Skip to main content

Lecturrete topic 310 - India’s Defence Diplomacy



India’s defence diplomacy has emerged as a critical component of its foreign policy, playing a pivotal role in bolstering national security, fostering regional stability, and enhancing its global standing. Over the past decades, India has increasingly leveraged defence diplomacy to build strategic partnerships, enhance military capabilities, and contribute to global peacekeeping efforts. This article explores the multifaceted aspects of India’s defence diplomacy, including historical context, contemporary strategies, regional and global engagements, and future prospects, supported by relevant statistics and data.

Historical Context

Post-Independence Defence Policy

In the years following its independence in 1947, India adopted a non-aligned stance during the Cold War, focusing on maintaining strategic autonomy and avoiding entanglement in the bipolar conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, regional security challenges and conflicts, such as the wars with Pakistan (1947-48, 1965, 1971) and China (1962), underscored the need for a robust defence policy.

  • Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971: The signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation in 1971 marked a significant shift in India’s defence diplomacy, aligning more closely with the Soviet Union. This period saw substantial military assistance and cooperation between the two countries.

Post-Cold War Era

The end of the Cold War and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union prompted India to recalibrate its defence diplomacy. The 1990s witnessed a shift towards diversifying defence partnerships and modernizing the armed forces through increased cooperation with Western countries and other regional powers.

  • Economic Liberalization (1991): The economic liberalization of 1991 facilitated India’s integration into the global economy and expanded its capacity to engage in defence diplomacy. Enhanced economic capabilities allowed India to pursue more sophisticated defence procurements and partnerships.

Contemporary Defence Diplomacy

Strategic Partnerships and Defence Agreements

India’s contemporary defence diplomacy is characterized by the establishment of strategic partnerships and defence agreements with key global and regional players.

  • United States: The Indo-US defence relationship has grown significantly, marked by agreements such as the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). These agreements facilitate military cooperation, technology transfer, and interoperability between the armed forces of the two nations.

    • Statistics: Between 2008 and 2020, India’s defence trade with the US expanded from near zero to over $20 billion, making the US one of India’s top defence suppliers.
  • Russia: Despite diversifying its defence partnerships, India maintains strong defence ties with Russia. The procurement of the S-400 Triumf air defence system and the leasing of nuclear submarines underscore the depth of this relationship.

    • Statistics: Approximately 60-70% of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin, reflecting the historical and ongoing significance of this partnership.
  • France: The acquisition of Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene submarines from France highlights the growing defence cooperation between the two countries.

    • Statistics: India signed a deal worth approximately $8.7 billion for 36 Rafale fighter jets in 2016, enhancing its air combat capabilities.

Regional Engagements and Cooperation

India’s defence diplomacy in the regional context focuses on strengthening ties with neighboring countries and fostering regional security and stability.

  • South Asia: India engages in defence cooperation with its South Asian neighbors through joint military exercises, training programs, and defence aid.

    • Nepal and Bhutan: India has longstanding defence ties with Nepal and Bhutan, including military training, equipment supply, and infrastructure development.
    • Sri Lanka: Post-2009, India has been involved in capacity-building initiatives and providing defence equipment to the Sri Lankan armed forces.
  • Indian Ocean Region (IOR): Ensuring maritime security in the IOR is a key objective of India’s defence diplomacy.

    • Quad Initiative: The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) involving India, the US, Japan, and Australia aims to promote a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Joint naval exercises like Malabar highlight this cooperation.
    • Statistics: The Malabar exercise has evolved into a complex naval drill involving aircraft carriers, submarines, and various naval assets, reflecting deepening military coordination among Quad members.

Multilateral Defence Engagements

India actively participates in multilateral defence forums and peacekeeping missions, underscoring its commitment to global security and peace.

  • United Nations Peacekeeping: India is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions, with over 200,000 Indian troops having served in 49 UN missions since 1950.

    • Statistics: As of 2020, India had over 5,500 personnel deployed in UN peacekeeping operations, contributing to stability in conflict zones such as South Sudan, Lebanon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM-Plus): India’s engagement with ASEAN countries through the ADMM-Plus framework involves collaboration on counter-terrorism, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

Defence Exports and Indigenous Capabilities

Boosting Defence Exports

In recent years, India has placed a renewed emphasis on becoming a significant player in the global defence market by boosting defence exports.

  • Make in India Initiative: Launched in 2014, the Make in India initiative aims to transform India into a global manufacturing hub, including the defence sector. It promotes indigenous production and encourages foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing.

    • Statistics: India set an ambitious target of achieving defence exports worth $5 billion by 2025. Defence exports witnessed a significant increase, reaching $1.42 billion in 2020-21, compared to $330 million in 2016-17.
  • Export Agreements: India has signed defence export agreements with various countries, supplying equipment such as radar systems, patrol vessels, and helicopters.

    • Vietnam: India has supplied BrahMos cruise missiles to Vietnam, enhancing bilateral defence ties and contributing to regional security.

Indigenous Defence Capabilities

Developing indigenous defence capabilities is a cornerstone of India’s defence policy, aimed at reducing dependency on foreign suppliers and achieving self-reliance.

  • Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO): DRDO plays a critical role in developing indigenous defence technologies, including missiles, fighter jets, and naval vessels.
    • Notable Projects: The development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Agni series of ballistic missiles, and the INS Arihant nuclear submarine are milestones in India’s indigenous defence capabilities.
    • Statistics: India’s defence budget for 2020-21 allocated approximately $18.48 billion for capital outlay, with a significant portion dedicated to indigenous procurement.

Challenges and Future Prospects


India’s defence diplomacy faces several challenges that need to be addressed to sustain and enhance its effectiveness.

  • Geopolitical Tensions: Regional tensions, particularly with Pakistan and China, pose significant challenges to India’s security and defence diplomacy. The border standoff with China in Eastern Ladakh in 2020 highlighted the complexities of maintaining regional stability.
  • Technological Gaps: Despite progress, India still faces technological gaps in its defence capabilities. Enhancing research and development (R&D) and fostering public-private partnerships are essential to bridging these gaps.
  • Budget Constraints: Allocating sufficient resources for defence while balancing other national priorities is a persistent challenge. Ensuring efficient utilization of the defence budget is crucial for sustaining long-term capabilities.

Future Prospects

The future of India’s defence diplomacy looks promising, with several initiatives and strategies poised to strengthen its role on the global stage.

  • Expanding Strategic Partnerships: Deepening existing partnerships and forging new alliances will be key to enhancing India’s strategic footprint. Engagements with countries in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia offer significant potential for expanding defence ties.
  • Focus on Technology and Innovation: Investing in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cyber warfare, and unmanned systems will be critical for modernizing India’s armed forces.
    • Statistics: India’s Defence Cyber Agency (DCA), established in 2019, underscores the focus on enhancing cyber capabilities, with plans to develop offensive and defensive cyber tools.
  • Strengthening Regional Cooperation: Enhancing regional cooperation through initiatives like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) will contribute to regional stability and security.
  • Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance: Continuing to contribute to UN peacekeeping missions and enhancing HADR capabilities will reinforce India’s commitment to global peace and humanitarian efforts.


India’s defence diplomacy has evolved significantly over the decades, emerging as a vital component of its foreign policy. By leveraging strategic partnerships, enhancing regional and global engagements, and developing indigenous capabilities, India has strengthened its position as a key player in the international security landscape. While challenges remain, the future prospects of India’s defence diplomacy are promising, driven by a commitment to regional stability, global peace, and self-reliance. As India continues to navigate the complexities of the global security environment, its defence diplomacy will play a crucial role in shaping its strategic destiny and contributing to a secure and prosperous world.