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Defence Minister Pistorius in India: Handshake with counterpart Rajnath Singh

Photo: Britta Pedersen / dpa

For Boris Pistorius, it is a "logical next step": During his visit to India, Germany's defense minister called for a far-reaching facilitation of German arms exports to the country. After a meeting with his counterpart Rajnath Singh, Pistorius proposed treating India as strategic partners, similar to Japan and Australia.

The two countries are on an equal footing with their NATO partners in terms of German arms exports and can buy from German armaments manufacturers without a complex approval procedure. Only if the federal government has doubts about certain deals, it can object.

So far, the Federal Security Council has decided on every arms deal with India

Pistorius said in New Delhi that he had "expressed to his counterpart that it would be good if we could find a way to align the treatment of India with the way Japan and Australia are treated."

However, the minister also stressed that this was initially his proposal. Formal equality for India is a "political decision", but this must now be discussed quickly if the strategic partnership with India is to be taken seriously. So far, India has had to obtain approval for arms imports from Germany. The Federal Security Council, in which all important ministries are represented, then decides on each deal individually.

With the demand for an equality of India with the NATO partners, Pistorius addresses a controversial topic of the traffic light coalition. Even after a year and a half in government, it has not yet been able to agree on the reorganization of the approval procedure for arms exports agreed in the coalition agreement.

At the latest after the massive arms aid for Ukraine, it is clear that they are prepared to cross red lines from the past. Nevertheless, the SPD minister's far-reaching demand in the case of India has plenty of explosive power to trigger heated debates among the Greens and also in the Social Democrats' parliamentary group.

Pistorius calls for more flexibility in arms exports

With his volte, Pistorius is also interfering quite vehemently in foreign policy a good four and a half months after taking office. During his trip, he repeatedly stressed that Germany had to act much more flexibly on the issue of arms exports for foreign policy reasons. So far, India has been dependent on Russian imports, which is also due to Germany's restrictive stance.

But if you want to win large states like India as allies, you have to "significantly and quickly reduce this dependency". What is needed is "reliable cooperation in the field of armaments and military cooperation with strategically reliable partners – and that includes India".

Since the outbreak of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the German government has been making intensive efforts to win over nations such as India and Indonesia as partners. Along with China, both countries are considered the economic powerhouses of the Indo-Pacific region. At the G7 summits in Elmau and Hiroshima, Federal Chancellor Scholz had already invited the heads of state from New Delhi and Jakarta as guests with a recognizable ulterior motive.

True, both states have agreed to the condemnation of Russia by the United Nations. So far, however, they do not want to bring themselves to impose economic sanctions. Both nations continue to do business with Moscow, India, for example, obtains cheap oil from Russia.

In India, the minister did not stop at words on the delicate issue of arms deals. He took the head of Thyssen-Krupp Maritime Systems (TKMS) with him to his meeting with the Minister of Defense. Since 2008, the company has been applying for a major order for six conventional submarines, which India would like to manufacture in its own country in cooperation with the German armaments manufacturer.

Submarine deal as a lighthouse project

On Wednesday, a first concrete declaration of intent is to be signed for the deal of six billion euros with the Indian partners. Pistorius made it clear that he is politically supportive of the deal. Literally, he spoke of a "lighthouse project", which is obviously to be followed by others.

India certainly has an interest in German armaments technology. And Berlin in the past agreed to individual exports, for example, of submarines. However, India currently has to submit new applications for an urgently needed modernization program.

If Germany were to decide on a new line towards India, further lucrative contracts would attract the arms industry. Pistorius also announced in New Delhi that the navy would take part in a joint naval maneuver with India in 2024 and dock in Goa for a port visit. And that's not all: Pistorius suggested that the other branches of the armed forces should also strengthen their cooperation with India.