Foreign policy is the tool by which India interacts with the world outside its borders. The two primary objectives of India’s foreign policy are: a) protection of India’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity; and b) promotion of the well being of the Indian people. Thus, India’s foreign policy is designed to promote national security and development.
Foreign policy is impacted by global, regional and internal developments. India’s global, regional and internal environment has become highly complex, posing several challenges to India’s foreign policy.
The global environment is marked by the re-distribution of power, reflected in the rise of new power centres and the relative decline of the West. India has benefited from globalisation and economic liberalisation. It is one of the rising powers in the world. However, in order to leverage its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, India will need to think strategically to navigate the turbulent global order.
The international order is in a state of flux. The uncertainties pertain to the redistribution of power, emergence of a polycentric world order, acuter competition for strategic resources, unequal distribution of wealth and power, the emergence of non-state actors, changing nature of conflict, threats to human security and state security arising out of climate change, poverty pandemics, terrorism, WMD proliferation, etc.
India can benefit from this uncertainty provided it maintains its natural strengths which are a strong economy, demography, democracy, political cohesion and a tolerant society. If we falter on any of these, we will suffer.
India is located in Asia, which is emerging as the new centre of global power. But Asia is home to great power rivalries. Asia has many security hot spots which impact India. West Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean Region are areas of great strategic importance for India. But they harbour many instabilities too. Therefore, India will need to approach these regions strategically.
A rising China will remain a significant foreign policy and security challenge for India. The boundary question is unlikely to be resolved in a hurry. The uncertainties of power transition in China, growth of nationalism, military modernisation, expanding ambitions in the Indian Ocean, its forays in South Asia, China-Pakistan nexus are all likely to remain concerns for India. Sino-Indian relations have improved in recent years but the mistrust has not disappeared altogether. India’s policy towards China must be nuanced and calibrated carefully. India cannot afford to have a hostile and powerful neighbour on its borders. India will need to learn to manage China with a combination of “hard” and “soft” power options. Our diplomatic skills must be of high order. Sino-Indian economic trade, which is growing, still remains asymmetric. India must look for economic opportunities in China.
South Asia is vital for India’s security and prosperity. Unfortunately, instability in South Asia is endemic. South Asian countries continue to remain sceptical about India’s attitude and behaviour. India can leverage its economic strength for bringing South Asian countries closer. Regional integration must be promoted. People-to-people contacts must be facilitated. Connectivity must be improved. However, the problem remains psychological. India must adopt policies that reassure its neighbours. India must adopt long term strategies rather than bank on ad-hocism and knee-jerk responses.
Pakistan is becoming increasingly ungovernable and unstable. Pakistan’s policy of using terrorism as a pressure point on India is a major challenge for India as is Pakistan’s ‘all weather friendship’ with China. Sino-Pakistan nexus is likely to deepen further as China’s global profile increases and Pakistan’s own problems deepen. Both China and Pakistan are nuclear countries. Radical elements in Pakistan do not countenance a prosperous and strong India. How should India deal with Pakistan? Our policy towards Pakistan must be based on deterrence as well as engagement. Pakistani society is getting differentiated and multi-layered. We should be looking for building favourable constituencies in Pakistan particularly amongst its civil society and youth. We should build our capacities to meet the terrorism challenge emanating from Pakistan, but a strategy of no-dialogue may not prove to be effective. We should also understand Pakistan’s internal vulnerabilities and learn to exploit them to our advantage. In particular, we should highlight the situation in Baluchistan and Gilgit Baltistan. We should ensure that Pakistan does not get any special role in Afghanistan that would harm India’s interests. The Pakistan army appears to be under some pressure as is reflected in General Kayani’s recent statements about “peaceful co-existence” and the importance of democracy. We should be using both negative and positive levers vis-à-vis Pakistan. We should not hesitate to establish military-to-military exchanges with Pakistan. Trade can be used as a positive lever. At the same time, we should guard ourselves against nuclear terrorism and possible humanitarian crisis emerging out of spiralling instability in Pakistan.
India has tremendous strategic interests and stakes in West Asia. The region accounts for about two-thirds of our crude imports and $100 billion in trade. Nearly six million Indians living in West Asia remit over $ 35 billion every year. West Asia is saddled with seemingly intractable problems and rivalries. These include the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran-Israel and Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalries. The tensions in West Asia are likely to continue. The region is becoming even more complex on account of the onset of political turmoil—-Arab Spring—in many countries. India’s vote on the Libyan and Syrian resolutions at the UN Security Council and India’s handling of Iran shows that Indian policy towards its region will also evolve. India cannot afford to alienate any side in the region. While maintaining good relations with all countries in the region, we will also need to shore up our capabilities in the maritime domain.
