France and India have convergence of interests as far as political and strategic policies in the Indo-Pacific region are concerned. Both states now have a relatively multifaceted partnership spanning in many fields, for instance, defense, civil nuclear, space, and counterterrorism. France has overseas territories in the Southwest and operates military bases in the Northwest Indian Ocean rim. So, one of the major French objectives in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is to maintain the strategic status quo and it needs Indian partnership in order to achieve this objective. However, French strategic partnership and arms transfer to India has become one of the major causes of strategic instability and arms race in South Asia.
Especially relevant are their vision and action plan for maritime protection and outer space. During the State visit of President Emmanuel Macron to India in March 2018, both states signed over 14 agreements to strengthen partnership. India and France vis-à-vis Chinese rise and IOR have maintained the stance of respecting global laws by all states in order to safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight, and countering piracy, and smuggling. With regards to maritime cooperation, French Navy sent its anti-aircraft destroyer FNS Cassard to dock at Mumbai in 2019 as a first step in implementation of the agreements for the provision of reciprocal logistics support. This French move was seen as a commitment with India to balance China in the IOR.
India has been purchasing weapons for decades and remains the second-largest importer of arms worldwide for the duration from 2015-19. Indian imports of weapons from France have risen by 715%, making latter the third largest supplier of arms to India in last 5 years. France is exporting weapon systems to India, which not only have conventional but strategic implications as well. The application of such weapon systems also varies from air to land to sea. The Rafale fighter jet agreement is a significant example of growing Indo-French defense cooperation. The collaboration between Indo-French defense forces found new dynamism when the Government of Modi concluded a deal to receive 36 Rafale Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts (MMRCA) from France. The deal has been subjected to many controversies, for instance, corruption charges, contract favoritism, pricing, and off-set clause issues.
India signed a formal agreement with France to buy 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets for US $8.8 billion in 2016. The Rafale aircraft is capable of carrying out all combat aviation missions, air superiority and air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and the nuclear delivery. Rafale is well equipped for India, with its multiple capabilities, to pursue aggressive teachings which involve air supremacy. A Rafale nuclear role will affect the security of South Asia and will raise questions about French undertakings of the NPT, which restricts transfer of such strategic weapons. China has also raised concerns about the Rafale weapons system, asserting that its deployment by India in border regions of China and Pakistan will improve India Armed Forces’ offensive capability.
In order to attract foreign investment in the defense sector India has long been playing the so-called Chinese threat card. However, India is using all the benefits it is getting through such ‘Get Help’ method in its hegemonic regional designs, especially against Pakistan. France is investing aggressively in the maritime realm of India in order to combat China’s increasing influence and its rising footprint in the Indian Ocean. Through betting on India’s ambitious proposal to create a fleet of nuclear attack submarines, France is focused on doubling its scale in IOR. It is offering weapon systems, knowledge transition, military preparation, logistics and information sharing to India. Under the Project 75, French naval defence and Energy company DCNS is assembling and building six Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines. Two such submarines, i.e., Kalvari-class were commissioned in the Indian Navy by November 2019. India is further looking to acquire six diesel-electric submarines under the Project P75I from France.
India in 2019 during the crisis with Pakistan, used Kalvari-class submarines to enter Arabian Sea, but Pakistan Navy thwarted the Indian attempt. India is also planning to boost its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine capabilities, and in this context, it fantasizes French Triomphant-class submarine with 16 vertical launch tubes for the M51 SLBMs. Recently, France has successfully tested new generation M51 intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering several nuclear warheads, which will be integrated with its nuclear submarine.
French biased inclination towards India and transfer of advanced strategic weapon systems is only adding to the tensions of South Asia because such weapons in Hindutva extremist hands could result in a disaster. The resulting arms race will further deteriorate the region’s security if the established weapons are used against the respective opponents of India. The already complex strategic stability in South Asia is under threat from French strategic arms transfer to India. Such transfers of sophisticated military technology to India besides affecting the regional stability is also seriously eroding the legitimacy of international disarmament and arms control laws.