In recent years, India has entered into more than three dozen “strategic partnerships”, but France remains the original one. President Jacques Chirac visit in 1998 saw the establishment of the “strategic partnership” which was tested months later in May when India conducted a series of nuclear weapon tests. France was the first major power to open a dialogue with India.
To mark 50 years of India-France space cooperation, new projects for cooperation between ISRO and the French government space agency, CNES, have been announced, dealing with environment and weather monitoring, mapping of water resources and a joint Thermal Infrared Earth observation mission.
More significant are the joint ventures (JV) proposed to be set up between private sector entities in both countries that can provide a much needed boost to “Make in India” in defence. This should give greater content to the Agreement on Defence Cooperation, originally signed in 2006 and now extended till 2026, providing a framework for cooperation in defence production, research and development and procurement of defence materials.
Among the emerging areas of cooperation are homeland security, cyber security, special forces like the National Security Guard and its French counterpart GIGN, and intelligence sharing to tackle the common threats of terrorism and global criminal networks.
Bilateral trade between the two countries has been languishing at $8 billion, well below potential. Strategic relationship has developed over the years generating a sense of comfort between government agencies. What are needed are initiatives that can strengthen business-to-business linkages and people-to-people contacts.