India has to pay much greater attention to the different regions of the world than has been the case so far. India’s Look East policy has brought considerable gains to the country, but it is still incomplete because of the lack of capacity in India to engage deeply with South East Asia and Asia. US’s Asian pivot strategy and China’s assertive stance in the South China sea will heighten tensions. North Korea remains a state of concern. US security guarantees in the region are being doubted by some countries. China sees a US ‘return’ to the Asia Pacific with concern. Tensions in the region will grow. India needs to enhance its engagement with Myanmar which is now opening up. India’s North-East Region must be integrated into India’s Look East policy. India will need to deepen its strategic partnerships with Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, Austria and countries in the South West Pacific.
Africa is opening up. There has been strong economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. India has sought to enhance its engagement with Africa. The India-Africa Forum has been a good beginning. This engagement must be deepened further. In contrast to the Chinese model, which is based upon the exploitation of Africa’s resources, India must have a mixed model of society building and economic engagement.
Central Asia remains important for India. We have not been able to leverage our historical closeness with the region mainly due to lack of geographical access. India must engage with Central Asian countries bilaterally as well as through multi-lateral institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. India needs to invest more in Central Asia. TAPI, if realised, will enhance India’s energy security.
Although Europe is in economic difficulty, its importance for India cannot be under-estimated. India’s trade with Europe remains significant. Europe can also be a source of investment and technology. A large number of Indians continue to live and work in Europe. In recent years, the strategic content of our relationship with Europe has been diminishing. This situation must be altered. Europe must be encouraged to invest in India. People-to-people contacts must also be enhanced. Similarly, India must look for long term opportunities in Europe despite the latter’s weaknesses.
Russia remains a time-tested friend of India, but over the years Indo-Russian relationship has, to some extent, weakened. This is largely due to the changes in global and regional environment. Russia is engaging more and more with China and is disillusioned with the US and Europe. It is also in the midst of a major internal political and economic churning. India has also diversified its foreign policy. The Russians are watching the growing Indo-US relationship with some concern. They are also apprehensive that their dominance in India’s defence market may be affected. Indo-Russian relations need to be diversified. Particular attention must be paid to improving the economic content of the relationship.
The United States remains the single biggest power and India must have an ever-deepening strategic partnership with it. The US is likely to turn towards India as its relative power declines. The many commonalities in the value systems of the two countries will make it possible for India to maintain its partnership with the US while retaining its strategic autonomy.
India needs to play an effective role in the emergence of global institutions of governance. India’s role in the G20 is a good beginning. India’s economic engagement with the world must improve. India can leverage its vast market, human resource potential and scientific and technological infrastructure to engage with the world. India’s defence industrialisation programmes can provide new stimulus for this engagement.
Multilateralism is in a state of flux. Many UN institutions are in crisis. The role of informal non-official communities and regimes in the fleshing out of the norms of governance is increasing. The influence of informal institutions on formal institutions is also increasing. India has staked its claim to a permanent membership in the UN Security Council but this may not be forthcoming easily. India needs to recognise that much of today’s global norm-setting is done outside formal institutions, by informal networks of professionals. These informal networks have a profound impact on the functioning of formal institutions. India should ensure that it has membership of the relevant institutions, both formal and informal. India has benefited from its engagement with groupings like IBSA and BRICS. India should broaden its options so that its influence increases around the world.
India’s foreign policy must be backed by hard power. India should be ready for a two-front armed conflict to be fought under a nuclear overhang. Hard power is important not only in the context of Pakistan and China but also in the context of the Indian Ocean where India should vouch for freedom of navigation. India must develop a significant maritime orientation to its military power. Its nuclear deterrence must be credible. Air power must be developed to neutralise the air assets of the adversary. Cyber security and space security must be given due attention.
India’s foreign policy challenge also lies in uncertain domestic politics. A recent example was India’s inability to sign the Teesta Water sharing agreement with Bangladesh. India’s Sri Lankan policy is influenced by politics in Tamil Nadu. Over the years, the consensus on Indian foreign policy has been breaking down. The numerous problems within India, particularly on the internal security front, also affect India’s foreign policy. The capability of the Indian state to meet the internal security challenges, which can be exploited by external forces, must be built up. Internal security challenges range from the Maoist threat to insurgencies in different parts of the country.
India will also need to resolve a number of non-traditional security issues where diplomacy will play an important role. These include energy security, nuclear security, climate change, etc. Energy Security will depend upon India’s ability to ensure energy supplies from abroad, promoting energy efficiency at home, taking a lead in renewable energy and clean technologies. Nuclear security is emerging as a new issue, arising out of concerns about the safety and security of nuclear assets. India needs to strengthen its national efforts towards nuclear security while contributing towards the emergence of nuclear security standards in the world.
India’s strengths will emerge from a strong economy which, in turn, has to be based on sound formation of knowledge and information. We need to build our education system to world standards. Innovation must be given a premium. National security must be an integral part of our education system. Strengthening of national security will also depend upon addressing cyber security challenges. We must leverage ICT in national security.
India must transform its governance to meet the coming challenges. Foreign policy is a part of overall governance and can play a role. The key is to back our good intentions in foreign policy with adequate power. At the same time, power must be embedded in our values for it to be legitimate.
The author is Director General, IDSA. The views expressed are personal.