The India–NATO Council and a Tri-Polar World
Published: 26/01/2022

India–West cohesion is vital for global democracy with the NATO–India Council filling a strategic gap

A COVID-19 Postscript

This paper outlines the strategic need for a qualitatively new type of large-scale cooperation between Indiaand the West. It was drafted and submitted forpublicationwell before the onslaught of COVID-19. However, the report and its findings have only become more relevant in light of the pandemic and related developments.In the meantime, theEU–IndiaStrategic Partnership: A Roadmap to 2025stipulated that the European Union (EU) andIndiawill cooperate inthe EU–IndiaJoint Working Group to facilitate trade and the removal of obstacles related to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT); continue the regulatory dialogue on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, notably via the established EU–IndiaJoint Working Group on pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical devices; and work together on health security and pandemic-crisis preparedness and response, linked specifically to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is further proof thatIndia–West cohesion is vital for global democracy with the NATO–IndiaCouncil filling a strategic gap. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, it was expected that the world would shift from being bi-polar to becoming unipolar. However, current geopolitical realities suggest that, for the most part, the world remains divided into two poles, albeit with relatively less rigidity: The Western pole anchored in Washington-Brussels and around the NATO/EU; and the Eastern pole around Moscow–Beijing, which is increasingly being structured via the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In this context, the question is: Quo Vadis, India?Bearing in mind both India’s heritage as a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its ambitions to join the P5—the Permanent UNSC members—India needs innovative solutions. The Modi government, in its second term, seems to have the imagination, capacity and the opportunity to do so. India is a founding member of the BRICS as well as a member of the SCO since 2017, which goes beyond its non-aligned tradition. The continuing development of India’s space and nuclear programmes is testimony to the country’s progress towards becoming a great power in a sensitive part of the world. Moreover, India is now officially recognised as a “nuclear power.”

The continuing development of India’s space and nuclear programmes is testimony to the country’s progress towards becoming a great power in a sensitive part of the world.

Being the world’s largest democracy, India can aim to become a player proportional to its size by positioning itself as the “Third Geo-Pole”. To that end, India must engage in regular and visible dialogue with the NATO, the second biggest democratic entity in the world. An important first step towards this would be to formalise the India–NATO Council (INC) as a discussion forum, to brainstorm for a bilateral agenda and a better future for humanity. The INC must be grounded on logic and reason, not just opportunities for both sides. India and all NATO members together account for one-third of the world’s total population. The two share common values and the interest to protect them. At the same time, they have shared concerns vis-à-vis security and economic challenges, as well as competitors and threats. Other areas of cooperation include the environment (including the North and South Poles), energy (including nuclear), space, cyber space and 5G. When the Atlantic Club first launched the idea of creating the INC 10 years ago, it was a non-starter. However, recent developments in New Delhi, Brussels and Washington suggest that this has changed in both India and the West, signalling a window of opportunity. Joining together will mean the democratic world will have utilized the united potential of more than two billion people and a significant portion of the world’s landmass including industrial capabilities and resources.

Recent developments in New Delhi, Brussels and Washington suggest that this has changed in both India and the West, signalling a window of opportunity.

Establishing the INC will help improve India’s ties with the three NATO members of the P5. With the other two—Russia and China—India already has ties through the BRICS. Thus, India could play a unique role by instituting separate security arrangements with each P5 member. This will de facto transform India into the Third Geo-Pole, which will strengthen its case for permanent membership to the UN Security Council. NATO, for its part, will gain new credibility and political strength amongst the formidable group of India supporters in the UN and the former NAM. The establishment of AUKUS in 2021 is yet another compelling proof of the need for cooperation between global democracies in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Indian membership in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) may serve as a foothold for Delhi to eventually join AUKUS. Where does the EU feature in this equation? Currently, the US reportedly has more military exercises with India than with many of its NATO allies. In February 2020, US President Donald Trump announced US$3 billion worth of sales of US military equipment to India. Thus, India–US security ties are progressing well outside of the context of NATO. Consequently, the ones that really need NATO for security engagements with India are the European Allies and the EU. Therefore, the successful establishment of the INC requires the commitment of the EU leadership vis-à-vis NATO.

The establishment of AUKUS in 2021 is yet another compelling proof of the need for cooperation between global democracies in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Indeed, the INC should be launched in a holistic way, with no confrontation with Pakistan or China or any other party with whom the West needs a different communication line. Neither India nor the West could have a stronger and more reliable partner than each other. A world with three poles, two of which are like-minded democracies, will be a substantial improvement on the current bi-polar one.

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