Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties Contents

4Security and defence

The Indian Ocean

22.India’s place in the world is changing fast—not just in economic weight, but in status, ambition and role in global affairs.64 We received evidence highlighting India’s wish for a broader strategic relationship with the UK—including closer security and defence cooperation—and concern that the UK is more focused on economic ties.65 The Indian Ocean and wider Indo-Pacific is a key arena for this expanded relationship. The UK and India share strong and growing interests in the stability of the region.66 As a major route for both countries’ trade,67 and site of a joint UK-US defence facility in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), the region is of growing strategic value.68 We received evidence calling on the UK to support India’s drive for pre-eminence in the Indian Ocean, as a “stable fellow democracy, with which the UK shares most security interests”.69

23.Despite these shared interests, the UK and India have sometimes diverged in their positions towards China’s role in the Indian Ocean.70 India is concerned about China’s growing influence in the region, including its investments in ports through the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative (BRI).71 New Delhi has called for connectivity initiatives to maintain standards of transparency, good governance, and respect for sovereignty.72 It is developing alternative initiatives to meet the region’s infrastructure needs, including a joint proposal with Japan for an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and forging a deeper relationship with neighbours.73 India has joined Japan, Australia, and the US in a revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad”, an informal grouping that aims to defend a “free and open Indo-Pacific”—widely seen as a response to growing Chinese influence.74

24.The UK, by contrast, has engaged substantially with Belt and Road.75 This risks feeding a perception in India that the UK has prioritised its relationship with China, particularly under the Cameron Government.76 The FCO’s priorities for Global Britain put China at the top of its section on the “Indo-Pacific”, before saying that India is “also” central to its aspirations.77 In 2017, the FCO told us that the UK’s foreign policy priorities were “our neighbourhood, including the Middle East and Russia; the far east, particularly China; and the United States”. India is a glaring omission.78

25.Prime Ministers May and Modi moved closer on Belt and Road in an April 2018 joint statement, declaring their commitment to “a secure, free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.79 They stated that connectivity initiatives should be based on “good governance, rule of law, openness and transparency”—an acknowledgement of Indian concerns. This statement marked the first time that the two countries had used the term “Indo-Pacific”, in a joint statement.80 We received evidence calling for the Government to co-ordinate with India over its approach to the South China Sea, in terms of statements and maritime activities,81 and for the UK to work more closely with the Quad.82

26.The UK and India share an interest in promoting standards of transparency and sustainability for infrastructure projects in the region.83 Enhancing connectivity in its neighbourhood is a priority for India,84 and we received evidence calling for greater UK involvement in Indian infrastructure and connectivity initiatives in the Indian Ocean region.85 This could include a role in projects such as India’s planned joint initiative with Japan.86 Witnesses suggested France as a third partner in these efforts.87 The UK and India carry out joint naval exercises, and we received evidence calling for greater co-operation.88 The UK Government has announced plans to send the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Indian Ocean as part of its first deployment.89

27.The UK and India’s convergence of interests in the Indian Ocean region offers an important opportunity to increase engagement on defence and security. Though there are tensions over the British Indian Ocean Territory, the two countries share vital interests in the stability of the Ocean and broader Indo-Pacific. As set out in our report on China and the Rules-Based International System, we support the Government’s efforts to increase the UK’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, in line with its capacity and other commitments. The UK and India’s shared interest in promoting rules-based order in the region makes India an important partner in this initiative. The UK cannot have a successful Indo-Pacific strategy without a flourishing strategic relationship with India. Such a relationship has not yet been built. The Government should make greater efforts to engage with Indian ministers, officials and non-governmental opinion leaders on defence, around UK interests in the Indian Ocean. These efforts may be boosted by greater engagement with third partners such as France and Japan, which have established joint initiatives with India in the region.

28.The UK’s efforts to build ties with China, and engage with Belt and Road, should not be pursued at the expense of its relationship with India. India has been clear about its commitment to the rules-based order, while China’s position is mixed, particularly around the promotion of free societies. While the relationship with Beijing is undoubtedly important, the depth of shared values between the UK and India make New Delhi a vital strategic partner for the future. As we noted in our report on China and the Rules-Based International System, economic considerations around Belt and Road’s benefits for the UK should not crowd out questions of our wider strategic interests, values and national security. There is a risk that Chinese investment under Belt and Road could undermine international standards and stability in some recipient countries. India can be a partner in the UK’s efforts to uphold these standards. This does not present a binary choice, as the UK can take part in infrastructure projects led by both China and India. The FCO should take the lead in ensuring that stronger economic ties with China do not harm the political relationship with India. While continuing to engage with Belt and Road projects on a case-by-case basis, the UK should consider supporting connectivity projects in the region backed by India and others, upholding standards of transparency, sustainability and good governance.

