With the retrenchment of the United States and a growing number of conflicts around the world, Europe and India are set to play a greater role in securing their overlapping extended neighborhoods. Both actors are aiming to leave behind their passive and insular security postures. The European Union’s Global Strategy (2016) gives a central role to defense and security, recognizing that the EU’s strategic environment has changed radically and is surrounded by an ‘arc of instability’, threatening the Union’s security interests. This European arc intersects with India’s expanding security perimeter. India has recast itself as a ‘leading power’ no longer content with a mere balancing role be it in South Asia, Africa or the Middle East.
As a result, India and Europe have a number of common security interests emerging. Afghanistan, where India’s interests are immediate is also a source of migration pressures that ensure Europe’s active interest in the country’s future. The entire Middle East is a source of oil and gas to both Europe and India as well as a source of threats like terrorism. Indian and European trade routes pass through crucial choke points along the coast of East Africa, which are increasingly under pressure by both traditional and non-traditional security threats.
As India begins to focus its efforts outwards and Europe discovers hard power, the two have begun to take similar actions in parallel. What is missing from the equation is conversation and working together. Crisis management, stabilization and peacebuilding can play a central role in opening up a huge untapped potential for cooperation and collaboration between the European Union (EU), its member states and India – especially since India has consistently been among the top three troop contributors to United Nations (UN) missions. In recent years, it has expanded its security role, whether in evacuating citizens from conflict zones like Yemen, or providing security in the Indian Ocean region.
For India, the EU has been a negligible actor in hard security matters
The EU-India strategic partnership, envisioned in the 2005 Joint Action Plan and the 2008 Strategic Partnership Agreement, calls for jointly promoting comprehensive security and identifies “peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and post-conflict assistance” as important priorities for developing the bilateral relationship. Progress on this goal has not taken place so far because of two reasons. First, India’s view of the EU has been largely defined by its disregard for Brussels institutions, which have long played a negligible role in hard security matters. Policy differences and petty rivalries between Brussels and EU member states often make it difficult for outside actors to engage with the EU comprehensively, especially on matters of security.
EU- and NATO-led operations vs. UN peacekeeping: minimal interoperability
Secondly, while the EU and India share the commitment to act as ‘responsible powers’, they have longstanding differences on what that responsibility entails with regard to conflict management and peace operations. Both have focused on different crises and worked through different multilateral organizations. Europe’s preference that its military and civilian contributions serve under NATO and EU leadership has meant that its contribution to UN peacekeeping has declined from 70% in 1990, to less than 10% by 2016. This is also in part because of the huge post-2000 expansion of peacekeeping enabled by troops from the Global South, including India. Indian diplomacy too remains wedded to participation in UN-led missions only. As a result, India is one of the strongest pillars of UN peacekeeping, among the top three contributors to both military and police personnel. The EU’s top individual contributors are way below in the double-digit ranks.
Within UN peace operations, Indian and European uniformed personnel rarely meet at eye level. The large missions in Africa (with the notable exception of Mali, currently the most dangerous one) remain almost completely neglected by European contributors. Where Indian and European senior leaders did work together in the field – in Angola, Mozambique, in Timor-Leste, in West Africa, mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s – the lack of mutual interest in capitals precluded any attempt to forge an institutional dimension based on experiences of these individual leaders. Consequently, interoperability between Indian and EU forces is likely minimal at the moment.
Perceived ‘strategic divergence’ overlooks contradictions in both the EU’s and India’s practice
The lack of familiarity with each other has also fed a perception of ‘strategic divergence’ on top-tier principles about democracy promotion, the use of force, humanitarian intervention, and regime change. In India, messy and contradictory decisions such as the UK’s participation in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or the French and British roles in military intervention in Libya in 2011 continue to be seen as examples of a wider strategic Euro-Atlantic consensus to change regimes at will, whether in the naïve attempt to do some good or by some grand imperialist design. This view however overlooks the well-founded resistance of most Europeans, led by France and Germany, to the invasion of Iraq.
India’s strategic practice is by comparison no less contradictory. While preaching the developing world’s mantras of state sovereignty and non-intervention at the UN, India has frequently used force in neighboring states to achieve political objectives. The history of India’s interventions, actual and planned, include East Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, the Maldives, and Mauritius. As India’s security perimeter expands beyond the subcontinent, it is quite possible that its neighborhood approach to peace operations will extend abroad as well. The increase in the number of evacuation of overseas citizens, including some foreign nationals, in Yemen (2015) and South Sudan (2016) also reflects India’s bid for a larger security role.
The EU and India have shared strategic interests in their overlapping neighborhoods
Despite these impediments, the EU and India have greater strategic common ground to build on than many realize. Both consider effective states to be critical for sustainable, peaceful political orders, and have a shared focus on development and institution building as priorities for structural conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding. Based on their own domestic examples, both promote democratic mechanisms to help societies solve conflicts peacefully.
Having played in different leagues until very recently, the EU and India have limited experience of some practical collaboration even in Afghanistan, where Indian and European strategic interests converge the most. Europe is heavily involved in the stabilization of Iraq and the fight against the ‘Islamic State’, and if the beginnings of a sustainable transition to stability were to emerge in Syria or Yemen, Europe would be a huge player in either country – right next door to the Gulf where India seeks oil and gas resources and protection of its diaspora. War and instability in East Africa and along the coast of the Indian Ocean threaten Indian investments (e.g., in South Sudanese oil) and overwhelm Europe’s ability to cope with migration. Growing instability in superficially stable but dangerously brittle authoritarian countries like Ethiopia are serious concerns for both Europe and India. None of these crises, wars, and potential future threats are likely to diminish in the near to mid-term future, and the awareness and political will not to be blindsided by their ramifications is likely to grow, in European capitals as much as Delhi.
Opportunities for more cooperation in UN peacekeeping missions in Africa
In the military realm, Europe has begun to make limited but substantial contributions even to the most difficult UN peacekeeping operations in Mali. As European nations like Germany start recognizing the strategic importance of peace and security in Africa and the key role that UN peace operations can play in achieving these goals, there will be more opportunities for Indian and European forces to work together on the ground. Especially as Germany steps up engagement with regional partners, Germany should consider partnering with India, which has long-developed regional ties, substantial presence through UN missions, and a recent but significant increase in overseas assistance.
Boost practical joint experience through common trainings, operations, and projects
Without a history of close partnership, EU and India will need to build practical joint experience on all levels, including policy-level collaboration on mandates and framework diplomacy, as well as operational and tactical interoperability in both training situations and real operations. This can start with already agreed-upon initiatives within the EU-India Joint Action Plan on joint trainings and personnel exchanges, focusing on likely scenarios for side-by-side deployments and covering both civilian and military personnel from UN peacekeeping operations in places like South Sudan or the Middle East/West Africa to diplomacy and institution building in Afghanistan. The two can also develop practical joint projects for training and assistance to third parties. India and US recently agreed to provide training to African Union troops. Something similar can also be explored both with the EU and its member states. Similarly, Indian civilian deployment in CSDP operations, including security experts, police, and justice officials, could be a useful and politically attractive option to boost collaboration. There is similar scope of collaboration within electoral, parliamentary, and legal assistance projects or missions including election observers, especially where India is already involved as a donor or is interested in increasing engagement. Within UN missions, the EU and India could also collaborate on the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. It is in the interest of important member states like Germany to push for a greater engagement.
Ultimately, to play a larger and effective role in crisis management and peacebuilding, the EU and India can prove to be valuable partners for each other. In order to unlock this potential however, both will need to quickly learn to navigate each other’s byzantine institutions and political sensitivities, and build a truly strategic partnership.