India & NATO


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NATO

Mains level: Paper 3- Why India should engage NATO

India has jettisoned many of its foreing policy shibboleths of late, however, avoiding NATO is not one of them. The article suggests engaging NATO to be in sync with the changing geopolitics.

Why India avoided engagement with NATO in the past

  • India’s real problem is not with NATO, but with Delhi’s difficulty in thinking strategically about Europe.
  • Through the colonial era, Calcutta and Delhi viewed Europe through British eyes.
  • After Independence, Delhi tended to see Europe through the Russian lens.
  • 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.
  • The bureaucratisation 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.
  • In the last few years, Delhi has begun to develop an independent European framework, but has some distance to go in consolidating it.

Ending political neglect of Europe

  • India has certainly sought to end prolonged political neglect of Europe.
  • The deepening maritime partnership with France since 2018 is an example.
  • Joining the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism in 2019 is another.
  • India’s first summit with Nordic nations in 2018 was a recognition that Europe is not a monolith but a continent of sub-regions.
  • India’s engagement with Central Europe’s Visegrad Four also highlighted the fact that Europe is not monolith.

Why India should engage NATO

  • 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.
  • An India-NATO dialogue would simply mean having regular contact with a military alliance, most of whose members are well-established partners of India.
  • If Delhi is eager to draw a reluctant Russia into discussions on the Indo-Pacific, it makes little sense in avoiding engagement with NATO.
  • If Delhi does military exercises with China and Pakistan — under the rubric of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), why should talking to NATO be anathema?
  • To play any role in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and NATO need partners like India, Australia and Japan.
  • 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.
  • A sustained dialogue between India and NATO could facilitate productive exchanges in a range of areas, including terrorism, changing geopolitics; the evolving nature of military conflict, the role of emerging military technologies, and new military doctrines.
  • More broadly, an institutionalised engagement with NATO should make it easier for Delhi to deal with the military establishments of its 30 member states.
  • On a bilateral front, each of the members has much to offer in strengthening India’s national capabilities.

What about Russia

  • Russia has not made a secret of its allergy to the Quad and Delhi’s growing closeness with Washington.
  • Putting NATO into that mix is unlikely to make much difference.
  • Delhi, in turn, can’t be happy with the deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing.
  • As mature states, India and Russia know they have to insulate their bilateral relationship from the larger structural trends buffeting the world today.
  • Meanwhile, both Russia and China have intensive bilateral engagement with Europe.

Consider the question “India has to end its prolonged political neglect of Europe and engage a major European institution like NATO. In light of this, examine the factors restraining India’s engagement with the Europe.


India’s continued reluctance to engage a major European institution like NATO will be a stunning case of strategic self-denial and we should avoid it.

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