Defence and security

29.The UK and Indian armed forces have close historic ties.90 However, the UK has fallen behind other countries in its share of India’s defence market. India is the world’s second biggest importer of major arms, and is currently undertaking a huge effort to modernise its armed forces.91 France, Israel, and the US have all seen rises in arms sales to India since its diversification of suppliers away from Russia over the last decade, while UK sales have flatlined.92

30.Our evidence pointed to the importance of supporting India’s efforts to boost its domestic defence industry—a priority for the Indian government.93 The UK has said that it is “ready to support the development of India’s defence capabilities”,94 but our evidence suggested that its efforts remain underpowered.95 Witnesses called on the UK to adopt a less transactional approach to defence cooperation, with a focus on supporting India’s domestic defence industry and sharing high-end military technology.96 Other countries have done more to build trust: India considers France to be a more reliable defence and security partner than the UK,97 while US defence sales to India are at an “all-time high”,98 thanks in part to agreements that facilitate sharing of advanced technologies.99 Meanwhile, New Delhi will continue to give the relationship with Russia “very high priority”, because “the Russians have been willing to provide us with not only defence equipment but the building of defence capabilities,” according to former Indian High Commissioner Ranjan Mathai.100

31.India’s defence modernisation programme presents an opportunity for the UK to build a closer strategic relationship, and to boost trade and investment. So far, this opportunity has been largely missed and others are doing more to work with India. As a result, the UK has fallen behind countries such as the US and France in its share of India’s large and growing defence imports. France’s development of mutual trust with India on defence and security issues over many years, and the US’s efforts to sign military cooperation agreements, may present lessons for UK diplomacy. The FCO should ensure that the overarching objective of building a closer relationship with India is front-and-centre in Government efforts to enhance bilateral defence ties. As with other areas of UK-India relations, this will require an effort to address India’s priorities, such as developing Indian domestic defence production, rather than simply presenting UK objectives. In defence industry cooperation with India, the Government should aim to build a partnership, rather than merely pursuing a transactional, buyer-seller relationship. This is likely to include efforts to increase joint manufacturing and technology transfers, within the restrictions set by the UK’s international obligations, and closer cooperation on cyber security. In its response to this report, the FCO should set out the steps the Government is taking to achieve this.


32.The UK’s ties with Pakistan complicate the process of building a closer defence and security relationship with India. Some Indian observers view the UK as overly sympathetic to Pakistan.101 Our evidence highlighted UK actions against terrorist groups in the region as important in building confidence with India on this point.102 Ranjan Mathai told us: “India has not found as much understanding from the United Kingdom as it would have liked of its position vis-à-vis Pakistan [ … ] It has been a negative factor in our relationship.”103 The Foreign Secretary told us that the relationship with Pakistan was “incredibly important” in terms of security and trade.104 The value of the UK’s ability to talk to both countries was evident in the crisis of February 2019. Lines of communication between the countries are limited, increasing the risk of dangerous miscalculation.105 Minister Field told us that the richness of the UK relationship with both countries had allowed it to play a “unique” role in keeping communications open.106 According to the FCO, the US is the only other country with a strong enough relationship with Pakistan to get the access needed to calm tensions.107

33.The recent flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan is deeply regrettable and dangerous. Given limited official lines of communication between the two countries, it is vital that there are countries that are on friendly terms with both, and can work to reduce tensions. The UK’s ability to maintain good relations with both New Delhi and Islamabad, and be perceived as a credible interlocutor, is particularly important following these clashes.

