Foreign Policy

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  • Kumar Chintha asked- What is NAM 2.0?

    Reply: Refer to the IDSA comment, ‘Nonalignment 2.0: A Realist Critique of an Establishmentarian Perspective’ by Rajesh Rajagopalan, at

    Abhijit Rathod asked: What is the importance of SCO for Indian foreign policy?

    Reply: Please refer to Meena Singh Roy’s earlier reply to a similar query, at Also, refer to her commentary “India's Options in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, Strategic Analysis, 36 (4), July-August 2012, pp. 645-650.

    Abhishek Kumar asked: Is the concept of ‘balance of power’ still relevant in the present world?

    Ashok K. Behuria replies: The concept of Balance of Power (BoP) is at the heart of realist theory in international relations. It is the most common strategy states/countries adopt to ensure their security in the face of threat from external sources. The practice of BoP is as old as human civilization itself. When human beings started living in groups and faced threats to their existence, they would either strengthen their capability, or ally with other groups preferably those who would have adversarial relations with their enemy, to balance their enemy.

    This practice characterised the defence and security policies of various states both before and after the Westphalia Treaty that laid the foundations of the modern state system. While states have resorted to neo-realist (international structures) and neo-liberal (complex interdependence) principles to deal with the basic issue of security, the quest for balance of power against a potential enemy remains central to their response to any threat situation.

    An example of this can be the way some countries in South Asia, perceiving a rising India as a hegemon and a threat to their strategic autonomy, have sought to improve their relationship with China as a balancer against any possible Indian threat. China, on the contrary, looks at its improved relations with South Asian countries as a balancing act vis-à-vis both India and the US, especially because the latter two countries have struck a strategic partnership between them in recent years. The re-balancing strategy adopted by the US to respond to the Chinese assertion in South China Sea also has elements of the principle of BoP. Thus, BoP is not an obsolete concept and very much visible in the affairs of the states in the post-Cold War, neo-liberal context.

    Mathew Kandall asked: Is there any influence of religion (i.e. Hinduism) in shaping Indian foreign policy-making or its discourse in the past or today?

    P.K. Gautam replies: A good question. The questioner must also link this with the reply of Ashok K. Behuria of IDSA at to the question on possible impact of India’s religious demographic profile on its foreign policy.

    India is a secular, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation. Now if Hindus are a majority religion, it does not mean there is a Hindu culture of foreign policy. An atheist can be a Hindu and vice versa. Buddhism and Jainism are atheistic religions. Even before the birth of the three Abrahamic rooted religions, during and after the consolidation of Mauryan Empire in the 4th century BCE, books on statecraft, such as Arthashastra by Kautilya, were influencing the foreign policy making in India. Western authors loosely mention that this was Hindu policy, whereas Emperor Chandragupta Maurya died as a Jain. His son Bindusara was a Hindu and grandson Emperor Ashoka became a Buddhist.

    In theory, foreign policy is built up of four Upayas (approaches): Sama- Dana- Bheda - Danda, meaning conciliation, gifts, rupture and force. Application of foreign policy consists of six Gunas or policies: (i) Sandhi, making a treaty containing conditions or terms, that is, the policy of peace (ii) Vigraha, the policy of hostility (iii) Asana, the policy of remaining quiet (and not planning to march on an expedition) (iv) Yana, marching on an expedition (v) Samsraya, seeking shelter with another king, and (vi) Dvaidhibhava, the double policy of Sandhi with one king and Vigrah with another at the same time.

    Similarly, conquest is of three types: Dharmavijay (just war), Lobbhavijay (war of greed) and Asuravijay (conquest like a demon). Yudh or war is also of three kinds – (i) Prakash-yudh, ‘open fight’ in place and time indicated (ii) Kuta-yudh, ‘concealed fighting’ involving use of tactics in battlefield, and (iii) Tusnim-yudh or ‘silent fighting’. Based on these traditions, with realties of today’s world, India’s foreign policy is influenced by its extant ancient traditions and indigenous knowledge. Statecraft is a-religious. National interest, like in any other country’s foreign policy, remains the key driver of India’s foreign policy as well.

    Vivek Khare asked: How fruitful it has been for India not to align with any major powers historically? What should be the future course when it comes to dealing with the present major powers of the world?

    Kalyan Raman replies: If by nonalignment we mean not being a formal member of a military alliance, then India has remained nonaligned since independence, and it is likely to remain nonaligned for the foreseeable future. However, if nonalignment means not even having a military or security understanding with another country directed against a third country, then India was obviously NOT nonaligned between August 1971 and August 1991 when the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship was operational.

