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India's foreign policy has become a delicate balancing act

Discussion in 'International Relations' started by Zeus_@21, Jul 1, 2014.

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  1. Zeus_@21

    Zeus_@21 Major SENIOR MEMBER

    Apr 29, 2013
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    India's foreign policy has become a delicate balancing act


    Border control: A Chinese soldier stands guard at the Nathu La border crossing with India. Though India's biggest trading partner, China has territorial claims on the country and is pursuing policy links with Pakistan

    The complexity of our foreign relations is illustrated by certain realities of our external political, economic, defence and popular ties. In the case of our major partners individually, the strength of our ties in various fields varies considerably.

    With friends we have notable differences and with adversaries we share some common ground. This means that neat foreign policy choices are not available.

    We need to carefully balance relations with countries of importance to us.


    This may create an impression that our foreign policy is not well-defined and lacks coherence, that we are unclear about our "real" partners, that we want friendship with all and avoid "hard choices".

    Critics ascribe this to our obsession with nonalignment, re-surfacing today in the guise of "strategic autonomy".

    These are superficial, slanted judgments, made generally by pro-US commentators who believe that India is squandering the opportunity of leveraging improved Indo-US ties to build itself both as a strong economic and military power.

    This is not to argue that Indian foreign policy has always optimally pursued the country's interests, without mistakes or flaws.

    India has no doubt been overly cautious and risk averse in meeting challenges to our core interests, particularly in the case of China and Pakistan where sentiment, psychological factors, timidity and domestic political considerations have influenced policy.

    Even here we have to add nuance to our judgment. For decades, despite US-led sanctions supported by even our nonaligned friends, India did not buckle on the nuclear issue, and till today we have not signed the NPT.

    We firmly refused to sign the CTBT even when isolated by the leading powers. We have pursued our missile programme despite MTCR pressures and denial of technologies for our civilian space programme.


    Self-interest: India has pursued its missile programme despite MTCR pressures and denial of technologies for its civilian space programme

    We went nuclear in 1998 knowing what the international consequences would be. We express a view on the conduct of international relations which questions the way in which the West imposes concepts, rules and values – and re-defines them as necessary – to retain its dominant position within the international system.

    We support multi-polarity for a better distribution of power internationally. We oppose unilateralism, regime change policies, the sanctions approach, the politicisation of human rights issues for geopolitical reasons, interference in the internal affairs of countries, imposition of democracy through military means and, in general, the double standards used by the dominant powers.

    We support reforms of the UN and the international financial institutions to reflect present day realities. We seek permanent membership of the UNSC.

    Yet, one hears comments for foreign and local observers that the contours of Indian foreign policy are not clear.


    The contradictory elements in our relations with the US is a major reality. The US is our biggest economic partner and also the most promising potential source of advanced technologies in numerous areas.

    It remains the strongest magnet for Indian students going abroad for higher studies. The largest and the most successful Indian community abroad is in the US too.

    Given the degree to which American pop-culture and social media-channelled thinking have permeated our society, especially the aspirational, urbanised youth, one could say that our people to people relations are the strongest with the US.

    Democracy is a strong bond, at least rhetorically.

    In foreign policy terms, these positives do not translate into Indian support for US policies in West Asia, whether the Iraq war, the military intervention in Libya and the aborted determination to oust the Syrian president that has led to massive human misery and the spread of extremist religious ideologies in the region backed by the Gulf regimes that are under US military protection.

    US sanctions on Iran undermine our energy security and a regional response to the Taliban threat in Afghanistan backed by the Pakistani military.

    The release of some top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay opens the doors for a US-Taliban deal, to India's potential discomfiture.

    India's challenge is to garner the gains accruing from a close relationship with the world's leading power while distancing itself from US polices that actually harm its geo-political interests in the region and beyond.


    China has now become not only India's biggest trading partner in goods but with its massive financial reserves and manufacturing capacities in select sectors such as telecommunications, power, high-speed railways, dams, roads and ports could be an attractive potential partner in contributing to the development of India's poor infrastructure.

    At the same time, China has territorial claims on us and is pursuing policies in our neigbourhood, especially Pakistan-related, that have gravely damaged us strategically.

    We have shared interests with it in diluting western domination of the global system, but the strengthening of China vis a vis the US does not serve our strategic interests either, as China is a direct adversary, unlike the US.

    Russia is our biggest and time-tested defence partner. Our political ties based on trust and shared geopolitical interests must not be weakened, but the relatively inconsequential bilateral economic relationship constitutes a serious deficiency in overall ties.


    Economic bond: The US has recently lifted restrictions on granting a visa to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PM's pro-development stance may strengthen ties with the US, but India's foreign policy interests do not always comply with America's

    With Russia (and China) the people to people relationship too lags far behind than that with the US and western Europe.

    The EU is our largest trading partner as a block, and while we have flourishing political, economic and defence ties with individual European countries, we differ on issues such as US-Europe military interventions in West Asia to promote democracy and human rights and policies to geopolitically weaken Russia as in the case of the Ukrainian imbroglio, that serve only to boost China's geopolitical muscle.

    In the face of such conflicting, cross-cutting interests involving our major partners, we have to perform a difficult balancing act which only strategic autonomy will enable us to do.

    The writer is a former Foreign Secretary

    Read more: India's foreign policy has become a delicate balancing act | Mail Online
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