Defence Exports Could Address the Gaps in India’s Foreign Engagements

India is set to export indigenous Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) to Armenia. The cost of this deal is estimated to be $250 million. This deal is indicative of India’s steady growth in defence manufacturing and exports. India’s defence exports for the year 2021-2022 were Rs.13,000 crore (about $1.6 billion), which is a record for India’s defence manufacturing sector. The defence exports grew by 54.1% compared to previous year. India’s defence exports have increased six times since 2014. 

In recent times, Argentina and Egypt have shown interest in purchasing Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas while the Philippines is set to purchase the BrahMos missiles.

While India exports its indigenously manufactured defence equipment to 75 countries, destinations such as Armenia, Argentina, Egypt and the Philippines allow defence exports to address the gaps in India’s foreign engagements. 

Defence exports complement India’s external engagements through a two-pronged approach. First is strengthening ties with countries like Armenia, Argentina and the Philippines with which India has limited engagements. This in turn would lead to India consolidating its presence in the regions like Eurasia, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Second, by way of defence exports, India could reset its ties with Egypt. While India and Egypt enjoyed close ties in the past, in recent years, India’s focus has shifted to the Gulf region and in particular on ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Reviving relations with Egypt would further strengthen India’s outreach to the Arab world and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Strengthening ties with Armenia, Argentina and the Philippines

Although India has been increasing its outreach to different parts of the world, its engagements with countries like Armenia, Argentina and the Philippines remain limited. In the present geopolitical context, strengthening ties with these countries complement India’s strategic and economic interests. 

While India benefits from stronger bilateral relations with these three countries, there is greater relevance to India’s focus. By engaging more with Armenia, Argentina and the Philippines, India would consolidate its outreach to Eurasia, Latin America and Southeast Asia. 

Eurasia has gained prominence since India has sought to accelerate connectivity with this region. Eurasia forms an integral part of India’s extended neighbourhood engagement along with Central Asia. Through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), India is taking steps to connect with Europe through Iran, Central Asia and Eurasia. As members of the INSTC, it is imperative for India and Armenia to increase their areas of cooperation. 

In case of Latin America, India’s relations with the region have remained underdeveloped. Only in the past decade, India has concentrated on strengthening its ties with Latin America. India enjoys an advantage in the sense that although the region received less attention from India’s political dispensation, Indian companies have deep economic ties with the Latin American countries. Both India and Argentina are members of the G-20. Now with the defence exports, the bilateral relations between India and Latin America could be expected to strengthen further. 

India has focused approach to engage with Southeast Asia. India formulated Look East Policy in 1992 and was later converted into Act East Policy in 2014 to consolidate ties with the region. However, India’s ties with the Southeast Asian countries (the 10 members of ASEAN) remain unequal. The Philippines is one of the countries in Southeast Asia with which India’s engagements remain limited. Southeast Asia as a part of Indo-Pacific is important for India as it seeks to counter China’s influence. It is imperative for India to foster strong ties with the region to further the goal of rules-based order and free and open Indo-Pacific. Defence deal with the Philippines is an important step in this direction.  

Resetting ties with Egypt

Apart from being home to two of the oldest civilizations in the world, India and Egypt have shared common interests in the colonial and post-colonial era as well. Both the countries were colonies of Britain. Leaders of India’s independence movement, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, championed the cause of freedom of all the colonized nations and had contacts with Egypt long before both the countries gained independence. Later as independent nations in a bi-polar world order, Nehru as India’s first prime minister and Gamel Abdel Nasser, as Egypt’s president became the leading advocates of Non-Aligned Movement. Nasser was a supporter of Pan-Arabism as well and during his presidency Egypt enjoyed a leadership position in the Arab world. 

While India maintained steady ties with Egypt, the latter lost its leading status in the Arab world as Saudi Arabia and the UAE gained prominence, primarily due to their major oil producing capacities. Also employment opportunities and oil supply from Saudi Arabia and the UAE resulted in India’s proximity with these two countries more than Egypt during the 1980s and 1990s. 

However, as India strategically aligns its foreign policy to the emerging geopolitical landscape, Egypt is increasingly becoming an important power for India to engage with in a renewed manner. Recently, India and Egypt are focusing on strengthening engagements in the areas of defence and security. These include defence exports, defence collaborations and joint exercises between the Air Forces and Navies of both the countries. 

As India seeks to expand its footprint in the western Indian Ocean, ties with Egypt would push India’s strategic objective. Egypt with its unique location encompassing various geographies and regional identities such as a country in the Mediterranean, as a gateway to Africa and as an Arab country is a valuable partner for India to engage with all these regions. 

With strides in defence manufacturing India is gradually seeking to reduce dependence on defence imports. On the other hand, defence exports are playing an important role of addressing the gaps in India’s foreign engagements.

[BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. Image credit: Ministry of Defence, GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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