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  • 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.

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

    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.