India’s Foreign Policy Should be Coherent and Balanced: Ambassador Sibal

November 30, 2012

New Delhi: “The challenge for India’s foreign policy in the years ahead is to be courted by all and to succumb to no one. Even if India cannot lead, it must not be led,” said Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, while delivering the third YB Chavan Memorial Lecture on India’s Foreign Policy at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on November 30, 2012.

The YB Memorial Lecture is held every year at IDSA in collaboration with the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan, Mumbai. The inaugural lecture in the series was delivered by Prof. Sunil Khilnani in 2010 and the second one by Prof Kanti Bajpai in 2011.

India needs to “successfully play on all geo-political chess boards and optimize what it can extract from others for its own development,” noted Mr Sibal, while stating that India should preserve it’s independence of judgment and action, as much as possible, even as it conducts itself as a good and reliable partner where partnerships have been formed.

The Ambassador stated that by “strategic autonomy India means friendly ties and mutually beneficial relations with all countries, with its own legitimate- not purely selfish- interests primarily in mind.”

However, he cautioned that by choosing strategic self-reliance, India would have to cope with challenges largely on its own. “The west has never supported India so far on issues of core concern to it, whether political, military or technological,” thus explaining why “Indian foreign policy tends to be cautious and reticent in taking partisan positions on highly divisive issues.”

Throwing light on India’s relations with its neighbouring countries, Ambassador Sibal said that “India’s economic growth will be of key importance for tying our neighbours economically to the Indian market. It will be important to give stakes to a cross section of people in our neighbouring countries in various sectors our economy. In this context the strengthening of SAARC should be a priority.”

Describing India-US relations as having “achieved a degree of balance and maturity, with rapid expansion of bilateral and multilateral engagement” he added that it was primarily because “US needs to co-opt partners outside the Euro-Atlantic bloc, and India stands out as an obvious one because of its size, human resources, expanding economic base, reasonable military strength and democratic polity.”
He stated that with regard to its new policy of rebalancing towards Asia, the US sees India as a “lynchpin”. “The assumption is that India alone is big enough in Asia to counter China and that India has its concerns about China’s rise for its own security, given outstanding border differences and Chinese policies in India’s neighbourhood.”

On India-China relations, Mr Sibal was of the view that since India cannot risk a confrontation with China; its strategy should be to dissuade China from taking the risk of confronting India with visible and independent strategic strength. “India has to develop its economic and military muscle to counter the China threat. There is no other way. This is a big challenge for us ahead, even as engage China as others do.”
Terming energy co operation, so far insufficiently exploited, as a an opportunity to expand economic ties with Russia, the Ambassador pointed out that “India and Russia share the agenda of multi polarity, respect for sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of countries, geo-political abuse of the human rights issues, regime change policies, the proclivity to use military means to find solutions to highly complex issues.”

Speaking on Pakistan he said “India should continue to encourage more economic and people to people ties with Pakistan, but should also be clear-sighted about the serious obstacles in normalizing relations with that country.”

Expressing his views on India’s Look East policy, the Ambassador said that, “keeping the Chinese dimension in view and bilateral benefits that can accrue to us, India would need to boost its relations with Japan, including mobilizing Japan’s clout in the ADB to finance the east-west corridors in Asia.”

In reply to a query on the role that Indian military can play in formulating India’s foreign policy, Mr Sibal said that unlike US and other nations, India still has a long way to go before the military can play an important role in formulating its foreign policy. The gap in policy formulation should be bridged, he said.

Chairing the proceedings, Ambassador Leela Ponappa, former Deputy National Security Advisor summed up by saying that diplomacy becomes a real integrator of all aspects of national agenda. She concluded by stressing on the need to improve systems and institutions to strengthen India’s foreign policy.

Late Y.B. Chavan was the founder President of IDSA. He nursed the Institute in its nascent years, having been the president of its executive council from 1965-1978. More importantly, he had made important contributions to strengthening the country’s defence apparatus at a critical time in the country’s history, following the conflict with China in 1962. He also held the posts of Home Minister, External Affairs Minister and Finance Minister. He was the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1960. This year happens to be the birth centenary of Shri Y.B. Chavan.

Text of Ambassador Sibal’s speech is available on IDSA website: