The Modi-Johnson virtual meet and adoption of the India-UK Roadmap to 2030 have opened new vistas for taking the bilateral defence relationship to the next level
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Following the cancellation of the visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India because of upsurge in the pandemic, a virtual meet took place on May 04, 2021 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The two Prime Ministers agreed to a common vision for a new and transformational Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and UK. They adopted an India-UK Roadmap to 2030.
Both Prime Ministers welcomed the launch of Enhanced Trade Partnership showing intent to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and doubling India-UK trade by 2030
Both leaders emphasised that bilateral cooperation can not only reap mutual benefits but also be a global force. Modi thanked Johnson for the assistance in the form of critical medical equipment for combating the pandemic and agreed to expand UK-India vaccines partnership. Both welcomed the launch of Enhanced Trade Partnership showing intent to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and doubling India-UK trade by 2030.
Both Prime Ministers emphasised commitment to enhanced partnership in science, education, research and innovation, welcomed signing of new India-UK MoU on Telecom/ICT, joint declaration of Intent on Digital and Technology, new high-level dialogues on technology, joint research into Covid-19 and zoonotic, and advance understanding of weather and climate science.
Both countries agreed to deepen defence and security cooperation through the India-UK Defence and International Security Partnership framework
Both agreed to deepen defence and security cooperation through the India-UK Defence and International Security Partnership framework and welcomed the finalisation of the new logistics MoU, agreed to increase maritime co-operation, India inviting the UK’s Liaison Officer to India’s Information Fusion Centre, establishing an annual India-UK Maritime Dialogue and strengthening operational coordination, in addition to joint exercises.
They agreed to collaborate on key military technologies including combat aircraft, maritime propulsion system and complex weapons, harnessing the strengths of Indian and British industries, government laboratories and academia to help deliver the next generation of defence and security capabilities through co-development and co-production.
Both leaders reiterated support to a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace and agreed to strengthen cooperation through an enhanced India-UK cyber security partnership to tackle growing cyber threats. They affirmed their shared vision of an open, free, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. Both condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to continue cooperation in counter-terrorism. Both sides expressed concern at the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, agreeing that any political solution in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
Both leaders reiterated support to a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace and agreed to strengthen cooperation through an enhanced India-UK cyber security partnership
UK reaffirmed its support for India’s permanent membership in a reformed UN Security Council, as well as India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. They also agreed to step up India-UK collaboration on climate change.
Highlights of the India-UK Roadmap to 2030 pertaining to defence and security cooperation include:
UK’s renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific is of strategic importance for both India and UK
Post BREXIT Britain’s emphasis understandably is on boosting economic relationships and trade partnerships. New trade and investments worth £1 billion were announced by the two sides before the virtual summit, which includes around £533 million of new investment from India in the UK. The Serum Institute of India is also investing £240 million in UK. At the same time, UK’s renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific is of strategic importance for both India and UK. Under Johnson, Britain’s Integrated Review released in March 2021 states, “In the decade ahead, the UK will deepen our engagement in the Indo-Pacific, establishing a greater and more persistent presence than any other European country."
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, will lead an allied task force into the region in 2021 and a maritime exercise with the Indian Navy is on the cards
Whether UK will join the Quad (US, India, Japan, Australia) or only exercise with and give further impetus to the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) is yet to be seen though the above mentioned Integrated Review does mention enhancing UK’s engagement with FPDA and increasing engagement with regional security groupings. Notably, HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, will lead an allied task force into the region in 2021. A maritime exercise with the Indian Navy is on the cards. The UK is apparently adapting to changing strategic realities and recognizes India as a critical node between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Though UK accounts for 16 percent of global defence sales, its share in the Indian defence market over the years has declined to around two percent. The Modi-Johnson virtual meet and adoption of the India-UK Roadmap to 2030, however, have opened new vistas for taking the bilateral defence relationship to the next level including for co-producing weapon platforms and defence equipment in India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.