India’s relations with France have been free from sudden shifts and surprises, the External Affairs Minister said

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday said that India sees France as a major power with a global outlook and an independent mindset, one that is central to multipolarity and rebalancing and extremely responsive to India’s concerns and priorities.

In his address at the French Institute of International Relations on ‘How India sees France’, Jaishankar said that India’s relations with France have been free from sudden shifts and surprises that we sometimes see in other cases.

“So, this question, how does India see France? Well succinctly put, I would say, as a major power with a global outlook and an independent mindset,” he said.

“One that is central to multipolarity and rebalancing. Equally important, one that is extremely responsive to India’s concerns and priorities. That has a long history as a trusted partner. And one which is becoming even more relevant as we jointly address contemporary and emerging challenges,” the External Affairs Minister pointed out.

“That we have now entered an era of turbulence gives this partnership a still greater salience in international relations,” he added.

Noting that especially in the last two decades, India has transformed many of its relationships, in its extended neighbourhood as much as at the global level, Jaishankar said, India’s relationship with France, though, is one that bridges multiple generations.

“History is certainly an asset for this particular account. What is now happening is a shared endeavour to take it to a still higher level. I can assert with genuine confidence that it is the strongest now since our journey as an independent nation began 75 years ago,” he stated.

“Through the tumult of our times, India’s relations with France have continued to move forward on a steady and clear course,” EAM Jaishankar said.

These ties have continuously adapted to change and come out stronger for that, he added.

“There is, of course, the shared belief in democracy and universal human values. We both have an abiding faith in independent thinking and a deep conviction that our interests are best served in a multipolar order,” he said.

“Our shared faith in national capabilities has its roots in our respective conception of ourselves. It speaks of a belief in our civilizational heritage and worldview that has run through the changing course of our histories,” Jaishankar stated.

Pointing out that India has regarded France as a global power for a variety of reasons, he said, obviously, one of them is a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. “But in addition, France had a footprint and an influence in far corners of the world and weighed in on key global issues,” the Minister said.

“What was noteworthy was that despite being a member of an alliance, France has never hesitated to voice its own positions. And it has done so with an ideal mix of understanding and realism. This lack of dogmatism has contributed to building a strong partnership with a rising power like India,” he stated.

“We saw that, for example, when it came to a complex issue like accommodating India in the global nuclear order,” Jaishankar illustrated.

He mentioned that the Third Way that France long symbolised has naturally been of interest to an India that was devising its own path in global affairs.

“During the Cold War era of a divided world, this flexibility expanded the basis for our cooperation. Bluntly put, this came without ideological baggage. That tradition has now taken on a more modern incarnation,” EAM Jaishankar said.

According to Jaishankar, the trust that has been built over the years is an outcome of a similar outlook, national beliefs and an appreciation of the importance of the India-France relationship.

From a strategic point of view, that is expressed in cooperation in defence, space and civil nuclear energy. These domains have witnessed shared endeavours for many decades but have now increased in depth and in complexity, he maintained.

In the area of defence, India's first acquisition of French fighter aircraft was in the early 1950s. Since then, succeeding generations of French aircraft and other platforms and equipment have been an integral part of the Indian military force. India therefore has strong reason to see France as a critical partner for its national security, Jaishankar argued.

He went on to say that France was also an important influence in the development of India’s strategic thinking, especially its nuclear force posture. The very concept of credible minimum deterrence was derived from the learnings of French experience, Jaishankar pointed out.

After the 1998 nuclear tests, France was the first nuclear power to show an understanding of our strategic compulsions, he recalled. "So it was no surprise that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made Paris his first bilateral stop after the nuclear tests," he noted.

"Along with President Chirac, he launched the Strategic Partnership between our two countries that still serves us well today. French support played an important role in India getting an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 to resume international cooperation in civil nuclear energy," the External Affairs Minister pointed out.

In the UN Security Council and other international forums, where competing and complex sets of interests affect choices of members, France has been reliable, strong and a consistent partner of India. "Our synergies have enabled us, for example, to be more effective in mobilising UN action against terrorism and terrorist groups," Jaishankar said.