Sunday, July 21, 2024

India, Italy to sign defence pact in May

India and Italy plan to sign a defence agreement next month with the intention of deepening cooperation, two people aware of the matter said. The agreement is expected to make it easier for officials to coordinate on security matters and smoothen the path for Italian defence firms looking to enter India. New Delhi and Rome are currently discussing a possible visit by defence minister Rajnath Singh to Italy in May for signing the agreement. Alternatively, a visit by Italian defence minister Guido Crosetto to New Delhi is also being considered.

Queries sent to the Indian and Italian foreign ministries remained unanswered at press time. The purpose of the agreement is to strengthen coordination on defence issues, which is in line with Italy’s desire to “reboot” its security ties with India. Italy also hopes to secure a larger foothold for its defence firms involved in the Indian market. “Not only are major Italian companies involved but also innovative small and medium Italian firms. The range of feasible technologies and products is wide, from torpedoes to UAVs, from flight control systems to electronic equipment for defence, from vessels and shipbuilding to aircraft,” Italian ambassador to India said in an interview to Mint.

Once a framework for government-level cooperation is agreed, the persons cited above said that defence companies will also find it easier to function.

However, persons aware of the matter also indicated that the agreement will remain limited given that it is not expected to facilitate major defence exercises between the two countries. Bilateral exercises are expected to be the next frontier for the security partnership after the conclusion of the agreement.

This new pact is significant as it indicates that New Delhi and Rome have decided to put their complicated recent past behind them. In 2012, two Italian marines gunned down Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala, sparking a diplomatic crisis. After an eight-year legal battle, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, based in the Hague, ruled that Italy’s marines would be tried in Italy, not India. However, it also ordered Rome to pay New Delhi compensation. In line with the court’s ruling, India’s Supreme Court closed hearings into the matter in 2021. In that same year, India revoked the ban on Italian defence firm Leonardo SpA, which was caught up in the AgustaWestland chopper scandal.

The political heat generated by the Italian marines case stalled the wider security partnership between the two countries. The new defence agreement reflects a desire to open a new chapter in bilateral ties, said persons aware of the negotiations.

Outside of the agreement, Italy is also expected to send a naval patrol vessel, the Morosini, to India in August. Italy’s Ambassador, Vincenzo de Luca, also indicated that a high-level seminar between the two countries is expected to hash out the future of bilateral cooperation on maritime security.

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