The next tango with Paris
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The possession of territories in the Indian Ocean has long made France a resident power in India's extended maritime neighbourhood. Its island territories — the Reunion and Mayotte islands — are located astride critical sea lines of communication in the Western Indian Ocean.
Besides military presence on these islands, France also has a base in its former colony Djibouti, which sits at the mouth of the Red Sea, oversees the traffic between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
More recently, France has also acquired a military base in Abu Dhabi, right inside the volatile Persian Gulf. Together, these military bases constitute a "French Quadrilateral" that covers important choke points in the Western Indian Ocean. The size of the French naval profile in the Indian Ocean is smaller than that of the US. But it is likely to be more enduring, thanks to the country's dependence on energy imports from the Middle East and its big political stakes in Africa.
France already contributes to bolstering Delhi's naval strength as a partner in the construction of its Scorpene submarines in India. The planned launch of the jointly developed SARAL satellite for ocean mapping later this month underlines the broad scope of current maritime cooperation between India and France.
As the geopolitical weight of the Indian Ocean grows, Delhi and Paris need to integrate different strands of current bilateral cooperation in the maritime domain. Given the deepening political comfort between Delhi and Paris, Manmohan Singh and Hollande must declare that deepening maritime collaboration is a shared strategic objective and order their defence establishments to begin operational military cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
This could include sharing of naval intelligence, providing access to each other's facilities in the Indian Ocean, helping smaller countries, especially critical island states, develop their maritime capacities, providing mutual logistical support, mounting joint scientific expeditions, developing submersible vehicles that can operate in the deep, and pursuing cooperative naval missions in the Indian Ocean.
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