    The advantage of nonalignment lies in not getting entangled in other people's wars and consequently focusing on one's own internal affairs. However, the practice of such a policy is possible only under two conditions. One, the country in question enjoys 'splendid isolation' in terms of its geographical location (like the United States, for example, which is separated from Eurasia by two oceans). Two, the country in question has no adversaries/rivals, particularly adversaries who are more powerful. If it does, then whether it likes it or not, it will have to either align or at least come to a defence/security understanding with another country with which it shares common concerns about its adversary.

    So long as Pakistan was India's only adversary, which is until the 1962 India-China War, India could afford to remain nonaligned because it had the ability to tackle the challenges posed by Pakistan on its own. However, once the China challenge emerged and India found itself unable to deal with Chinese power on its own, India leaned towards the Soviet Union to serve as a balancer. Multi-alignment proved impossible for India given US-China rapprochement and the larger combination of the China-Pakistan-United States that appeared on the scene with the beginning of the 1970s. In its own view, India was technically not a member of the Warsaw Pact and hence was 'nonaligned' in the superpower Cold War; but this proposition was not fully accepted by the US and its allies.

    The larger point to note here is that given China's emergence as Asia's largest economy with Asia's largest military machine and defence expenditure, India simply does not have the ability to deal with the challenges that China has begun to pose. It therefore needs allies and friends with which if not to align but at least coordinate defence and security policy. Nonalignment is therefore a suboptimal policy option for India in the coming years.

    Tshering asked What is India's agenda for attending the NAM Summit Meeting in Tehran despite the fact that the US doesn't approve it?

    Satish Nambiar: There is no agenda for India’s attendance other than the fact that it is a founder member of the Non Aligned Movement, which notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, continues to have relevance as a forum for expression of views and exchange of ideas within the developing world. It also provides a significant voice as a consolidated voting bloc in the UN General Assembly and other international forums on aspects that are of concern to the developing world. Whether the USA approves of India’s attendance or not is irrelevant, as the USA cannot presume to dictate India’s foreign policy. In fact, it is important to note in this context that even the Secretary General of the United Nations cannot avoid attending the NAM Summit just because it is being held in Teheran.

    The Government of India’s decision to attend at the highest level is well taken. It will not only provide an opportunity on the side-lines for the Indian Prime Minister to meet and make contact with newly elected heads of government of many countries like Egypt and others, but also provide an opportunity to engage with the Iranian leadership both in the bilateral and multi-lateral context.

    Vishal K Kamble asked: Is NAM still significant for India?

    Satish Nambiar replies: This question will draw different answers depending upon the perception of the person who wishes to respond. But before trying to answer it from India’s perspective, it may be useful to analyse whether the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that evolved under the shadow of the Cold War stand-off, has continued relevance in the context of the prevailing global geo-strategic environment. With the end of the confrontation between the so-called capitalist driven ideology of the Western world led by the USA, and the socialist ideology of the Soviet-led bloc during the Cold War period; the absorption by the newly emerged East European countries, and countries like China and Russia, of much of the ideology of market driven economies; and the disintegration of many of the Cold War structures, the very concept of non-alignment becomes questionable. Not that the concept was non-questionable even in the days when it was relevant; in as much as, many of the participant countries were fully aligned with the socialist bloc.

    The sad fact is that many of the countries that were at the forefront of the movement in its early days soon drifted into one or the other camps, and remain there, or as in the case of Yugoslavia, disintegrated into separate entities. To that extent, the concept of non-alignment is hardly relevant any longer. However it still provides a useful forum for the developing countries to meet, discuss and evolve common positions on some of the problems faced by them, as also in dealing with situations emerging from actions initiated by the developed countries through a consensus of their own.

    From India’s perspective therefore, it would appear that while it has little or no significance as an ideology, it continues to have significance in providing a forum for a group that represents nations whose voice needs to be heard in the evolving global scenario.

    Vipin Garg asked: What will be the significance of the proposed international north south corridor for India?

    Meena Singh Roy replies: India, Iran and Russia signed the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) agreement on September 12, 2000. The agreement provides for the transit of goods through Iran and the Caspian Sea to Russia and Northern Europe. This agreement has been ratified by all the three signatories and has been in force since May 16, 2002.

    The INSTC is an important gateway for India to Central Asia. The potential of this corridor is manifold, with India, Myanmar and Thailand also getting linked by road. This will boost trade between Europe and South East Asia as well. As compared to the route through Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea that is currently used, the INSTC is much shorter and cost-effective. It is 40 per cent shorter and 30 per cent cheaper. From India’s point of view, the North-South Corridor not only helps India bypass Pakistan and yet reach out to Central Asia but also enables it to transport goods at a cheaper cost to the European markets. At present there are many missing links in this route. Member countries are working to address the problem areas to make full use of the corridor.

    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.