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Sustained engagement with NATO must be an important part of Delhi’s self-assured strategy of multi-alignment

As India rises as a large economy its geopolitical salience as a swing state among the great powers is growing.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, Cold War, US-led NATO, New Delhi, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsWhile Delhi struggled to come out of its defensive crouch, the Western military alliance reached out to key Asian countries, including China and Pakistan. Many small countries across Asia take advantage of the engagement with NATO in a range of areas — from training to capacity building.

It is perhaps not too surprising that India’s first formal engagement with the Brussels-based North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as reported in this newspaper, took so long to organise. NATO has been in existence since 1949 and has dominated European geopolitics since. After the end of the Cold War, it expanded in Europe and its engagement with Asia and its waters has significantly increased. It is perhaps understandable that India, which rejected military alliances during the Cold War, deliberately stayed away from the US-led NATO and the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended the great Cold War divide in Europe. While the Warsaw Pact disintegrated along with the Soviet Union, NATO endured as a military alliance of the triumphant West. Although post-Soviet Russia engaged NATO as part of building a new Europe, talking to the world’s most powerful military grouping remained a political taboo in Delhi. The entrenched nostalgia for the Soviet Union in the Indian political classes and the deference to Russian political sensitivities in the foreign policy establishment coupled with the persistent suspicion of the West saw Delhi refuse repeated requests for talks with NATO.

While Delhi struggled to come out of its defensive crouch, the Western military alliance reached out to key Asian countries, including China and Pakistan. Many small countries across Asia take advantage of the engagement with NATO in a range of areas — from training to capacity building. But Delhi remained unmoved. It was not that NATO was offering membership to India nor was Delhi interested in one. The question was only about politico-military exchanges. Yet the conservatives in Delhi continued to veto consultations with NATO. The Modi government chose to break the ideological straitjacket and begin a formal engagement in December 2019 after constructing a new domestic consensus. The first round of talks had covered a range of issues including Afghanistan, terrorism, China, Russia, and maritime security. Covid had apparently prevented a continuation of this dialogue in the following years.

The case for renewing India’s dialogue with NATO has become even more important since the end of 2019. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the return of the Taliban, Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent war in the heart of Europe, the rise of an assertive China, the Sino-Russian alliance, and the emergence of the Indo-Pacific have dramatically altered the international security context. Meanwhile, as India rises as a large economy its geopolitical salience as a swing state among the great powers is growing. At the same time, India’s vulnerabilities have also risen on the border with China and the conflict with Pakistan shows no signs of abating. India, therefore has adopted the strategy of multi-alignment — deepening ties with the US, building a partnership with Europe, holding onto the traditional partnership with Russia, and talking to China to resolve bilateral issues. Sustained engagement with NATO must be an increasingly important part of this self-assured strategy of multi-alignment.

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First published on: 12-08-2022 at 04:04:47 am
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