64 Q17 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; Q145 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri, Ranjan Mathai, Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

65 Q17 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; Indo-British APPG (GBI0016), para 8; Bridge India (GBI0029); Oral evidence: UK foreign policy in changed world conditions, House of Lords, Select Committee on International Relations, 9 May 2018, Q119 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]

66 In a major foreign policy speech in 2018, Prime Minister Modi said that the Ocean “holds the key to our future”, noting that it carries 90% of the country’s trade and energy sources. He emphasised that India works “with partners beyond the Indian Ocean Region to ensure that the global transit routes remain peaceful and free for all.” Q59 [Dr Reuben Abraham]; Dr David Scott (GBI0012), para 8–10; Text of Prime Minister’s Keynote Address at Shangri La Dialogue, Government of India, Prime Minister’s Office, 1 June 2018

67 Q166 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri]; Q172 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]; Dr David Scott (GBI0012), para 9

68 The FCO highlighted BIOT as a matter on which the two countries “do not agree”. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN said in May 2019 that India supported a resolution demanding UK withdrawal from the territory, in line with its “longstanding support to all peoples striving for decolonisation”, while noting that it “shares, with the international community, security concerns relating to the Indian Ocean”.
FCO (GBI0015), para 60; The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 4; India votes in favour of UNGA resolution demanding UK withdraw from Chagos Archipelago, The Hindu, 23 May 2019

69 Dr David Scott (GBI0012), para 10

70 Observer Research Foundation (GBI0014); Frank O’Donnell (GBI0026), para 5

71 Q176 [Ranjan Mathai]; Oral evidence: China and the international rules-based system, HC 612, 23 October 2018, Q31 [Nigel Inkster]

72 In particular, New Delhi objects to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, disputed territory claimed by India. Q176 [Ranjan Mathai]; FCO (GBI0015), para 81; Official Spokesperson’s response to a query on media reports regarding possible cooperation with China on OBOR/BRI, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, 5 April 2018

73 Q37 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; Q59 [Dr Reuben Abraham]; Q177 [Ranjan Mathai]; Henry Jackson Society (GBI0040)

75 China and the Rules-Based International System, HC 612, 4 April 2019, paras 21–35

76 Q112 [Lord Bilimoria]; TheCityUK (GBI0004), para 12; Royal Commonwealth Society (GBI0011); Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 8

77 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, March 2018, in Global Britain, HC 780, Foreign Affairs Committee, 12 March 2018

78 Oral evidence: FCO Budget and Capacity and Annual Report 2016–17, HC 573, 15 November 2017, Q16 [Sir Simon McDonald]
Witnesses disagreed over how far this perceived prioritisation of China damages the UK-India relationship. Some argued that it was not a central issue for the Indian government. Others, such as defence analyst Shashank Joshi, told us: “the Indians do watch our relationship with China carefully […] that impacts on how they see us as a trustworthy partner”. Q174 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri, Ranjan Mathai]; Q112 [Lord Bilimoria]; Henry Jackson Society (GBI0040); Oral evidence: China and the international rules-based system, HC 612, 23 October 2018, Q32 [Shashank Joshi]

79 UK-India joint statement: shared values, global capability, FCO, 18 April 2018
The UK has said it will play “an active role in maritime security in the Indian Ocean region through military, multilateral and commercial engagement and capacity building”. According to Roy-Chaudhury, India is “keen to work with the UK” on the Indian Ocean, “particularly in terms of the UK’s own focus on a rules-based international order in the South China sea”. Q27 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; The UK and All of Asia, a modern partnership: Mark Field’s speech, FCO, 14 August 2018

80 This is a significant step, standing for a view of the region that encompasses the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and emphasises India’s importance, rather than focusing on China. Q149 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]; The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 1; Oral evidence: UK foreign policy in changed world conditions, House of Lords, Select Committee on International Relations, 9 May 2018, Q116 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]

81 Dr David Scott (GBI0012), para 18

82 The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5b; Oral evidence: China and the international rules-based system, HC 612, 23 October 2018, Q53 [Shashank Joshi]When we asked about this, Minister Field said that the Government “wants to strengthen relations with all countries, and particularly with the Quad”.
Oral evidence: China and the international rules-based system, HC 612, 15 January 2019, Q205 [Minister Field]

83 As Professor Sullivan de Estrada put it: “one can benefit from Chinese growth, but one can also seek to moderate and mediate Chinese power by espousing the same kinds of normative commitments that we have for decades […] we can partner with India in doing so.”
Q174 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

84 FCO (GBI0015), para 78; Oral evidence: UK foreign policy in changed world conditions, House of Lords, Select Committee on International Relations, 9 May 2018, Q123 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

85 Q177 [Ranjan Mathai]; Observer Research Foundation (GBI0014); The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5b; Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 11

