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Indo-US Strategic Partnership: Views from Germany

Alok Rashmi Mukhopadhyay was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • March 18, 2006

    The visit of US President George Bush to India in the first week of March and the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal have evoked reactions in Western media as expected. Viewpoints expressed in the vast English media, professional websites as well as other discussion fora present a spectrum of analyses. However, it is pertinent to have a look at the vernacular German media which have been closely observing the Indo-US strategic partnership not episodically but with thorough interest. It is also interesting to note that the deal was given due importance at the highest level of the ruling Christian Democratic Union- Social Democratic Party (CDU-SPD) coalition.

    At the outset it should be mentioned that German commentators have been following the dynamics of Indo-US strategic partnership since July last year when Manmohan Singh visited the United States. Matthias Rüb, the Washington correspondent of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), has described the growing closeness of the US with India and China as the "Pacific Triangle". In his view, the most noteworthy outcome of Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington was the factual recognition of India as an official nuclear power. Similarly, Christian Wagner, the South Asia expert at the German think tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, depicted Indo-US security relations as the beginning of a new era. Both experts were unanimous in their assessment of the seriousness the US attached to its relations with India. While Wagner (in July 2005) opined that though Germany and France had no cause for worry about existing military cooperation with India since the latter has been following the policy of arms diversification, he did, however, express the apprehension that in the foreign and security policy spheres the EU would lose further ground in India as a potential partner. Rüb, for his part, contended that the rationale behind US interests in India and China was the American formulation of the EU of "medium powers" facing demographic, economic and structural challenges.

    Given this backdrop, it was certain that the US President's visit to India would be minutely observed in Germany. Gero von Randow identifies India as a "special case" in Die Zeit, the prestigious German weekly with Social-Democratic leanings. The recent Indo-US agreement, in his view, has set that process into motion which American and Indian politicians had already decided upon in July last year. von Randow adds that nuclear cooperation between Washington and New Delhi would annoy Brazil, South Korea or Taiwan, and that other nations like South Africa, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia may well follow the Indian example. However, he concludes with utter scepticism with respect to other possible alternatives for dealing with India as well as the future of the NPT.

    But the most important observation comes from an interview given by Karsten D. Voigt, Coordinator for US-German Relations at the German Foreign Office and a close associate of the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. When asked whether different yardsticks have been applied vis-à-vis Iran and India, Voigt categorically stated that while India does not deny the rights of existence of any of its neighbours, Iran does in the case of Israel. Nonetheless, if a common German viewpoint about the Indo-US strategic partnership can be discerned, it lies in the argument that sections within the US administration have a long-term strategy to use India as a counter-weight to China and the recent nuclear agreement is a step towards that direction.

    Finally, it is interesting to note how the EU and especially its most important constituent, Germany, shape its future foreign policy initiatives towards India keeping in view the recent Indo-US partnership. As Karsten D. Voigt has pointed out, the designation of Bernd Mützelburg, the security policy advisor of former Chancellor Schröder and an experienced diplomat who led the recent G4 initiative in the UN, as the new ambassador to India shows Germany's earnestness in promoting good ties with India. At the level of bilateral trade and cultural exchange it is worth mentioning that two international fairs held in Germany in 2006 have India as their thrust. India is the partner country at the Hanover Technology Fair and at the Frankfurt Book Fair India is the guest.

    In April 2006 on the occasion of the Hanover Fair the newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to attend an economic summit. As per the latest Indo-German trade statistics, bilateral trade volume indicates continuous growth though Indian exports to Germany show a fluctuating trend. Apart from trade and other issues, in the coming months the EU and specifically Germany would take concrete measures to fulfil its larger strategic goals in the partnership with India. As Christian Wagner has pointed out, while at first sight close cooperation between India and the US may contradict German and European interests, India forging closer ties with the US could in fact open up new possibilities for German and European partnership with India including in multilateral conflict resolution strategies.

    Consequently, diplomatic measures and attractive investment offers from Germany to India, in competition with US, may be expected in the coming months. But it would be misleading to interpret increased German foreign policy initiatives towards India as anti-American, because rapprochement in transatlantic relations, i.e., US-German, is the first and foremost task of the new German government. Competitive diplomatic steps from the EU, an aspiring international actor and also a strategic partner of India, are anticipated in the coming months to make their presence more distinct in India.