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. Since then, NATO has built partnerships with many neutral and non-aligned states. NATO has regular consultations with both Russia and China, despite the gathering tensions with them in recent years.
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, which is now debating a role in Asia’s waters.
India’s real problem is not with NATO, but with Delhi’s difficulty in thinking strategically about Europe. This inhibition has deep roots. Through the colonial era, Calcutta and Delhi viewed Europe through British eyes. After Independence, Delhi tended to see Europe through the Russian lens. In the last few years, Delhi has begun to develop an independent European framework, but has some distance to go in consolidating it. Talking to NATO ought to be one important part of India’s European strategy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has certainly sought to end this prolonged political neglect. The deepening maritime partnership with France since 2018 is an example. Joining the Franco-German Alliance for Multilateralism in 2019 is another. Modi’s first summit with Nordic nations in 2018 was a recognition that Europe is not a monolith but a continent of sub-regions. So was the engagement with Central Europe’s Visegrad Four.
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.
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