meetings of NATO-Russia Council due to Russian refusal to place issues such as Ukraine and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on the agenda.

ii) Given the divergence among NATO countries, its view on China was seen as mixed; while it did deliberate on China’s rise, the conclusion was that China presented both a challenge and an opportunity.

iii) In Afghanistan, NATO saw the Taliban as a political entity, which was not in line with India’s stance. This was almost two years before the Taliban announced an interim government in Afghanistan in September 2021.

However, the Indian side felt maritime security was a principal area of conversation in the future, given a substantial common ground with NATO, sources said.

India-NATO talks: Is there a common ground on China?

In its first round of talks with NATO, New Delhi realised it did not share a common ground with the grouping on Russia and the Taliban. With NATO’s views on China also mixed, given the divergent views of its members, India’s Quad membership is aimed at countering Beijing.

Otherwise, the alliance’s engagement with China and Pakistan separately would leave it with lopsided perspectives on regional and global security matters of concern to India, sourced said.

Explained

Eye on China

In its first round of talks with NATO, New Delhi realised it did not share a common ground with the grouping on Russia and the Taliban. With NATO’s views on China also mixed, given the divergent views of its members, India’s Quad membership is aimed at countering Beijing.

What are the next steps?

On its part, the NATO delegation, led by Bettina Cadenbach, Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, is learnt to have expressed keenness to continue engagement with India on a mutually agreed agenda. In NATO’s view, India, given its geo-strategic position and unique perspectives on various issues, was relevant to international security and could be an important partner in informing the alliance about India’s own region and beyond, sources said.

It is learnt the two sides also discussed a possible second round in New Delhi in 2020, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As far as India is concerned, it was felt New Delhi may consider proposals emanating from NATO, if any, on bilateral cooperation in areas of interest to India, based on the progress achieved in the initial rounds. While many say it is logical to follow up and formalise the talks, some caution because of sensitivities attached to the perception of NATO — seen by some as expansionist in nature.

First published on: 12-08-2022 at 09:39:11 am
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