Foreign Policy

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  • Rajesh Singh asked: Why has Pakistan army been playing a central role in Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy?

    Sushant Sareen replies: Politics abhors vacuum and the leadership vacuum (Jinnah famously said 'what is the Muslim league except me and my stenographer’) as well as the political leadership’s vacuity in Pakistan soon after independence left the army as the only coherent and cohesive force in the country that could fill this vacuum. An underdeveloped political culture meant that the political leadership looked towards the army, which was one reason why the army chief Ayub Khan was also made defence minister. The military bureaucratic establishment negotiated with the Americans and this set the stage for the army's central role in foreign policy making in the years to come. Alongside were social and cultural factors - feudalism and a fascination with the military - that facilitated the central role for the army. Also contributing to the importance of the army was the circumstances in which Pakistan came into being and the consequent hostility with India and the fear that India wanted to undo partition. This gave rise to a national security state in which the army naturally acquired a central role. The inability of the political class to either set the rules of the game (much less play by any rules) or to come up with a constitution paved the way for the military to take over power. It is widely accepted now that the martial law that was declared in Lahore to contain the anti-Ahmediya riots in 1953 allowed the army to taste the blood of usurping political power.

    Vipin Garg asked: How important is the role of soft power in international relations? Isn’t India losing out to China in its immediate neighbourhood as well as in Africa?

    Anit Mukherjee replies: Soft power is a desirable trait in international relations but is of limited utility in times of war. And, if the organising principle of international relations is the state of anarchy between nations, then soft power reveals to be not that powerful after all. At the same time, soft power does have a certain diplomatic appeal - it helps to win friends and convince people. Also in the field of public diplomacy, soft power is pretty useful in shaping perceptions. Hence, for instance, India's soft power is the Bollywood film industry which is popular in large parts of Asia and Africa.

    The second part of the question is unanswerable. Losing out in what way? China is doing all it can to further its national interests- economic and strategic. India too is doing the same- both in Africa and in its immediate neighborhood. Unless one defines 'losing out' in more precise terms, this question- unfortunately- cannot be answered.

    Tasks before Indian Foreign Policy

    India must back its good foreign policy intentions with adequate power, but power that is embedded in Indian values for it to be legitimate.

    May 09, 2012

    Nonalignment 2.0: A Realist Critique of An Establishmentarian Perspective

    From a Realist perspective, the key problem with a Nehruvian/Liberal approach to foreign policy is that it misunderstands power and ignores the centrality of balance of power politics in interstate relations.

    May 01, 2012

    Shubhda Chaudhary: What is the difference between norms and principles in international regime theory?

    Namrata Goswami replies: In International Regime Theory, regime has been defined as “sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations.” Principles signify beliefs of causation and fact; norms are standards of behaviour based on rights and obligations. Hence, for instance, principles are those that signify a certain belief system leading to a particular outcome. For example, in China, the principle belief that economic power leads to overall national strength. Norms are used to guide state action based on history, values, rights and certain political obligations.

    Anurag Chaturvedi asked: Does India's religious demographic profile play any role, vital or trivial, in framing its foreign policy, especially towards Muslim states?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: India is known for its diversity. It is regarded as an ethnic, cultural, religious and racial melting pot. Its ethnic and linguistic overlaps with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka do influence its policies towards these two countries. It is natural that India's foreign policy, especially in so far its relations with its neighbours are concerned, will be influenced by its demography to a significant extent.

    Keeping in mind the percentage of Muslims in India (about 12-13 per cent), and the historical legacies of trade and commerce with the Muslim world, as well as the scars of partition on communal lines, it would be natural to expect that the 'Muslim' factor would play its due role in the making of India's foreign policy, especially towards the Muslim world. This explains India's bid for membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Countries (OIC) and delicate handling of its relationship with the West Asian and North African countries. India's disinclination to send troops to Afghanistan, despite its improving relationship with the US, is also partly ascribed to the government's sensitivities to the feelings of the Muslims at the domestic level.

    Nevertheless, while these demographic factors are significant, one should not exaggerate the importance of demography on foreign policy making, because the prime drivers of such policy are national interests, as defined through a dynamic assessment of national aspirations and needs through a perpetually evolving democratic consensus.

    Munesh Chandra asked: What is the difference between geo-politics and geo-strategy?

