“Strategic partnership/Strategic relationship,” - what does this much-touted word in global diplomacy mean? Does it mean a strong relationship bound primarily by security and defence ties? Or does it mean a privileged and special relationship between the two countries? There is no precise definition, and it could mean various things depending on perspective you bring to it. Take India's case, for example. There are at least a dozen countries with whom India has forged strategic relationship and partnership. And this includes China, the Asian power that is often seen as India's key rival and even an enemy by some strategic experts.
In an incisive article in The Hindu, a leading Indian daily, Nirupama Subramanian tries to unravel the meaning of strategic partnership and some of the paradoxes implicit in such a characterization. She quotes extensively from a study conducted by the Foundation for National Security Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, that assesses India's strategic partnerships and seeks to identify “what New Delhi should seek from these partnerships, thus aiming to provide a home-grown definition of the king of bilateral relations.”
Titled “India's Strategic Partners: A Comparative Assessment,” the study “assesses India's strategic partnership with six countries — United States; Russia; France; United Kingdom; Germany; and Japan — by grading them on the dividends these partnerships have yielded for India in three areas of co-operation: political-diplomatic ties; defence ties; and economic relations.”
The Russia-India partnership tops the list. “Russia consistently backs India on Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and terrorism, and according to the study “is most comfortable with India's rise” while sharing Indian “concerns on the implications of China's rise.” The study points out that the 2009 India-Russia civilian nuclear pact is much better than the India-US nuclear deal and stressed that Russia remains India's top supplier of military hardware. However, the study shows that of all the six countries Russia scores least on trade relations, with bilateral trade of less than $10 billion.
“The United States, with which India's strategic partnership goes back to 2004, comes second, having fared poorly on FNSR's political-diplomatic scale. The study describes U.S. support for India on Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan as “insubstantial and inconsistent”.
“It sees U.S. support for India's candidature to the U.N. Security Council as the “weakest” among the six nations. In contrast to Russia, India-U.S. trade relations are the best, with greater potential for the future.” “The study sees the 2006 strategic partnership with Japan as the least developed, making only 34 points,” writes Subramanian.
This study, the article says, concludes that “India should not bestow the “respectable nomenclature” of a strategic partner on one and all, but only on those countries with which there is “a strong and mutually beneficial relationship” in all three sectors — political-diplomatic; defence and economic co-operation. “For India's so-called strategic agreements with a host of other countries, the study suggests finding a “less serious” nomenclature.”
But at the end of the day, there is still no template definition of strategic relationship or partnership. It's eminently sensible to evaluate such a relationship on the basis of what tangible benefits it brings to the partners.
“In reality, how a strategic partnership evolves has much to do with how successfully one or both parties balance the conflicting interests of its various partners, and keep differences to a minimum,” says Subramanian. Read the complete article on www.thehindu.com
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