“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” ~ Lord Henry John Temple Palmerston [House of Commons, March 1, 1848]
Every nation has its ambitions & aspirations that either aligns it with some countries or sometimes pits it against some others. Similarly, this quote can be put into the context of India as a country.
India’s international influence has grown over the years & it holds a prominent voice in world affairs. Since Independence, India has remained neutral towards major power blocs. India’s policy to remain ‘Non-aligned’ during the Cold War, has earned the country profound respect & has led to cordial diplomatic relations with almost all the countries in the world.
Although India is not a part of any major military alliance, it has close strategic and military partnerships with most of the major powers. It’s closest friends include Russia, Israel, Afghanistan, France, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the United States.
By far, Russia (then USSR) has been India’s oldest friend & companion. Ties with Russia are based on trust & mutual respect. Russia is India’s biggest defense supplier. Both the nations have collaborated in the field of defense, space technology, nuclear energy, software, medicine, oil exploration, etc.
India & Israel have outstanding defense & securities ties. They frequently share intelligence on terrorist groups. Israel is an important strategic partner of India in Asia. The Jewish state is a major defense supplier to India. They have collaborated in the field of security, communication, space technology & agriculture.
France was the first country to sign a nuclear energy co-operation agreement with India, following the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. France along with Russia & Israel were the only three countries to not have condemned India's decision to go nuclear in 1998. Since then, France is the biggest supplier of nuclear fuel & nuclear technology to India.
Relations with Japan have been warm since Independence. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army was aided by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Japan is among the first countries to have invested in India’s manufacturing sector with tie-ups like Maruti-Suzuki, Hero-Honda, etc. The island nation has also invested heavily in a lot of infrastructure projects in India.
The diplomacies of both, Britain and India, diverged during the Cold War, with UK being a signatory to the NATO & India choosing to be a part of the Non-Aligned Movement. UK, along with the US sided with Pakistan in the 1971 war.
Today, India is the third largest foreign investor in the United Kingdom, and the latter is the biggest investor in India within the G20. The two nations continue to strengthen ties through multiple bilateral trade agreements.
The United States has been strong supportive to India’s independence movement from the British. India found support in the US; it’s war with China in 1962. However, India’s declaration of non-alignment being perceived as a tilt towards the Soviet Union, the US pursued strategic interests in Pakistan. The US supported Pakistan in 1971 to contain the perceived spread of Communism in the Subcontinent.
However, in the post-Cold War era, the strategic objectives of India and the United States converge on some issues like among other things, containment of terrorism, promotion of democracy, counter-proliferation, freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, Asian balance of power.
Relations between India & Afghanistan were strained during the Afghan Civil Wars & the rule of the Taliban, in spite of friendly & reliable cultural past. However, things began to look positive after the Taliban were overthrown. India is a regional partner in provides humanitarian aid & mostly involved in rebuilding & rehabilitation in Afghanistan.
India & Bangladesh have been close historically & culturally. In spite of playing a vital role in its independence, relations with Bangladesh deteriorated after a change in government in 1975. India & Bangladesh share concerns over territorial disputes, irrigation (water-sharing), illegal immigration, trafficking of counterfeit currency & drugs. Relations have improved by leaps & bounds since the Awami League came to power in 1996, with a settlement of certain border disputes, increase in counter-terrorism intel-sharing & precautionary measures, energy co-operation, improvement in trade & transport, Indian investment in infrastructure & healthcare in Bangladesh.
India has strategic partnership agreements with more than 20 countries & international entities like Germany, Mauritius, Iran, European Union, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Vietnam, Oman, Kazakhstan, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, ASEAN, Seychelles, Mongolia, Singapore, UAE.
Although India has not signed any formal strategic partnership agreements with Bhutan, Israel, and Qatar, India often describes these countries as 'strategic partners'.
India chooses to form strategic partnerships with nations that favour its interests from time to time, as against the striking conventional alliances that can be perceived as power/military blocs & escalate global tensions.
India’s policies are formulated to achieve certain strategic objectives like any other nation. India has witnessed nations that were earlier hostile becoming strategic partners today & old, trusted friends looking elsewhere to suit their interests.