Foreign policy is all about possibilities. It is about forging new ties and reinvigorating old ones. It is always conditioned by an optimistic perception of national interests. In that context, every country articulates its foreign policy in realist-pragmatist terms.
India, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, recognised the need to expand its sphere of influence. In the post-Cold War international order, diversifying India’s defence partnerships became imperative to safeguard its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The collapse of the Soviet Union had a profound impact on India’s defence preparedness. Consequently, strengthening defence partnerships became a pivotal aspect of India’s “Look East” and “Act East” policies.
Thus, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s “Look East” policy emerged to strengthen India’s ties with the Eastern Asian region. It marked the rise of East Asian countries, often referred to as the East Asian Tigers, in India’s foreign policy considerations. Subsequently, during the Modi government’s implementation of the “Act East” policy, India emphasised its commitment to strengthening relations with East Asian countries including South Korea. This effort aimed to shape a new geopolitical order in Asia with the potential to influence the global political landscape.
The year 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and South Korea. India has consistently supported South Korea in countering the belligerent nuclear North, with cooperation spanning defence, AI, information technology, missile technology, cyberspace, renewable energy, and other fields
Since gaining independence from Japanese control in 1945 and enduring the devastating Inter-Korean War from 1950 to 1953, South Korea has made remarkable progress. Today, South Korea stands as one of the world’s largest economies, boasting a prosperous society with a high per-capita income. Notably, South Korea has emerged as one of India’s staunchest allies in the Asian continent, playing a vital role in the dynamics of Asian geopolitics.
To comprehend the depth of this partnership, it is essential to delve into its strategic and defence aspects.
Earlier this year, South Korea elevated its partnership with India to a strategic level during the visit of former President Moon Jae-In to India. Both nations committed to resolving outstanding bilateral issues and enhancing international cooperation while upholding the prevailing liberal international order.
A strategic partnership represents the highest level of collaboration between two nations, emphasising not only shared interests but also a commitment to jointly confront challenges. This partnership extends across various domains, including defence, trade, fossil fuels, economic cooperation, and more.
The year 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and South Korea. India has consistently supported South Korea in countering the belligerent nuclear North, with cooperation spanning defence, artificial intelligence (AI), information technology, missile technology, cyberspace, renewable energy, and other fields.
A key aspect of the India-South Korea strategic partnership is a strong framework for an ‘open-inclusive Indo-Pacific’ region. The Indo-Pacific straddles some of the world’s busiest waterways and includes, within its ambit, South Korea as well. Almost a third of South Korea’s maritime trade passes through the busy lanes of the Indo-Pacific. The solidification of India-South Korea’s strategic partnership in the context of the Indo-Pacific region assumes significance as the dragon has become increasingly assertive in the region. This is evident from China, establishing a number of military and civilian bases across the world in the Indo-Pacific bio-geographic region. Notably, Robert D. Kaplan anticipated the significance of this partnership in his book “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea & the End of a Stable Indo-Pacific.”
Almost a third of South Korea’s maritime trade passes through the busy lanes of the Indo-Pacific. The solidification of India-South Korea’s strategic partnership in the context of the Indo-Pacific region assumes significance as the dragon has become increasingly assertive in the region
However, one area of concern in the India-South Korea partnership is the growing trade deficit. India has expressed its concerns to South Korea, and efforts to address this issue are expected in the near future.
Over the years, India has bolstered its defence collaborations with various Asian nations, particularly in East Asia. The consolidation of India-South Korea defence ties became evident through joint projects, such as the manufacture of the K9 Vajra, a 155mm, 52 Calibre artillery gun—an Indian adaptation of the K9 Thunder, produced by India’s Larsen & Toubro in partnership with Korea’s Aerospace.
Furthermore, Indian companies have initiated collaborations with reliable Korean partners to explore projects related to utility helicopters, LT tanks, diesel submarines, lithium batteries for Future Ready Combat Vehicles, submarines, and even the incorporation of Korean technology into the Tejas Mark-II 4++ generation fighter jet, particularly in the realms of missile technology, avionics, early warning systems, and more.
Additional areas of collaboration include discussions on various topics such as all variant ammunition, smart ammunition, small arms manufacturing, batteries, energy management systems, the potential development of new super-soldier programs, and autonomous weapons aimed at minimising battlefield casualties.
India and South Korea are also actively cooperating to enhance New Delhi’s cyber resilience, particularly in the face of external threats, including those originating from China, which pose a risk to the cyber sovereignty of the world’s fifth-largest economy.
In a world marked by rapid change and unprecedented external challenges that threaten humanity’s existence, India and South Korea’s ever-strengthening partnership serves as a beacon of hope in international politics. Their ironclad partnership, bolstered by strategic depth and formidable defence cooperation, is a testament to the power of diplomacy and shared vision. However, to maximize the potential of this partnership, it is essential to expand its scope beyond its current domains and explore new emerging sectors and opportunities.
The India-South Korea partnership has evolved into a robust and multifaceted alliance with a strategic focus on maintaining regional stability, promoting economic growth, and safeguarding shared interests in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape. As the world watches, these two nations navigate the complexities of an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, championing regional stability, economic prosperity, and shared interests. In doing so, they not only secure their own futures but also play a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of Asia and the world at large.
– The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda