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Syed Subhani asked: Is India's current foreign policy guided more by economic than strategic interests?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: It depends on how you define the term 'strategic'. The economic and strategic interests of any state/country/nation are inextricably intertwined. In today's world, no nation can safeguard its strategic interests without taking care of its economic interests. In fact, if a nation ignores its economic growth, it can hardly spend adequately for its defence. In a world, where technology is developing at a very fast pace, there is a continuing demand for modernising defence/security forces, which require resources. The nature of world economy has changed vastly over the years because of revolution in technologies of mass communication. This has made the world a smaller place and made economic cooperation among nations inevitable. The much used and abused term “globalisation” describes the state of world economy better than anything else. A nation can maximise its economic gains only through proactive association with the world community, rather than choosing to grow in isolation.

    Therefore, it is of critical necessity for every nation today to have a proactive foreign economic policy. In fact, foreign policies of different countries are emphasising more on economic diplomacy today than ever before. Such engagement serves two purposes. One, they build networks of dependency among nations and reduce the potential for hostile interaction among them. Two, by offering a chance to nations to develop their resources, they enable them to access better technologies and thereby have better levels of defence preparedness, which serves their strategic interests.

    Coming to India, there is an adequate balance between pursuit of economic and security interests in our foreign policy. Our engagements with countries within the region and beyond reflect this trend. Our trade and aid policies in the neighbourhood have resulted in building relationships of trust and confidence which can be gleaned from the fact that countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and even to some extent Sri Lanka have cooperated with India on security matters with much more enthusiasm than ever before. The arrest of north eastern insurgents from Bangladesh, terrorists from Nepal and continuing defence and security cooperation with Bhutan prove this point.

    Our relationship with the US and other Western powers has undergone a huge transformation in the last decade; so much so that the US has started recognising India as a net-security provider in the Indo-Pacific region! This has both contributed to raising anxieties in China and building deterrence to some extent. India's growing economic and strategic relationship with countries like Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Australia, as also deepening economic relationship with South East Asian countries, is being interpreted in China as India throwing a reverse string of pearls against China in a bid to counter Chinese ingress into the South Asian region. At the same time, India continues to enhance its economic engagement with China, which also serves as a strategic deterrent for a rising and restless China by way of fostering a vested interest in keeping the relationship stable and peaceful.

    All this indicate that India is not pursuing a lame-duck foreign policy. This is not to deny that there are many strategic challenges that require much more innovative thinking and approach. The threat of terrorism emanating from the neighbourhood for example needs to be countered. We are trying to build trade and commercial relationship with Pakistan and hope to interlock our bilateral economic interests which could lead to diminution of the sense of hostility being nurtured by vested interests in Pakistan. While one may criticise such a policy, the alternative strategy of not talking to Pakistan is much worse. In an unstable neighbourhood, seething with political and economic uncertainties, India, as the largest and most powerful country, has no other option but to engage. At the same time, the benefits of economic growth are being properly channelised into modernising our defence forces and augmenting our defence preparedness.