    Krishnendra Meena replies:

    Geopolitics - “Geopolitics is the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical settings and perspectives and, on the other, political processes. The settings are composed of geographical features and patterns and the multilayered regions that they form. The political processes include forces that operate at the international level and those on the domestic scene that influence international behaviour. Both geographical settings and political processes are dynamic, each influences and is influenced by the other” (Cohen 2003:12)

    This definition in general also covers the idea of critical geopolitics with the inclusion of domestic factors as influential in international politics. However, it needs to be understood that within the critical geopolitical strand, ‘geopolitics’ is understood to be a plurality rather than a singularity, which implies that there could be multiple geopolitical visions of a particular event or phenomenon of international importance and consequently multiple interpretations.

    Geostrategy - Geostrategy is the geographic direction of a state’s foreign policy. More precisely, geostrategy describes where a state concentrates its efforts by projecting military power and directing diplomatic activity. The underlying assumption is that states have limited resources and are unable, even if they are willing, to conduct an all-out foreign policy. Instead they must focus politically and militarily on specific areas of the world. Geostrategy describes the foreign-policy thrust of a state and does not deal with motivations or decision-making processes. The geostrategy of a state, therefore, is not necessarily motivated by geographic or geopolitical factors. A state may project power to a location because of ideological reasons, interest groups, or simply the whim of its leader.

    Rakesh Neelakandan asked: Which all are the international laws/conventions that govern wars? Which institutions enforce them?

    Namrata Goswami replies: The international laws/conventions that govern wars at present are the four Geneva Conventions, and its three additional protocols. The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which revised the Xth Hague Conventions of 1907, are primarily aimed at protecting the victims of wars as they were conceptualised in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Conventions seek to protect the sick and the wounded, shipwrecked members of the armed forces, prisoners of wars (PoWs), and civilians caught in a war zone. While the Conventions consist of 417 articles to deal with these issues, there is no provision that deals with the conduct of war in the original four. The drafting of the Conventions were heavily influenced by the German concentration camps and the Japanese treatment of PoWs. The two additional protocols of 1978 however deal with the conduct of war, and provide provisions to even deal with internal armed rebellions. Protocol I sets limits on methods and means of attack, especially conventional weapons that led to limitless and indiscriminate destruction of life.

    The international bodies that debate on these Conventions and the protocols are the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. As far as international law is concerned, the weakness lies in the lack of a permanent implementing body. While cases can be tried in the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, the implementation of judgments would then depend on a particular state. Since not all countries are members of these courts, most notably the US, their military personnel cannot be tried in these courts.

    Sushant Awasthi asked: Is the policy of Non-Alignment introduced by Pt. Nehru still relevant, and how far is it justifying?

    S. Kalyanaraman replies: Non-alignment is not an optimum foreign policy for India in the emerging international environment. The policy was premised on certain factors that are no longer applicable. The first of these was the clear distinction that existed at that time between the West and the Rest, with the West dominating and attempting to perpetuate its dominance over the Rest, while for their part the Rest sought to become independent, assert their independence and stave off neo-imperialist tendencies. A corollary to this was the sense of solidarity that the leaders and peoples of the Rest had for each other in their struggle for independence and later in their attempts to stave off Western dominance. Hence, Asian solidarity, pan-Asianism, Afro-Asian solidarity, Third World solidarity, the Non-Aligned Movement, the call for a New International Economic Order, and so on and so forth. Complicating this dynamic was a second factor -- the Cold War ideological and geopolitical rivalry between the camps led by America and the Soviet Union, a rivalry between two of the products (liberalism and communism) of the Age of European Enlightenment. The foreign policy of non-alignment and the domestic pursuit of a mixed economy model were meant to enable India avoid entanglement and navigate between these two powerful ideological currents and the manifestations of their military power and rivalry around the world. Thirdly, India’s condition in the late 1940s and early 1950s was that of a much weaker, less stabler, and a just partitioned country, which, moreover, had enormous internal challenges before it; people even doubted whether it will survive for long. This too necessitated avoiding external conflicts and fully focusing on managing the domestic challenges.

    None of this of course meant that India was able to practice non-alignment in its purest form especially in the latter part of the Cold War. Notions of solidarity and peace were trumped by the imperatives of national security caused by Pakistan's congenital distrust of India and China’s sense of being the greater Asian power. While the challenge from a relatively weak Pakistan was easily dealt with, with the capabilities that India was able to muster without much difficulty, India had to lean upon the Soviet Union to deal with the greater challenge posed by China through the 1970s and 1980s. Thus, during the Cold War, non-alignment was not viewed or practised as a religious dictum, even though it had become a mantram chanted to cast a veil over India’s practice of the much-reviled balance of power politics.

    Today, of course, things are much different. The rise of the Rest has meant that the West is in retreat. The West is no longer the fulcrum of the international economy, nor is it the main theatre of geopolitical rivalry. These distinctions now go to Asia or to be more precise the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific region. Even though India continues to face enormous domestic challenges, the fact remains that it has made considerable progress over the last six decades to emerge as a trillion dollar economy with one of the fastest rates of economic growth and projected to emerge as one of the top three economies of the world by mid-century. Indian notions of solidarity among Asian, Afro-Asian and Third World states are now leavened with a greater appreciation of national and geopolitical rivalries as well as of ongoing changes in the world’s and Asia’s balance of power. Unlike the 1940s and 1950s when India was a rather weak player whose weight was insignificant to make an impact on the global balance of power, today it is an important weight in the Asian balance of power. Indeed, India’s foreign policy is now aimed at fostering a stable balance of power in Asia and in ensuring that the continent does not become a unipolar space dominated by China in particular. If India were to pursue a foreign policy of non-alignment, then that will only hasten the emergence of Asia as a geopolitical space dominated by a single power before which India will have to kowtow. How many people in India can envisage such a prospect with equanimity?

    Udhayan C C asked: Why are Indian foreign policy makers always apologetic in their approach towards China?

    Joe Thomas Karackattu replies: Posing a generic question on the issue of Indian foreign policy makers being “always apologetic” in their approach to China is problematic. Firstly, this is not a scientific conclusion. Unlike pure sciences, foreign policy is largely interpretive. We must understand that India and China are equals in a Westphalian setting, that both have their respective optics to view outstanding issues and that both need to use ‘reason’ more than ‘reaction’ while shaping the future of bilateral (and multilateral) ties.

    There are positive changes all around us. It is to the success of the top leadership in both countries that the India-China LAC remains, arguably, the most peaceful of all inter-state boundaries. Both countries have upgraded the level of engagement on the border issue. Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and Premier Zhou Enlai had agreed to have mid-level bureaucrats mediate border talks, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao reached an understanding in 2010 to have foreign ministers of the two countries deal with the vexed problem.

    In other areas as well, the progress should not be missed. Last year, the Annual Defence Dialogue (ADD) between the two countries took off after nearly two years. The progress on trade and economics is known well (as are the associated problem areas). Unfortunately, speculative commentary from some sections of the media and strategic community on either side would almost have us believe that the two countries are in preparation for war because that is what lies ahead.

    2011 was the “Year of China-India Exchange”. However, except for official visits by two state chief ministers from India, and the formal youth exchange programme, and a couple of provincial trade delegations from China, and the ADD, the interaction at the level of societies remained cosmetic. Of the total international arrivals in India, roughly 2 per cent are Chinese (both tourists and business persons). Cultural exposure to Chinese programming content (CCTV English) does not exist. Most Indians have exposure to ‘Chinese’ culture through Hollywood or Hong Kong movies, but rarely come into contact with mainland cultural content directly. Thus, even our imagery of each other is relayed largely via a third medium. You would therefore appreciate that it would take many more years for India and China to transform societal preferences by more engagement. Only then will there be fewer instances for the possibility of spurious inferences.

    However, try and visualize a scenario where population demographics, viz. the young structure of the Indian population, makes it suitable for Indians to find jobs in the other growth engine in Asia, i.e. China over the next two decades (similar to the out-migration that happened from India to the Gulf economies, Europe and America). Vice-versa, visualize a scenario for China where it needs to look to India to mitigate the imbalances of its export dependence on the West and the deficiency of consumption within. There are plentiful avenues that will have logic of their own to pull the countries towards a more cooperative direction.

    Indian policy makers have confidently highlighted areas where China has not shown sensitivity to our concerns, and India would continue to do so. Till then, there would be recurring problems over allocation and recognition of sovereignty, Tibet, China-Pakistan relations, India-US relations, energy, and maritime competition in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The challenge is to build trust so as to overcome these hurdles.