Foreign Policy

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  • Vibin Lakshmanan Asked: Can one conclude that the international order is more ‘liberal’ and 'security friendly' nowadays?

    S. Kalyanaraman replies: Yes to more liberal and no to security friendly. The international order has assumed a more liberal tendency after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of the United States in the Cold War competition. The resultant unipolar moment, which has just about begun to wane in the last few years, saw the first and hitherto only democratic, non-imperial, superpower in history (exceptionalism writ large indeed!) and its European allies assuming a new civilizing mission to create a new international order. The defining features of this new order are (were?): the modification of the Westphalian notion of absolute sovereignty through the imposition of the idea of the state’s responsibility to protect all sections of its population; and the promotion of democracy, especially within those recalcitrant states that opposed, or refused to kowtow before, the West, to create a world composed of democratic states. The liberal and neoconservative assumption behind these initiatives was that an international system composed of democratic polities that exercised restraint within and without would lead to the utopia of perpetual peace wherein states and their people would be content with pursuing happiness through the accumulation of wealth. Ironically, the means adopted to achieving this ideal involved the imposition of democracy (regime change) at the point of a bayonet. Further, the end envisaged involved two related impossibles: annulling politics between polities, and the triumph of competitive economics [capitalism or geo-economics] over competitive politics [war or geopolitics] without the first degenerating into the second. The future of this more liberal international order is now in doubt because of the rise of China as a new geoeconomic and geopolitical rival of the United States, the re-emergence of an assertive Russia after a decade plus of decline, the onset of economic decline in the United States and in Europe, and the West’s unwillingness to expend greater amounts of blood and treasure for realising the envisaged vision.

    While the post-Cold War international order may be ‘security friendly’ for European states in conventional terms, the same cannot be said for the United States especially in the wake of the rise of an assertive China. And the international order has definitely not become security friendly for India or other Asian states. India’s security situation has become more challenging since the end of the Cold War, given Pakistan’s continued support for terrorist groups (which may increase in the aftermath of US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014), its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal and entente cordiale with China as well as China’s growing assertiveness, rising influence all around India’s continental and maritime periphery, and continuing progress in power projection capabilities.

    Samir Ahmed Asked: Why India is hesitant to adopt a pro-active approach in its international affairs?

    S. Kalyanaraman replies: A state’s foreign policy is a function of two inter-related factors: (1) the economic, political and security objectives it seeks to achieve; and (2) the power capabilities (economic, military, technological, and [soft] cultural and ideational) and the resultant diplomatic influence it has to achieve them. The greater the power capabilities that a state has, the grander will be the objectives it can set for itself and the more diplomatic influence it will be able to wield to realise these objectives. And the lesser the power capabilities that a state has, the more restrained will be the objectives it sets for itself and the weaker will be the diplomatic influence it will be able to exercise to attain its objectives. Thus, the distribution of power capabilities among states in an international system is a key determinant of the foreign policy adopted by each state. While this reality does not constrain a relatively weaker state’s ability to adopt a proactive approach to international affairs, its ability to achieve objectives will be limited. In other words, being proactive does not necessarily mean being successful. Further, diplomacy also tends to be reactive, in terms of responding to domestic developments in other countries and new policies they may initiate.

    Locating India’s foreign policy within these broad parameters indicates that India has indeed adopted a proactive approach to international affairs during the course of the last 66 years. During the years of the Cold War, it was at the vanguard of the non aligned movement and the efforts to ameliorate superpower tensions, the diplomatic campaigns against apartheid, colonialism, and nuclear disarmament, and attempts to forge a new international economic order that takes into consideration the interests of developing countries. And in the last 20 plus years, India has been at the forefront of diplomatic negotiations on climate change and international trade issues as part of the Doha Round.

    Where India has been reluctant is on issues relating to humanitarian intervention, which, in some cases, has involved the promotion of democracy at the point of a bayonet or regime change. Even on subcontinental issues, India has been proactive diplomatically: it has been one of Afghanistan’s top economic partners since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001; it has sought to push forward trade relations with Pakistan and thus foster normalisation of bilateral ties; it continues to play a critical role in the democratic transitions of Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal; and it has consistently engaged with the regime in Myanmar. At the same time, India has had to necessarily respond or react to unfolding events in other countries, both within the subcontinent and in other parts of the world; instances include the crisis generated by the arrest of former Maldivian President Nasheed and the onset of the Arab Spring and the manner in which it has unfolded differently in various countries of West Asia and North Africa.

