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NATO and European Powers-Foreign Policy of India

NATO and European Powers-Foreign Policy of India


  • Any suggestion that India should engage the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is usually met with a cold stare in Delhi.

                                          Insights into Editorial: Together in an uncertain world - INSIGHTSIAS


  • Foreign policy Taboo: India in recent years has broken many presumed political taboos in its foreign policy, but talking to NATO is not one of them.

  • Regular consultations with NATO, the post-War military alliance between the US and Europe, is highly unimaginable in Delhi.

  • Cold War and NAM: During the Cold War, India’s refusal was premised on its non-alignment.

    • That argument had little justification once the Cold War ended during 1989-91.

  • NATO and non-aligned states:  Since end of Cold War, NATO has built partnerships with many neutral and non-aligned states.

  • NATO and China & Russia: NATO has regular consultations with both Russia and China, despite the gathering tensions with them in recent years.


  1. India-NATO dialogue: It would simply mean having regular contact with a military alliance.

    • Most of members are well-established partners of India.

  2. Reluctant Russia: If Delhi is eager to draw a reluctant Russia into discussions on the Indo-Pacific, it makes little sense in avoiding engagement with NATO.

    • As NATO is now debating a role in Asia’s waters.

  3. Military exchanges with NATO Members: India has military exchanges with many members of NATO — including the US, Britain, and France — in bilateral and mini-lateral formats.

  4. SCO Military exercise with China & Pak: If Delhi does military exercises with two countries with serious security problems — China and Pakistan — under the rubric of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), why should talking to NATO be anathema.


  1. Lack of Strategical Thinking: India’s real problem is not with NATO, but with Delhi’s difficulty in thinking strategically about Europe. This inhibition has deep roots.

  2. Colonial Prism: Through the colonial era, Calcutta and Delhi viewed Europe through British eyes.

  3. Russian lens: After Independence, Delhi tended to see Europe through the Russian lens.

  4. Independent European framework: In the last few years, Delhi has begun to develop an independent European framework, but has some distance to go in consolidating it.

    • Talking to NATO ought to be one important part of India’s European strategy.

  5. European invasion of India: British Rule in India involved a continuous struggle against rival European powers.

    • First it had to prevail over the Portuguese, Dutch and the French.

    • Then kept an eye on the plans of other European powers to undermine British hegemony in the Subcontinent.

  6. Soviet Union for security: In the great reversal after Independence, Delhi came to rely on the Soviet Union for its security in the Cold War.

    • Amidst India’s widening political divide with the West.

  7. West Europe v. East Europe:  As the Cold War enveloped the world, nuancing Europe became harder in Delhi. India began to see West Europe as an extension of the US and Eastern Europe as a collection of Soviet satellites.

  8. East-West and North-South axes: Delhi’s rigid ideological framing of the world in

    • East-West and

    • North-South axes

It left little room for a creative engagement with Europe.

  1. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union demanded a fresh approach to Europe. But Delhi could not devote the kind of strategic attention that Europe demanded.

  2. Bureaucratization of the engagement between Delhi and Brussels and the lack of high-level political interest

    • Prevented India from taking full advantage of a re-emerging Europe.


  • First provisional government of India: It was set up in 1915 in Afghanistan, with the help of Germany.

      • It was headed by Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and M. Barkatullah.

  • Soviet Union for Indian revolutionaries:  The newly established Soviet Union became an attractive partner for Indian revolutionaries for the overthrow of the British Raj.

  • Bose and Germany: In the Second World War, Subhas Bose looked for German support to oust Britain from India.


  1. PM Modi has certainly sought to end this prolonged political neglect.

  2. The deepening maritime partnership with France since 2018 is an example.

  3. Joining the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism in 2019 is another.

  4. Modi’s first summit with Nordic nations (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland) in 2018 was a recognition that Europe is not a monolith but a continent of sub-regions.

  5. So was the engagement with Central Europe’s Visegrad Four.

  6. The Visegrád Group, Visegrád Four, or V4, is a cultural and political alliance of four countries of Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), all of which are members of the EU and of NATO.

  7. New European orientation: Delhi appears to be poised for a vigorous new push into Europe this year.

    • A pragmatic engagement with NATO must be an important part of India’s new European orientation

    • Especially amidst the Europe’s search for a new role in the Indo-Pacific.

  8. NATO-impressive military alliance: While NATO is an impressive military alliance, it is not ten feet tall.


  1. Military burden: NATO is riven with internal divisions on how to share the military burden.

  2. NATO v. EU’s Foreign Policy: Europe try to strike the right balance between NATO and the EU’s quest for an independent military role.

  3. NATO members disagree on

    • Russia,

    • Middle East and

    • China.

  4. Conflicts among NATO members:

    • For example, Greece and Turkey — have sharpened.

    • USA’s sanction on Turkey for S-400 purchase from Russia.

  5. NATO’s adventures out of Europe — have not inspired awe, in

    • Afghanistan,

    • Iraq and

    • Libya


  1. NATO is not offering membership to India; nor is Delhi interested.

  2. Common ground: At issue is the question of exploring potential common ground.

  3. Role in Indo-Pacific: To play any role in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and NATO need partners like India, Australia and Japan.

  4. Power Balancer for India: Delhi, in turn, knows that no single power can produce stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.

      • India’s enthusiasm for the Quad is a recognition of the need to build coalitions.

  5. Broad Spectrum of Co-operation: Sustained dialogue between India and NATO could facilitate productive exchanges in a range of areas, including

    • Terrorism,

    • Changing geopolitics;

    • Evolving nature of military conflict,

    • Role of emerging military technologies, and

    • New military doctrines.

  6. Institutionalised engagement: More broadly, an institutionalised engagement with NATO should make it easier for Delhi to deal with the military establishments of its 30 member states.

  7. On a bilateral front, each of the members has much to offer in strengthening India’s national capabilities.

  8. Indo-Russia Concern: Would Russia be upset with India’s engagement with NATO?

    • Russia has not made a secret of its allergy to the Quad and Delhi’s dalliance with Washington.

    • Putting NATO into that mix is unlikely to make much difference.

  9. Moscow and Beijing deepening ties:  Delhi, in turn, can’t be happy with the deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing.

  10. Insulate bilateral relationship: As mature states, India and Russia know they have to insulate their bilateral relationship from the larger structural trends buffeting the world today.


  • Lesson from Russia and China: Meanwhile, both Russia and China have intensive bilateral engagement with Europe.

    • Multiple European voices call for a dialogue with Russia.

    • After all, Europe can’t wish away Russia from its geography.

    • Meanwhile, China has long understood Europe’s salience and invested massively in cultivating it.

  • Delhi’s continued reluctance to engage a major European institution like NATO will be a stunning case of strategic self-denial.