Prospects for EU-India security cooperation – New Delhi
28 September 2016
New Delhi, India
There is a clear imperative for greater understanding between the EU and India on a range of security concerns. Until recently, this imperative has not been obvious. India’s focus has been inward-looking, predicated on the need for rapid economic growth. However, since 2014, the BJP–led government in Delhi has demonstrated a much greater emphasis on foreign policy; in 2015 the foreign secretary, Dr. S. Jaishankar, argued that ”India wants to be a leading Power rather than just a balancing Power.” And while the EU has faced a range of difficulties in recent years — among them, economic challenges since the 2008 financial crisis, terror incidents across Europe, and a surge in refugee inflows — these have increased its focus on constructing both an outward and forward–looking foreign policy.
The European Union and India have been engaged in a strategic partnership since 2004. The 13th Summit, held in March 2016, directly advocated advancing cooperation in the field of security. Counter-terrorism had been an element of EU-India engagement since the strategic partnership was agreed. Other thematic issues raised at the 2016 Summit as subjects for dialogue and engagement included cybersecurity, counter-piracy and non-proliferation. In terms of regional concerns,the EU and India stressed their shared concerns or interests regarding a number of countries or regions, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, North Korea, Iran and West Asia/the Middle East — in particular Syria.
Chatham House, the EU Institute for Security Studies, and Observer Research Foundation held a closed–door workshop and a public conference on ‘Prospects for EU–India Security Cooperation’ in September 2016 exploring the scope for engagement on three of these issues:West Asia, maritime security, and counter-terrorism and radicalisation. The workshop discussed the potential contours of EU–India collaboration, as well as the hurdles to their enhanced engagement. Each of the issues is of paramount concern both to India and the EU, but each of these differ in terms of existing cooperation and the underlying interests. The degree of cooperation feasible will be contingent both on political will and capacity, but for each issue ORF established a range of potential options for collaboration, ranging from specific and granular opportunities for shared learning, to more aspirational dialogues seeking to establish shared frameworks for collaboration in dealing with such challenges.
West Asia has historically been a bridge connecting Europe with Asia. As their shared periphery, developments in the region — including conflict — have a severe effect on both the EU and India.Both rely on petrochemical imports from the region; the EU is suffering from inflows of refugees escaping conflict; millions of Indians work in West Asia. The current economic downturn is affecting the livelihood of many Indians. And India has had to evacuate its own (and other South Asian) nationals from, inter alia, Yemen, Lebanon and Libya in recent years.
India’s engagement with West Asia is self-evidently on an upward trend highlighted, for instance, by the recent decision to make the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi the guest of honour at India’s 2017 Republic Day celebration. Yet neither the EU nor India conceive of each other as primary interlocutors in relation to West Asia. This may reflect both the geopolitical reality and the staid policy approaches on both sides. The interests of the EU and India are more likely to be converging than currently framed and understood. Initiating dialogue now, to understand better the two sides’ interests in West Asia, will pay dividends in the years to come when close collaboration will be inevitable.
There is significant scope for better cooperation on the issue of maritime security. The Indian Ocean is the venue for the EU’s most successful military mission to date — EU NAVFOR or Operation Atalanta, coordinating anti–piracy operations off Somalia with a host of countries including India. EU engagement in the Indian Ocean also includes EUCAP Nestor, the financing of the Indian Ocean Commission and the EU–CRIMARIO project intended to improve maritime security in the entire region. At the very least, maritime security offers scope for enhanced dialogue; at the more aspirational level, the EU and India — sharing interests in maintaining open sea lanes of cooperation — could work together promoting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the basis of maritime governance. Further, while Operation Atalanta has proved successful thus far, piracy will remain a threat until the root causes — on land rather than at sea — have been tackled. Both sides have a palpable interest in stabilising Somalia and other fragile coastal geographies.
The emergence of piracy in the Western Indian Ocean has provided a unique opportunity for navies from within and outside the region to join forces in addressing a concrete security threat. There is a need to seize the momentum and build upon this positive experience to foster operational cooperation also in other maritime security domains or in combatting sea-borne crime such as smuggling and IUU fishing. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is the primary multilateral forum promoting stability and rules-based conduct in the Indian Ocean. The experience, interests and presence of the EU in the Indian Ocean could make the EU a valuable dialogue partner of IORA.
Counter–terrorism has been a subject for EU–India discussion since the strategic partnership was forged. The joint declaration at the 2016 summit highlighted the determination of the EU and India to work together to tackle terrorism. Cooperation is extant in areas such as financing terrorism, designating groups as terrorist and working together in the UN system.
Yet there is scope to deepen cooperation. The EU is committed to helping India’s Smart Cities initiative. This offers great scope to focus on resilience building — whether in relation to disasters or terrorist attacks. Radicalisation is another area in which the EU and India could work together. For the EU, domestic Islamic militancy is a relatively new phenomenon — until the attacks in Europe of 2004 and 2005, it had been seen as a foreign policy concern rather than an internal European problem. Despite having a Muslim population of more than 180 million, Indian Muslims have been relatively immune from radicalisation, certainly in contrast to European Muslim populations. Understanding the causes of this could offer insights to the EU. At the same time, there are growing incidents of radicalisation in India, though from a low base. Are there lessons from European understanding of the process of radicalisation — notably online radicalisation — for India? Existing cooperation on cybersecurity could feed into this shared understanding. Countering Violent Extremism online will remain a common challenge for all liberal societies and working together to share, learn, and discover technologies and methods to respond to this contemporary threat must be part of the agenda.
EU and India are only now beginning to appreciate the importance of the other,when engaging with global security challenges. The EU brings a range of experiences to the table that are relevant for India. The EU recognises that today’s security challenges require a full spectrum approach — pure military solutions rarely work. The EU played a pivotal role in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. And while India and the EU may approach issues — such as the challenges facing West Asia — from different perspectives, initiating dialogues and conversations to better understand these different perspectives now will prove beneficial, as India’s global role becomes more apparent.