    A final thought: being proactive diplomatically must necessarily be tempered by the axiom ‘look before you leap’. Caution must be the watchword in diplomacy and the act of looking before leaping must necessarily include comprehending the ground on the other side.

    US Rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific: Implications for West Asia

    White House has sought to assuage the West Asian states’ feelings that the ties with Asia-Pacific would not be at their expense. On the other hand, there are strong prescriptions from within the US calling for quietly downgrading involvement in the sorry mess of West Asia as the problems there can at best be managed, but never solved.

    December 11, 2013

    India Should Rebalance Regional Focus

    India Should Rebalance Regional Focus

    In this third part of the Policy Paper series, P Stobdan argues that India should continue to remain engaged in Asia-Pacific for reasons not only confined to mercantile interest but also because it is an arena shaping the major powers behaviour. At the same, a regional rebalancing and attention to equally critical Central and West Asia will broaden India’s prospects for shaping the global order.

    November 30, 2013

    India and Asian Geopolitics

    India and Asian Geopolitics

    In this second-part of the Policy Paper series, P Stobdan suggests that in the recent Indian strategic discourse, commentators have been exulting the US ‘Asia Pivot’ and seriously hoped that the idea will offset China’s regional outreach, for it also appeared similar to India’s own ‘Look East’ policy, which to an extent enabled New Delhi to ruffle a few feathers in the East Asian region.

    November 28, 2013

    India’s Strategic Articulation: Shift in Thinking

    India’s Strategic Articulation: Shift in Thinking

    In a 4-part series of Policy Papers, P Stobdan analyses India's response to the global shifts and how India’s strategic perception seems to have altered dramatically in the recent years. What it essentially means is that embracing the cold-war perception or adopting any containment strategy is unlikely to be enduring in the longer run.

    November 26, 2013

    China Yearbook 2012

    China Yearbook 2012
    • Publisher: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA)

    An annual publication from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), The China Yearbook 2012 is a round-up of events and issues of significance that occurred in China during the past year and covers important developments in the domestic and foreign policy spheres.

    • ISBN 978-93-82512-03-5,
    • Price: ₹. 695/-
    • E-copy available

    India and Central Asia: Need for a Pro-active Approach

    India and Central Asia: Need for a Pro-active Approach

    India has traditionally attached great importance to its relations with Central Asia. But, unfortunately, the relationship faces several constraints including the lack of direct access to Central Asia; the unstable situation in Afghanistan and a problematic India-Pakistan relation.

    October 14, 2013

    EU Weapons Embargo and Current Chinese Foreign Policy

    This article examines the EU weapons embargo on China as a major foreign policy challenge that China’s new leadership has inherited. The article argues that the continuation of the embargo constitutes a failure of Chinese foreign policy to project China as a responsible global player. The article examines the legal framework and the political debate within the EU to emphasise that the embargo has been largely ineffective in its objective of denying advanced military technology to China.

    September 2013

    Akhila asked: Are Chinese intrusions and Pakistan’s ceasefire violations case of India’s foreign policy failure?

    S.D. Muni replies: Chinese incursions and Pakistani ceasefire violations against India are the result of a difficult and adversarial neighbourhood. To the extent that India has not been able to make this neighbourhood friendly and resolve the disputes involved, it may be treated as a failure of policy on India's part. But in international relations, you need two to tango. You need two hands to clap or shake hands. Pakistan from its very birth has built its identity and nationalism on a perception of hostility towards India. Without this perception, the army in Pakistan could not have remained in power for such long durations. It is not just a coincidence that ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) take place whenever a civilian government starts talking about peace and normalisation of relations with India. While India has had its shortcomings in dealing with neighbours in general and Pakistan in particular, the roots of India-Pakistan problem lie within Pakistan's army dominated polity.

    The Chinese incursions could be seen as an effort on the part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) towards strengthening its claims and bargaining position on an undefined border and vague Line of Actual Control (LAC). Perhaps, this is their move to get prepared to negotiate the border from a position of strength in view of China's phenomenal economic growth and unprecedented military modernisation. But China is also passing through an internal civil-military imbalance where PLA has become more assertive and politically ambitious. This is reflected in China's territorial nationalism, not only in relations to India but also other neighbours like Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, and in the South China Sea region. The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping is trying to control the PLA's excessive enthusiasm. Let us hope that China in its transition to a great Asian power remains sober and peaceful.