India and Germany: Realising strategic convergence

Opportunity Beckons: Adding Momentum to the Indo-German Partnership

Dhruva Jaishankar
Dhruva Jaishankar Former Brookings Expert, Director, US Initiative - Observer Research Foundation, Non-Resident Fellow - Lowy Institute

January 31, 2017

In their current form, India-Germany bilateral ties date back to the 1950s. Despite Cold War considerations, West Germany contributed significantly to India’s military development, and relations only diversified between a unified Germany and an economically liberalised India after the Cold War. However, competing security priorities, strategic alignments, and mismatched capabilities have prevented bilateral security competition from reaching their full potential. Counter-terrorism, maritime security, and cyber security offer areas of possible cooperation going forward, but a truly strategic relationship will also require improving commercial and people-to-people relations.

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.

India and Germany are both emerging as important international leaders in the 21st century. India has seen its economic growth rate accelerate over the last quarter century, and in that time it has doubled its share of global gross domestic product.[1] India’s growing resource base and market are beginning to manifest themselves in an expanding commercial and diplomatic presence around the world.[2] Germany, meanwhile, has grown in political and economic importance, particularly in Europe. Its exports, manufacturing, and technology base have seen its economy make significant progress even as much of the rest of Europe has slowed or stagnated.[3] International leaders and policymakers are increasingly turning to Berlin for major decisions regarding the European and global economy, and even on matters of European security.[4]

The relationship between India and Germany has been described by the two governments as a ‘strategic partnership’ since 2001. Indeed, just as Germany’s leaders have started to turn their attention to India, successive Indian leaders have recognised that Germany can play a role in transforming India in a manner in which few other countries are capable.[5] But is the relationship, as yet, truly strategic in nature? That would require close consultations on issues that define both countries’ national interests, as well as broad-ranging cooperation and coordination on security, commercial, and developmental issues. Despite enhanced diplomatic contacts, economic relations, and socio-cultural ties, the relationship arguably does not yet qualify as such. What, then, can be done to realise strategic convergence between the two? Answering that question requires assessing bilateral relations to date, analysing some of the difficulties in forging closer strategic ties, identifying areas of convergence, and considering possible ways to forge a strategic relationship in the truest sense of the term.

[1] International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2016.

[2] See, for example, C. Raja Mohan, Modi’s World: Expanding India’s Sphere of Influence (New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2015); Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and Bruce Jones, eds., Shaping the Emerging World: India and the Multilateral Order (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2013).

[3] Richard Anderson, “German Economic Strength: The Secrets of Success,” BBC News, August 16, 2012; Mehreen Khan, “German Trade Surplus Swells to Fresh Record,” The Financial Times, May 10, 2016.

[4] Simon Bulmer and William E. Paterson, “Germany in the European Union: Gentle Giant or Emergent Leader?” International Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 1, January 1996, pp. 9-32; Josef Janning, “Germany – Europe’s Lonely Leader,”  European Council on Foreign Relations, January 7, 2016.

[5] Ashwini Phadnis, “Be Part of India Story: Manmohan Singh Tells Germany,” The Hindu, April 12, 2013; “Germany Pledges Billions for India’s Growth: 5 Takeaways from Merkel-Modi Meet,” Economic Times, October 5, 2015.

This essay first appeared in the book, “Opportunity Beckons: Adding Momentum to the Indo-German Partnership” in January 2017. Like other products of the Brookings Institution India Center, this essay is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues. The views are of the author(s). Brookings India does not have any institutional views.