Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

India’s challenge in European geopolitics


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NATO

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Europe relations


For India, an important strategic priority today is to rebalance the Indo-Pacific. Delhi, however, recognises that this expansive challenge can’t be met by any one power, including the US. A larger European role in securing Asia therefore becomes critical.

Importance of Russia in balancing China

  • Peace with Russia in Europe might be necessary for America to focus on Asia has been the key motivation behind President Joe Biden’s decision to intensify engagement with Vladimir Putin in the last few months.
  • On the question of Ukraine’s membership of NATO, the US and its European allies have suggested that membership is certainly not imminent; but they are unwilling to say Ukraine will “never” be admitted.

Contradiction in Europe

  • 1] Europe remains geopolitically unstable: None of the three European settlements of the 20th century — in 1919 after the First World War, in 1945 after the Second World War, and in 1991 after the Cold War — has endured.
  • 2] The difficulty of integrating Russia into a European order: Russia was part of the great power system in Europe through the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • If the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution put Russia and the West at odds with each other, the collapse of the Soviet Union has not resolved the contradiction.
  • 3] Growing tension between the US and Europe: Since the Second World War, Europe has relied on the US for its security.
  • However, Europe has never stopped resenting the American dominance over its geopolitics.
  • The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has repeatedly objected to the US and Russia deciding the future of Ukraine over European heads.
  • But Russia does not take the EU seriously and is betting on negotiations with the US.
  • 4] Europe still remains a weak security actor:  While the EU has become a powerful economic entity (with its $17 trillion GDP), it remains a weak security actor.
  • Whatever might be the outcome from the gathering conflict over Ukraine, these European contradictions are not going to disappear any time soon.

Why Europe remains a weak security actor?

  • Dominance of the US and Russia: The ambition to construct a strong geopolitical personality for the EU is hobbled by divisions over the role of Russia and the US in the region.
  • Mutual suspicions: The historically rooted mutual suspicions among European states also plays role.
  • Reluctance to spend on defence: This is compounded by the reluctance to spend more on defence and the inability to develop collective defence arrangements outside of NATO led by the US.

Suggestions for India

  • The contradictions in Europe demand that Delhi discard its tendency to view the region through the “East versus West” binary.
  • Delhi today could profitably take a leaf out of the book of the Indian national movement.
  • In the late 18th century, as European powers competed for influence in the subcontinent, many Indian princes sought to take advantage of the contradictions between Britain and France.
  • Imperial Germany supported the formation of a nationalist government of India in Kabul in 1915 headed by Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh.
  • Eager to accelerate Indian independence during the Second World War, Netaji turned to Germany and Japan, the world’s newest great power.
  • The sharpening struggle for Indian independence, and more broadly the liberation of Asia between the two World Wars, inevitably involved exploiting the contradictions between different imperial powers.
  •  This was complicated, however, by rapid realignment among the major powers —friends became adversaries and enemies became allies.
  • The Indian and Asian national movements were deeply divided in coping with the shifting great power dynamic.
  • The world enters a similar moment today that could rearrange relations between the US, UK, Europe, Russia, China and Japan.

Consider the question “What are the contradictions in Europe today? How these contradiction can play role in India’s international relations with the European countries?”


Greater engagement with Europe and dealing with its multiple contradictions must necessarily be important elements of India’s international relations today.

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