India holds first round of talks with NATO

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This was New Delhi’s first political dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, and a fresh meeting is expected soon to address the concerning issues in India…reports Asian Lite News

Away from the public glare, India has opened dialogue channels with NATO and the first high level official meeting took as far back as on December 12, 2019.

This was New Delhi’s first political dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, and a fresh meeting is expected soon to address the concerning issues in India.

According to the media reports, the first NATO meeting was attended by senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, and it was learned that the goal was to keep the dialogue primarily political in nature and to avoid making any commitments on military or other bilateral cooperation. As a result, The Indian Express reported, the Indian delegation essentially attempted to assess cooperation on regional and global issues of mutual interest.

Given that the North Atlantic alliance has been engaging in bilateral dialogue with both China and Pakistan, India’s talks with NATO are significant says the Indian Express report. Given the importance of Beijing and Islamabad in New Delhi’s strategic imperatives, reaching out to NATO would add a critical dimension to India’s growing engagement with the US and Europe.

Until December 2019, NATO had nine rounds of talks with Beijing, with the Chinese Ambassador in Brussels and NATO’s Deputy Secretary General meeting quarterly. NATO has also been in political dialogue and military cooperation with Pakistan, having opened selective training for Pakistani officers and sending a military delegation to Pakistan for military staff talks in November 2019, it is learned to the media.

The Indian mission in Brussels finalised the first round of dialogue for December 12, 2019, after receiving a draught agenda from NATO. Media reports suggest that after the receipt of the draught agenda, an inter-ministerial meeting was called, and attended by representatives from the ministries of External Affairs and Defence, as well as the National Security Council Secretariat.

According to government sources quoted by Indian Express, engaging NATO in a political dialogue would provide New Delhi with an opportunity to bring about a balance in NATO’s perceptions of the situation in regions and issues of concern to India.

During its first round of conferences with NATO, New Delhi realised it had no common ground with the alliance on Russia and the Taliban. With NATO’s views on China mixed due to its members’ differing perspectives, India’s Quad membership is aimed at countering Beijing.

As mentioned in the report carried out by Indian Express, sources claim that if the alliance engages with China and Pakistan separately, it will have lopsided perspectives on regional and global security issues of concern to India.

The NATO delegation, led by Bettina Cadenbach, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, is said to be eager to continue engagement with India on mutually agreed-upon terms. According to the sources quoted by the media, India is relevant to international security because of its geostrategic position and unique perspectives on various issues and can be an important partner in informing the alliance about India’s own region and beyond.

The two sides are also said to have discussed a possible second round in New Delhi in 2020, which was postponed due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

According to sources, India may consider proposals emanating from NATO, if any, on bilateral cooperation in areas of interest to India, based on the progress made in the initial rounds. According to New Delhi’s assessment, there is convergence in both India’s and NATO’s perspectives on China, terrorism, and Afghanistan, including Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

According to reports, the first dialogue revealed three critical issues on which India expected only limited common ground with NATO: From NATO’s perspective, it was Russia’s aggressive actions that remained the main threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and NATO had faced difficulties convening meetings of the NATO-Russia Council due to Russian refusal to place issues such as Ukraine and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on the agenda, a topic of conversation in the future, given a substantial common ground with NATO, according to the sources. ii) Given the divergence among NATO countries, its view on China was seen as mixed; while it did deliberate on China’s rise, the conclusion was that China presented both a challenge and an opportunity, and iii) in Afghanistan, NATO saw the Taliban as a political entity, which differed from India’s position.

This was almost two years before the Taliban announced an interim Afghan government in September 2021. However, given their substantial common ground with NATO, the Indian side saw maritime security as a key area of discussion in the future.

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