You are here

Advancing Relations between India and Greece

Dr Ioannis E. Kotoulas is Adjunct Lecturer in Geopolitics at the University of Athens, Greece.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • April 07, 2022

    India and Greece are two pivotal states overseeing focal points of elevated geopolitical importance in Eurasia. Bilateral relations between India and Greece are multifaceted and have grown steadily over the last few years. Greece has consistently been supportive of India’s core foreign policy objectives and India concurs with Greece’s emphasis on promoting international law and regional security. The two states also share common concerns on issues of international terrorism and have reinforced their ties with bilateral initiatives unfolding on a steady basis.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis several times, with the two leaders agreeing to further enhance bilateral relations. Dr S. Jaishankar’s visit to Athens in June 2021 was the first visit by an Indian foreign minister in the last 18 years. Both the countries agreed to work towards strengthening their bilateral ties and building a strategic partnership.1 Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias recently visited New Delhi on 23–24 March 2022 to take forward the discussion on enhancing bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership.2

    The economic and commercial relations between the two countries continue to grow and can certainly receive a new dynamic in the near future. India was the ‘honoured’ country at the 84th Thessaloniki International Fair in 2019, the largest annual commercial exposition in South-Eastern Europe. At the military level, India and Greece had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Cooperation in 1998, which was followed by joint programmes of the two militaries and periodic visits of Indian warships at the Souda Bay in Crete, the most important naval base in the Mediterranean Sea.3

    India, strategically located in South Asia, dominates the continental landmass of the Indian Peninsula and the vast expanses of the Indian Ocean. India’s strategic interests to its west extend from the Indian Ocean Region to the Eastern Mediterranean where Greece, a traditionally sea-oriented state, is located.  India’s economic security is also linked to the control of sea routes connecting Europe with India. With a demographic and strategic weight of 1.3 billion people, India can project its ever-growing capabilities over greater areas. India’s role as an international actor has increased over the last few years, as it has adopted a more dynamic foreign policy. It is in this context that India can examine the prospect of a strategic partnership with Greece.

    Greece is a member of both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU), and its location in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea makes it a country embedded in the Western security network. Greece aspires to form a vital bridge between Europe, the states of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, with India as its easternmost core. Greece has emerged as a dynamic independent sea power in the Mediterranean, upgrading its military power, diplomatic network with its allies especially the United States (US) and France, and also with both Israel and the Arab states, and its outward-looking diplomatic initiatives both as an independent actor and as an EU member.4  Over the last few years, Greece has also cooperated with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It has been working closely with Egypt in various sectors, thereby drawing closer to establishing a dominant network in the Mediterranean. The two most characteristic events of this cooperation were the signing of the maritime demarcation deal in August 2020, which talked about establishing partially an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the creation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) with the participation of many states of the region. Greece has organised joint aeronautical exercises with Egypt and Cyprus, as well as with other states like France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).5

    A new international order uniting three major seas (Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Gulf) and three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa) is being witnessed. The addition of India as the major pole of this network shall create a powerful bloc, extending from Europe and the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the Himalayas. A few decisive steps have already been undertaken to promote relations between the two countries, and some specific additional steps can further enhance and deepen the strategic cooperation between India and Greece.

    At the diplomatic level, India and Greece can support each other on issues of mutual interest. Greece can offer its support for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative to promote peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean.6 Greece is a seafaring nation and it currently hosts one of the greatest merchant fleets globally and thus its vital interests are structurally intertwined with freedom of movement in the seas. This is a common ground with India, a leading power in the Indo-Pacific region.

    At the military level, India–Greece cooperation could be significantly upgraded with the signing of extensive military cooperation memoranda that shall lay the basis for joint exercises, technology and intelligence sharing. Initial discussions concerning a defence agreement have already been undertaken in late 2020.7 Further steps can be taken to establish a meaningful strategic cooperation, such as naval and aerial military cooperation. Indian military is one of the strongest in the world and it continues to upgrade its facilities and capabilities. Greece possesses the 16th strongest air force in the world, the third in the EU, and has a considerable navy fleet.8 Greece is currently upgrading its military arsenal and plans to invest €10 billion over the next few years in the procurement of sophisticated aircraft and armament. Greece has recently obtained 24 4.5-generation Dassault Rafale jets and four frigates. It has also requested to be included in the US F-35 programme. Exchange programmes for officers and administrative personnel and joint exercises can create a stronger bilateral bond. The presence of Indian naval forces in the Mediterranean in the framework of joint Indo-Greek aeronautical exercises would be a clear symbolic and practical message of power projection across the Eurasian landmass. Strategic partnership with Greece, a NATO and EU member, would further strengthen the notion of India as a valuable partner of Europe in Asia.

    At the economic level, India and Greece can create alternative networks of financial flows over Eurasia. Greece has implemented radical structural reforms in the economic sector and can become the field of considerable investment for Indian companies. The Greek austerity programme over the last decade has put the country back on track regaining confidence of international investors. After years of negative growth due to recession, Greece now enjoys a stable economic environment with GDP growth forecasts ranging between 3.5 per cent and 4.9 per cent for 2022–23.9 India is gradually becoming a focal base for global manufacturing and a new emerging centre for global supply chains. India shall assume the presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) in December 2022, thus symbolically also affirming its rising economic status on a global level. Greece can act as an intermediary between India and the EU bureaucracy and decision-making institutions. Indian companies can invest in Greece and the two countries can cooperate on exports of food, industrial and consumer products. Just like India, Greece has a highly educated pool of workforce including a high percentage of academics, scientists, doctors and technical personnel. Recent initiatives for economic cooperation under the aegis of the Indian Embassy in Greece have already been undertaken.10

    Greece and India embody the rich heritage of ancestral Indo-European origins, and their cultural and educational relations are based on a Cultural Agreement, implemented through three-year executive programmes. Greek language, history and philosophy are taught at Indian universities; similarly, the study of Indian history and culture could also materialise in Greek universities and academic circles. Greek culture through various aspects of its ancient and modern culture, including the Byzantine culture, and Indian culture with its rich heritage and multiple manifestations can effectively provide a stronger cultural context to the emerging relationship between the two countries.

    India is the core state of Asia and a global power, while Greece is an essential partner in the Mediterranean Sea and a member of both NATO and the EU. The two countries can deepen their cooperation in various fields by building on their military and diplomatic synergies. The strategic alignment of India and Greece in the new geopolitical environment would cater to the national interests of both countries.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.