India’s Foreign Policy
5th Aug, 2020
In the backdrop of setbacks, especially in the neighbourhood, India has to reconsider its diplomacy’s trajectory.
- The foreign policy of India or any country is shaped by two factors i.e. domestic and international factors.
- Domestically, India’s history, culture, geography, and economy have played an important role in determining the objectives and principles of India’s foreign policy whereas international factor is characterized by cold war in which there was the rivalry between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
- Thus the establishment of the United Nations, arms race, particularly nuclear arms race, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism, etc. have also influenced the priorities and objectives of our foreign policy.
- The first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, gave due consideration to these factors and played a leading role in shaping the country’s foreign policy.
Where India stands to date as the outcome of his foreign policies?
- India was seen as a natural rising power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. It was the de-facto leader of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
- It has historical and cultural ties with Nepal. It enjoyed traditional goodwill and influence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
- It had made investments worth billions of dollars in Afghanistan and cultivated vibrant ties with the post-Taliban stakeholders in Kabul.
- It had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian connectivity project, with Iran being its gateway.
- It was competing and cooperating with China at the same time, while the long border between the two countries remained largely peaceful.
What is the Present scenario?
- India is perhaps facing its gravest national security crisis in 20 years, with China having changed the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector in its favour.
- SAARC is out of the joint. Nepal has turned hostile having adopted a new map and revived border disputes with India.
- Sri Lanka has tilted towards China, which is undertaking massive infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean island.
- Bangladesh is miffed at the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
- When Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition, India is out of the multiparty talks.
- Iran has inaugurated a railway link project connecting the Chabahar port, on the Gulf of Oman, to Zahedan (which India was to have constructed) without India.
- There is a relative decline in India’s smart power, especially in the neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood, which demands a deeper perusal of the foreign policy trajectory itself.
- Three problems can be found which are more or less linked to this decline a closer alignment of policy with the U.S. line, coupling of foreign policy with domestic politics and hubris.
Is there any India- US Closer alignment in India’s foreign policy?
- There has been steady erosion in India’s strategic autonomy, which pre-dates the current government. When India started deepening its partnership with the United States, India began steadily aligning its policies with U.S. interests.
- The case of Iran is the best example. The agreement to develop the Chabahar port was signed in 2003. But India, under pressure from the U.S., was moving slowly, even though the project offered India an alternative route to Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.
- India voted against Iran at the United Nations; scuttled an ambitious gas pipeline project and cut down trade ties drastically.
- When U.S. pulled out of the Iran deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, India toed the U.S. line, bringing down its oil imports to zero.
- These policy changes coexisted with India’s deepening defense and military ties with the U.S. U.S. wants India to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region to contain China’s rise. While India has steadily deepened military-military cooperation in the recent past — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is one example.
- These developments probably altered Beijing’s assessment of India. The border aggression at different points on the LAC could not be a localized conflict; it is part of a larger strategic move.
- One of the reasons for the shift could be Beijing’s assessment that India has already become a de-facto ally of the U.S.
What is the status of India’s domestic politics?
- At least two decisions taken by the government mainly keeping its citizens in mind have had foreign policy consequences.
- First, the passing of the CAA. The official narrative has been that India is offering citizenship to the persecuted minorities of select countries in its neighbourhood. There were two problems.
- One, this is regionalisation of the domestic problems of the countries in India’s neighbourhood.
- Two, Muslims, including those subsects persecuted in neighbouring countries, were by design excluded from the citizenship programme.
- Second, the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. It led to the suspension of fundamental rights in the Kashmir Valley for a prolonged period that damaged India’s reputation as a responsible democratic power.
- The change of status quo in Jammu and Kashmir, including the bifurcation and reduction of the erstwhile State into Union Territories, could be another factor that prompted the Chinese to move aggressively towards the border in Ladakh.
The perils of hubris
- Great powers wait to establish their standing before declaring that they have arrived. The Soviet Union started acting like a superpower after it won (with allies), the Second World War. China bided it’s time for four decades before it started taking on the mighty U.S. Since the 1970s, its focus has almost entirely been on its economic rise. India should learn from at least these modern examples.
What India should learn from past experiences?
- Need for greater realism in policy: India needs to change the image of a reluctant power. India should realize that soft power diplomacy is not sufficient for protecting the country.
- Need for Strong economy: An expansionary foreign policy cannot be built on the margins of the global economy. There is a need for India to build a strong economic foundation to fulfill the aspiration of global power.
- In the backdrop of setbacks, especially in the neighbourhood, India has to reconsider its diplomacy’s trajectory as India’s official policy is that it is committed to multilateralism. Even after India started moving away from non-alignment, which it calls irrelevant in the post-Cold War world order, India should maintain the strategic autonomy as the bedrock of its policy thinking.