Opinion: Did the Ukraine-Russia war bring India and Germany closer?

Harsh V. Pant
It is no secret that India’s relations with Germany lag behind those of other European countries such as France. Germany’s giving more attention to China is also one of the reasons for this. But this situation is changing rapidly. Interesting coincidence that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s first visit to India happened only when the Ukraine war was completing one year. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also historic in that it led to a change in German security policy. Due to this change, Germany decided to leave decades of indifference regarding strategic matters. This is also confirmed by Germany’s intention to increase its defense expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP.

changed priority
The Ukraine war and China’s aggressive stance have called into question Germany’s approach to change through trade, prompting a serious rethink on reducing dependence on energy and trade. Growing uncertainty in relations with Russia and China has led to a growing urge across Europe to forge value-based partnerships with like-minded countries, creating opportunities for Germany and India to come closer.

  • The ground for Scholz’s recent visit was laid by German Foreign Minister Baerbock’s visit in December 2022 and the 6th Indo-German Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC) (a forum for biennial dialogue that began in 2011). The IGC aims to expand cooperation in the fields of defence, trade, clean energy, migration, digital transformation and the Indo-Pacific.
  • The importance of Scholz’s visit increases in the sense that it happened at a time when India is chairing the G-20 and wants geopolitical equations not to hamper the cooperative spirit of this forum. As the Russia-Ukraine war continues into its second year, the war and its impact on the world has been at the center of the conversation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s commitment to contribute to any peace process.
  • In contrast to Germany’s earlier China-centric Asia policy, Scholz first traveled to Japan after taking office in 2021 and then invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Berlin for the 6th IGC.
  • This initiative to extend the hand of friendship towards Asia is part of Germany’s comprehensive strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, in which India is considered an important partner.
  • Of note, given Europe’s status as an economic powerhouse and reliance on exports, the stability of supply chains and trade routes linking Asia to Europe becomes particularly important to Germany.
  • In an interview given just before his visit to India, Scholz expressed his intention to increase his strategic presence in the region by deploying more troops.
  • Germany’s symbolic move of sending its battleship Bayern to the Asia-Pacific region in 1921 was also part of this strategy. The recent trilateral cooperation agreement between India and Germany is also an important step in this direction, which is related to development projects in third countries.

PM Narendra Modi welcoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at Rashtrapati Bhavan

Now that India is also thinking of reducing military dependence on Russia and Germany is also reconsidering its arms export policy, Germany can become an important defense partner of India. Issues discussed in the meetings included joint development of military hardware and transfer of technology, besides a $5.2 billion deal under which Germany will jointly build six conventional submarines in India. Not only this, in 2024, France, India and Germany will also conduct the first military exercise together. Nevertheless, it is necessary that both the countries keep their expectations linked to the ground realities.

  • Despite shared concerns about stability in the Indo-Pacific region, the fact remains that Germany does not share a border with China, while India has a border dispute with it.
  • Not only this, even though Germany has lost faith in China, recalling Scholz’s visit to China in 2022, it became clear to what extent German industries are linked to the Chinese market.
  • But even if Scholz calls ‘de-coupling’ from China difficult, the good news is that Germany is drafting a new official strategy on China as part of a broader national security strategy.

free trade agreement
Germany is India’s largest partner in the European Union. In this context, trade is naturally at the center of the agenda that has emerged from the resumption of negotiations on the India-EU Free Trade Agreement. Cooperation in clean energy and green technology has emerged as a key pillar of this partnership since the launch of the Green and Sustainable Development Partnership and cooperation in the field of green hydrogen last year. The issue of mobility and migration is also in focus in view of the shortage of skilled manpower in Germany. At this point, technically skilled Indians can prove to be very useful for him.

It is heartening to see that rather than being confined to the entanglements of economic partnership, the relationship between India and Germany has gradually evolved into a comprehensive partnership. In view of changing geo-political equations, emerging multi-polarity and increasing inclination of Europe towards India, Indo-German relations can play an important role in shaping the new world order.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own.

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