The foreign policy of a nation is a reflection of its external outlook and demonstrates its stand on global issues. Every nation gives paramount importance to its national interest while dealing with other nations. The foreign policy of a country depends on a number of factors like its geographical location, economic position, ideological affinity, historical and cultural bonds, religious and ethnic orientation, type of polity and so on.
Earlier, the ideological factor played a key role in global politics. With the triumph of capitalism over socialism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the ideological factor became obsolete.
Every nation designs its foreign policy based on short and long-term goals. While the short-term goals are based on political considerations, the long-term ones rest on economic and strategic interests. In modern-day democracy, the political party in power and its ideology also influence the foreign policy of the day. In parliamentary democracies, during coalition times, multiple parties can exert the influence on the country’s external outlook. The success of the foreign policy of a country depends upon net gains and how well it manages its ties with others.
In the international sphere, powerful nations often use a third player (nation/proxy), given its strategical location, to counter their rivals. Hegemonic powers offer a few concessions, economic and political, to these third players as a part of their game plan of checkmating their opponents. Sometimes, the third player (nation) itself entertains the hegemonic powers to form an alliance to counter its geopolitical and economic adversaries.
Soon after independence, India followed the NAM (Non-Alignment Movement) — a policy of maintaining equidistance from the then superpowers, the US and the USSR. India based its foreign outlook on sound footings like non-violence, co-existence, non-interference and equitable global order. The NAM didn’t mean that India was completely aloof and isolated from the global political scene.
India supported anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggles across the world. The NAM paid rich dividends as it provided India a strategic edge to develop its nascent defence and technological sectors with the support of the two superpowers. This helped India to position itself as a true representative of the developing world. As both these players were not ready to lose this South Asian giant, India successfully made the best use of the NAM strategy.
During the 1970s, with the growing bonhomie between Islamabad and the US, New Delhi revealed its pro-Soviet stance more openly. In the early 1990s, with the change in the global political scenario and complemented by the internal structural adjustments, India leaned towards the US, the unilateral power. By and large, successive governments have continued the pro-US policy.
The US has also been largely successful in building unwarranted fear about the rise of China. The fear about the dominance of Beijing too has grown in New Delhi circles by leaps and bounds, thanks to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
But it is clear that China cannot afford to lose India – a colossal market. It is up to India to cash in on this factor. The bilateral trade between India and China is almost six times more than the latter’s trade with Pakistan. So, the trade factor, which is heavily tilted in favour of China, can be used by India as a bargaining chip in dealing with Beijing.
India had lost its originality and independent position in the domain of foreign policy ever since it started following in the US’ footsteps. The ‘US element’ and Beijing factor have been choking India’s foreign policy from acting independently. India has to be cautious enough while dealing with the US. The US will support India as long as we serve its geostrategic interests in the Indo-pacific region. Excessive dependence on the US and lack of firmness have been acting as hindrances in India’s foreign policy realising its fullest potential.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s foreign policy is in shambles. Although he started on a positive note by inviting the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) leaders to his swearing-in ceremony, the neighbourhood first policy has failed to provide desirable results.
Currently, India’s engagement with its South Asian neighbours is based on the sole motive of countering Beijing rather than cementing ties on a long-term vision. India’s strategy of capitalising on anti-Chinese sentiments among the South Asian nations would be ineffectual, given the close-knit relations between China and the regional players.
Given its strategic interests in the South Asian region, the US has been trying to use India against Beijing. Although the reason for the growing influence of Beijing in the South Asian region could be attributed to its diplomatic and economic prowess, it is equally important to shed light on inherent weakness on the part of India’s approach.
India’s strategy to counter its western neighbour, Pakistan, is futile and unclear. The Saarc summits have been called off regularly and unilaterally by India. Since the Saarc is not just a group of nations but also an embodiment of collective aspirations and hopes of the people of South Asia and a platform to improve economic ties among the South Asian nations, the present ruling dispensation should shed its sloppiness with regard to this time tested grouping. It is preposterous to let geographical disputes impede economic integration in the region.
With respect to Tehran, New Delhi’s strategy is mired in laxity. While the European powers, China and Russia are openly defying the repeated warnings from the US administration and are going ahead to defend their strategic interests in the West Asian region, India is yielding to the pressure of the US. It is in India’s interest to maintain strong diplomatic relations with resource-rich Iran.
(The author is Director, Samudrala VK IAS Academy)
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