86 Ranjan Mathai, former Indian High Commissioner to the UK, highlighted the need for port development in the region. He said that UK-India cooperation in the Indian Ocean should focus on maintaining the “rules-based maritime order”, and ensuring that countries have choices that “are not limited to their dealings with China”.Q174 [Ranjan Mathai]; Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 11; Henry Jackson Society (GBI0040)

87 Q172 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri]; The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5

88 Q166 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri); Dr David Scott (GBI0012); Observer Research Foundation (GBI0014); The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5

89 Q172 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]; Give Pakistan time and space to act on terror, says U.K. Under Secretary Simon McDonald, The Hindu, 11 May 2019

90 Lord Karan Bilimoria (GBI0009); FCO (GBI0015), para 87

91 Trends in international arms transfers, 2018, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, March 2019
The statistics in this report quoted from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) are based on deliveries of major conventional weapons, based on production costs rather than sales prices. They should therefore not be directly compared with gross domestic product (GDP), military expenditure, sales values or the financial value of export licences.
SIPRI Arms Transfers Database - Methodology, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

92 Trends in international arms transfers, 2018, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, March 2019; SIPRI Arms Transfers Database; The rise of India: UK perspectives, Dr David Scott, International Affairs
This is due in part to features of broader UK defence policy. India prefers government-to-government arms sales, to limit the scope for political controversy—a format the UK generally avoids. In addition, Minister Field told us that the UK’s “robust” arms licensing system may have “made life a little more difficult”, relative to some other exporting countries.
Q33 [Sir James Bevan, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; Q164 [Rudra Chaudhuri]; Q200 [Minister Field]; Britain changes strategy on selling arms to India, Financial Times, 12 April 2017.

93 In 2016, Prime Minister Modi called on UK companies to look “beyond trade in defence equipment” and “build a partnership with the Indian enterprises that focus on manufacturing technology transfer and co-development.”
Theresa May’s India visit: India, UK agree to strengthen defence and cyber security cooperation, Economic Times, November 2016

95 Analyst Rahul Roy-Chaudhury has said that: “the UK needs to overcome a perception by the Indian security establishment that British companies are interested in merely selling and not jointly manufacturing in India, hence it is more of a transactional arrangement.”
Q159 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]; India and the UK: Post-Brexit Security and Defence Cooperation, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, in “Winning Partnership: India-UK Relations Beyond Brexit”, ed. Manoj Ladwa, 2017

96 The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5d; Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 13; India Dialogue (UEA) (GBI0035); Henry Jackson Society (GBI0040)
Reports that India is in talks to buy the design of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier offer an example of this type of collaboration.
BAE offer Queen Elizabeth carrier design to India, UK Defence Journal, 4 April 2019

97 Ranjan Mathai, for example, cited France as a long-standing partner that had done more than the UK to support India’s space and nuclear programmes over many years. Professor Sullivan de Estrada said that France had gone further than the UK to respond to India’s objective of developing its domestic defence industry.
Q5 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; Q62 [Dr Reuben Abraham]; Q158 [Ranjan Mathai]; Q159 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

98 India-US defence sales at all time high: Pentagon, Economic Times, 13 February 2019

99 Q165 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri]
According to Ranjan Mathai, the relationship is also aided by the US’s Foreign Military Sales programme, which facilitates government-to-government deals.
Q167 [Ranjan Mathai]

100 Q169 [Ranjan Mathai]The Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force has said that: “When it comes to technology transfer, Russia really offers everything they have from the heart without any strings attached.” These ties were evident during President Putin’s October 2018 visit to India, when Prime Minister Modi signed a $5-billion deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system. India has refrained from strong statements against Russia over the Salisbury incident, and voted against the UK’s efforts to increase the powers of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—which “disappointed” the UK.
Q30 [Rahul Roy-Chaudhury]; FCO (GBI0015), para 67; Oral evidence: China and the international rules-based system, HC 612, 23 October 2018, Q28; US, Chinese unease as Putin seeks India arms deals, AFP, 4 October 2018; Russia offers defence technology to India without any strings attached, Economic Times, 14 July 2018

101 Chatham House (GBI0017), para 9; Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 8

102 Q179 [Dr Rudra Chaudhuri]; The Henry Jackson Society (GBI0021), para 5c; Aaditya Dave (GBI0028), para 8

103 Q179 [Ranjan Mathai]

104 Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, HC 538, 31 October 2018, Q413

105 Only India and Pakistan can solve current crisis, Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, IISS, 27 February 2019

106 Q186 [Minister Field]

Published: 24 June 2019