Editorial

Strategic partnership. Really?

Bilateral relations coast on diplomatic niceties and joint statements invariably use flowery language to describe relationships in the best possible terms. Nevertheless, India’s decisions over the past two decades to upgrade more than 30 of its bilateral relationships to “strategic partnerships” is excessive. While there may be many ways to parse the term, its usage in international diplomacy is fairly clear: it defines a bilateral relationship more important than others, but stops short of an actual alliance. The term “strategic” further implies a future convergence of interests in areas that are vital: security, defence and investment. If that is the case, India’s latest strategic partnership signed with the east African country of Rwanda, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Gandhinagar this week, warrants further study. Rwanda is a land-locked country with 90 per cent of its population engaged in subsistence agriculture. It is also still recovering from the mass murder of large sections of its Hutu population in 1994, though the country has registered remarkable progress and growth in the last few years. While it may therefore be an important destination for India’s development assistance, it is difficult to see how it qualifies as a “strategic partner”, particularly given that India is yet to set up a full diplomatic mission in the country; the last time New Delhi even sent a delegation to Kigali was in 2012. Given all of this, it would seem that the government’s move was more about window-dressing the relationship than imbuing it with any meaningful substance.

 

Mr. Modi’s is not the first government to use the term “strategic partnership” lightly. Since 1998, when India announced its first strategic partnership with France, successive governments have signed such partnerships with dozens of countries. While relations with each of these are important, they are not vital to India’s interests. The nomenclature also begs a question: if all the countries on the list are strategically important, what does this mean for countries on the UN Security Council such as the U.S. , the U.K., France, Russia and China, or others such as Japan, Australia, and some of the neighbours who genuinely contribute to India’s security and economic interests and who have also signed strategic-partnership agreements with New Delhi? Clearly, a more cogent policy with clear-cut criteria for strategic partnerships must be considered by the Ministry of External Affairs, with the focus on countries with which there is a long-term vision on securing India’s needs, coupled with a convergence of strategic interests.


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Printable version | Jun 26, 2022 11:27:23 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Strategic-partnership.-Really/article17029701.ece