Military diplomacy is India's policy to strengthen its presence in Africa

In recent years, India's hard power has continued to grow… AfricaThrough a series of multifaceted and multidimensional activities, “military diplomacy” represents the overall framework of these steps for India, and this term encompasses the use of armed forces in non-military operations – violent actions or non-war activities aimed at promoting national and foreign policy objectives.

Jyot Shekhar Singh, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and Security Studies (SESCOPE), believes that defense diplomacy is necessary for the development of strategic relations between the two countries, and cooperation in the field of defense and security has become a new pillar of India-China relations. New Delhi's relations with many African countries make it part of the transformation. India A strategic strategy to exploit peace and expand national defense resources and capabilities.

New Delhi's ambitions

You have a lot of goals you want to achieve New Delhi Develop military and security ties with the African continent, as cooperation in these areas is of “huge strategic importance”, according to a study published in 2009 by Major General JG Vaidy, who was once the Indian Army's chief of integrated defence staff.

In this context, military relations are an important way to strengthen relations with African countries, thereby expanding India’s geopolitical influence at the international level, safeguarding its strategic and economic interests, and also enhancing its image as a rising global power.

Besides this, the Sino-Indian competition also seems to exist in the imagination of New Delhi’s African strategy makers, as countering Beijing’s growing influence on the continent is a major goal of the strategy, which aims to balance the influence of the “Red Dragon” on the one hand, and strive to present itself as an alternative partner for African countries on the other.

Developing an economy based on the military-security sector is an important part of India’s goals, with the country seeking to open up new markets for its defense industry, as the continent faces widespread security threats, making it a fertile market for military and security products while increasing the exporter’s political influence.

New Delhi's stepping up of its maritime presence in African waters also signals the importance it places on enhancing security of sea lanes vital for Indian trade, particularly in the strategic western Indian Ocean and Red Sea regions, as about 80 per cent of India's oil imports and exports come from India and 95 per cent of trade volume is transported through these waters.

This vision explains why India sent 12 warships to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden after the Houthi attack on Israeli interests in late 2023. It also explains India’s activities in countries along the east coast of Africa, such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

Indian naval ships Kamorta, Sahyadri and Shakti dock at Changi Naval Base during a visit to Singapore May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim
New Delhi's increased naval presence in African waters shows its focus on strengthening sea lanes security (Reuters)

Tools of Indian Military Diplomacy

India relies on a variety of means in implementing military diplomacy, the most important of which is training and building military capabilities. An article published on the website of the Indian Council on Global Affairs stated that India's technical and economic cooperation project “ITEC” includes trainees from one-third of African countries, and the training covers various fields such as security, strategic research, and defense management.

In this context, the Indian Army held a joint field military exercise called “Avendex” with African armies, with more than 20 African countries participating in the second phase of the exercise in March 2023, including nine countries that participated in the exercise. In the exercise, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda served as observers, while 12 countries including Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa served as observers.

Given the importance of sea lanes, efforts related to cooperation on security threats in this area have received attention from New Delhi as it held its first trilateral naval exercise with Africa in November 2023, which also involved the navies of Tanzania and Mozambique. Earlier, in September, INS Tarkash arrived at the Nigerian port of Lagos for the first time.

The opening ceremony of the Africa-India Joint Field Training Exercise was held in Pune, India on March 18, 2019.
Statistics show that 80% of Indian blue berets have participated in operations in Africa (Getty)

India is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions, and an article published in 2022 by the Center for India Policy confirmed that 80% of Indian blue berets have participated in African operations, including in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These forces enhance India’s soft power by participating in many humanitarian activities related to civil-military cooperation.

Institutional military cooperation also forms an aspect of New Delhi’s military diplomacy on the African continent, with the two sides holding their first ever conclave of Indian and African military commanders during the AFENDEX 2023 exercise. The two sides also hold an annual defense dialogue during the Indian Defense Exhibition.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh (front row, seventh from left) and Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande (front row, ninth from right) France
Indian Defense Minister and Chief of Staff meet with African representatives during 2023 Conclave (French)

“Made in India”

According to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2023, India’s defence industry has witnessed significant development in recent years, thanks to the government’s support measures to increase indigenisation and strengthen these industries under the ‘Make in India’ initiative India is ranked as the fourth largest arms consumer in the world, with arms spending accounting for 83.6%.

Indian Defense Minister Rajat Singh tweeted on July 5, 2024 that India's defense output growth in 2023-2024 hit a record high, up 16.8% from the previous fiscal year.

According to a report published in 2023, India plans to increase its annual arms exports from about $1.7 billion to $5 billion in the next few years, as less than 20% of India’s military exports go to African countries, e.g.EthiopiaandMozambiqueandMauritiusandSeychelles.

In this context, Indian experts pointed out that India's focus in the African market is on selling defensive military products, including armored vehicles, radar equipment and communication equipment, and Indian weapons are characterized by “reasonable” prices compared to the African market. The importance of this sector goes beyond economic returns, because dependence on arms imports will eventually translate into political influence.

A report released by India's Export-Import Bank at the end of 2022 explains New Delhi's growing role as an arms supplier to the African continent. Between 2017 and 2021, Mauritius' share reached 6.6% of India's arms exports to Africa, followed by Mozambique (5%) and Seychelles (2.3%). India has also established a cooperation framework with the Ministry of Defense of India. South AfricaandKenyaandTanzaniaMauritius, Seychelles andMadagascar.

A drone is displayed during the Africa-India Field Training Exercise (AFINDEX-2023)
Drones on display at the Africa-India field exercise “Avendex 2023” (French)

Challenges and obstacles

As there is always a gap between ambition and reality, the road to fulfilling New Delhi’s desire to make a major breakthrough on the continent is fraught with many obstacles, not the least of which is its limited resources compared to the major powers that India aspires to compete with on the continent, e.g.China.

India, which hopes to curb China's growing influence in the western Indian Ocean and off the coast of Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative, is modestly faced with the allocations available to support its naval fleet as New Delhi spends about 15% of its total military expenditure on this fleet, while Beijing spends three times more than India on its armed forces.

Although India is trying to leapfrog into the African arms market, it faces the fact that… Russia Russia is the number one supplier to the countries of the African continent, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which states that Moscow alone accounts for 26% of military exports to sub-Saharan African countries. Moreover, some countries have historically relied on Russian equipment for their armaments, while not forgetting the growing influence of Russia in the field of military security in Africa, which stands in the way of some countries.

Given that India’s ultimate goal is to expand its geopolitical influence and get a piece of the African pie, despite support… USA One of New Delhi’s problems with this approach to competing with Beijing is that it came “too late.”

China, with whom India aspires to compete, has an established influence in much of Africa thanks to its financial solvency, while India also cannot compare with other less powerful rivals on the continent, such as Turkey, whose influence has proven to be large. India, located in the Horn of Africa and the western region of the continent, also differs from New Delhi in that its culture is geographically and culturally more distant than India.

India’s military diplomacy towards Africa is part of a broader strategy to enhance New Delhi’s influence at the global level and secure its strategic interests, using various tools such as its long-standing involvement in peacekeeping operations on the continent and expanding its role in the continent’s maritime security and arms market.

In the context of fierce competition with multiple countries led by China, New Delhi needs to formulate a comprehensive and balanced strategy that closely integrates cooperation with countries on the African continent at different levels, from security, economy to culture, and in addition, develop its defense industry in order to meet the needs of different African countries and provide creative solutions to eliminate…their security challenges.

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