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From India to France, middle powers, countries with some power and influence, are striking out on their own with mixed results.

India, the UAE, and France recently agreed to expand trilateral cooperation in defence, energy, technology, and health. The plans were finalized during a conversation between the foreign ministers of the three countries; S Jaishankar, Catherine Colonna, and Abdullah bin Zayed.

During the conversation, it was decided that events will be organized under the umbrella of the Indian presidency of the G20 and the UAE’s hosting of COP28.

While the thrust of the agreement is on those areas, it is important to look at the geopolitical significance. The first point is the differences between the three and the U.S. over crucial foreign policy issues.

If one were to look at U.S.-France relations, there have been strains between the U.S. and France after AUKUS was launched in 2021. Under AUKUS, nuclear-powered submarines would be built in Adelaide, South Australia if the agreement pans out. The agreement is the first instance of the UK and the U.S. sharing nuclear secrets with another nation. France was furious with Australia because the latter canceled a contract pertaining to the manufacture of diesel-powered submarines. Paris and Canberra had in 2016 signed an agreement under which a French contractor would build the submarines worth billions of dollars.

While France has its own vision for the Indo-Pacific, its stance on China is different from the U.S. While being wary of China’s increasing clout, France does not want to take an aggressive posture. While speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “The United States wants to confront China. The European Union wants to engage China.” And he stressed, “In the world game, China must be in, China cannot be out.”

While speaking on the sidelines of the G20, President Emmanuel Macron said that while the world wants to see two orders, “we need a single order.”

In recent years, ties between the UAE and the U.S. have also witnessed a downward slide. First, Washington has not been happy with the UAE’s cooperation with China, especially its growing closeness to China in the realm of artificial intelligence. The UAE has responded that it will not be caught in the U.S.-China tussle.

While speaking at the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, the UAE’s Anwar Gargash said: “The UAE has no interest in choosing sides between great powers, our primary strategic relationship remains unequivocally with the United States.”

The UAE did scrap a Chinese construction project at Khalifa Port after the U.S. claimed that it would be used by the Chinese military. Significantly, in October 2022, a ‘flying car’ built by a Chinese car maker completed its first public test flight in Dubai.

Apart from its ties with China, the U.S. has also warned the UAE regarding its ties with Russia. During a visit to the UAE last month, a Biden administration official met with senior government officials where he discussed “rooting out evasion of U.S. sanctions, particularly on Russia and Iran.” He also discussed the possibility of the U.S. taking action against companies and individuals trying to evade economic sanctions.

While India-U.S. ties have strengthened in recent years, India’s decision to purchase oil from Russia, thereby helping Vladimir Putin fund his war in Ukraine, has not gone down well with Washington. Regardless, the U.S. has grown to accept that India will continue to buy discounted Russian oil. In December, Janet Yellen said that Russia “is going to be selling at bargain prices and we’re happy to have India get that bargain or Africa or China. It’s fine.”

Both sides have said there doesn’t need to be convergence on all issues.

It would be pertinent to point out that while India and the UAE are part of the I2U2, also referred to as the Middle Eastern Quad, India has also been closely working with France.

The recent decision of India, France, and the UAE to expand trilateral cooperation highlights the increasing importance of middle powers, and how they have sought to follow a balanced foreign policy giving precedence to their national interests.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.