Indo-Pacific Trilaterals: Navigating Partnerships, Challenges, and Shared Ambitions : Daily News Analysis

Date : 21/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 2 – International Relations



The evolving geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific has witnessed a significant development in the form of the India-France-Australia (IFA) trilateral, outlined in the Indo-Pacific Roadmap released during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Paris in July 2023. This roadmap signifies a departure from traditional self-centered approaches, expanding bilateral cooperation from the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to encompass the entire Indo-Pacific region. The term 'plurilateral arrangements' is introduced, reflecting India's approach to international cooperation rooted in plurilateralism. While France may not frequently use this term, the strategic vocabularies of both nations converge in describing minilaterals involving three actors, characterized by flexibility and informality.

Definitional Implications:

The passage delves into the definitional implications of 'plurilateral arrangements,' shedding light on India's perspective inherited from its non-alignment stance. The term is not common in French strategic discourse but is occasionally used within the European context. Both countries converge on the idea of minilaterals involving a limited number of stakeholders, characterized by flexibility and informality.

Minilaterals in the Indo-Pacific:

Minilaterals, specifically trilaterals, are explored in the context of the Indo-Pacific region. They are seen as practical problem-solving mechanisms that bring together like-minded partners with shared values. Various trilateral dialogues, including the Quad and I2U2, have emerged in the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing their effectiveness over multilateral institutions in addressing specific challenges.

The India-France-Australia Trilateral:

The IFA trilateral, established in 2020, is examined in terms of its initial objectives and challenges. The passage highlights the struggle for effectiveness due to a lack of specific themes and the dispersion of collective action across multiple multilateral mechanisms. The need for a clearer focus on maritime security and safety issues is suggested to enhance the trilateral's impact.

Practical Cooperation in Multilateral Arenas:

The IFA's goal of aligning with regional multilateral mechanisms is explored, emphasizing the importance of practical cooperation within established frameworks like ASEAN, IORA, and the Indian Ocean Commission. The risk of dilution of collective action is acknowledged, and the passage suggests establishing mechanisms for enhanced coordination within multilateral formats where all three countries are fully engaged.

The Strength of Bilateral Ties:

The strength of bilateral relationships between India, France, and Australia is considered crucial for the trilateral's effectiveness. The passage details the strengthening of bilateral ties, especially between India and France, in recent years. It also acknowledges the impact of diplomatic crises, such as the one between France and Australia following the AUKUS announcement, on trilateral mechanisms.

Scripting a Third Way:

The India-France-UAE (IFU) trilateral is introduced as a unique vision, differentiating itself from the IFA. Unlike Australia's unipolar world vision, the IFU aspires for a thriving multipolar order, emphasizing strategic autonomy for each participating country. The passage explores the geopolitical context and motivations behind the IFU trilateral, highlighting its relevance in the face of US-China power competition.

Security and Defence:

The roadmap acknowledges defense cooperation, emphasizing joint development and co-production. The passage details defense collaboration, including purchases of French Rafales by India and the UAE. Maritime security is identified as a relevant area for trilateral engagement, with potential for technology transfer and co-development activities.

  • France has emerged as a key defense partner for India, becoming the second largest defense supplier in 2017- 2021.
  • Joint Exercises: Exercise Shakti (Army), Exercise Varuna (Navy), Exercise Garuda (Air Force)

Energy Cooperation:

Given the focus on energy transition, the trilateral explores opportunities in clean energy solutions and climate-resilient infrastructure. The collaboration extends to the International Solar Alliance (ISA), where all three countries are members. The trilateral's potential role in providing clean energy solutions in African countries is highlighted.

Food Security:

The passage suggests addressing the issue of food security within the trilateral framework, especially in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war. Existing bilateral initiatives, such as those between India and the UAE under I2U2, provide a foundation for trilateral cooperation in this sector.

Development Projects in Third Countries:

The trilateral is proposed to focus on development projects in third countries, drawing inspiration from the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor between India and Japan. The passage suggests prioritizing trade and logistics infrastructure in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region, leveraging the UAE's expertise.


Cooperation in counterterrorism is explored, with the trilateral potentially pushing for the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the UN. The UAE's role as the current chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee is highlighted.

Other Areas of Cooperation:

Cultural cooperation, educational exchanges, and the expansion of India's digital public infrastructure are identified as areas for potential collaboration. The passage emphasizes the need to scale up educational exchanges and leverage digital infrastructure for inclusive development.

Challenges in India France Relations

  • Despite maintaining positive diplomatic relations, France and India currently lack a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), impeding the full realization of their trade potential. The sluggish progress on the India-EU Broad-Based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) further exacerbates this challenge.

  • While the two countries enjoy a robust defense partnership, their collaboration in defense and security matters can be affected by divergent priorities and approaches. India's emphasis on regional concerns and adherence to a "non-aligned" policy may at times come into conflict with France's broader global interests.

  • Concerns have been raised by France regarding India's insufficient protection of intellectual property rights, impacting the operations of French businesses within the country. This issue poses a potential obstacle to the smooth functioning of economic relations between the two nations.

The way forward

  • Harnessing Shared Ambitions for Mutual Empowerment:
    France and India, driven by a mutual commitment to maintaining strategic autonomy in a complex geopolitical environment, have fostered a relationship built on trust and pragmatism. France, with its strengths in diplomacy, military capabilities, space exploration, and nuclear expertise, has valuable offerings for India.

  • Reciprocity in Importance:
    The partnership extends beyond diplomatic and military realms, with France recognizing India's significance in trade and defense cooperation, especially in addressing threats such as Russian aggression and terrorism in Africa. Both nations have the potential to support each other in shaping the international order and balancing dependencies on other nations.

  • Enhanced Collaboration in the Indo-Pacific:
    The Indo-Pacific framework has proven instrumental in nurturing the robust relationship between France and India. Notably, France, given its overseas territories and military bases in the Indian Ocean, holds a direct interest in the stability of the region. Strengthening the Indo-Pacific forum between the two nations is envisioned to better serve their strategic interests and foster bilateral cooperation.

  • Prospective Areas of Partnership with France:
    France plays a pivotal role in India's ambitious plans to boost domestic weapons production through increased private and foreign investment. Discussions between the two nations should extend to include emerging collaboration areas such as connectivity, climate change, cyber-security, and advancements in science and technology. This comprehensive approach aims to broaden the scope of cooperation beyond traditional domains and tap into new avenues of shared progress.


The passage provides a comprehensive analysis of the evolving trilateral dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, focusing on both the India-France-Australia (IFA) and India-France-UAE (IFU) trilaterals. It explores the challenges and potential areas of cooperation in various sectors, including security, defence, energy, food security, and development projects. The uniqueness of the IFU trilateral is highlighted, presenting a vision for a thriving multipolar order. The conclusion underscores the potential of leveraging complementary strengths to play a balancing role in the wider Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing the IFU trilateral's resilience to geopolitical divergences.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. Discuss the significance of the India-France-Australia (IFA) trilateral in the evolving geopolitical landscape of the Indo-Pacific. Analyze the challenges and potential areas of cooperation highlighted in the provided passage. (10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Examine the strategic vision and unique features of the India-France-UAE (IFU) trilateral, differentiating it from the India-France-Australia (IFA) trilateral. How does the IFU trilateral contribute to a multipolar order in the Indo-Pacific, and what are the key areas of collaboration emphasized in the passage? (15 marks, 250 words)

Source- ORF