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Foreign Policy of India

Foreign Policy of India

Tag: GS 2 || International Relations || Indian Foreign Policy || Challenges of IFP

Why in news?

  • In an unpredictable global environment and with resource constraints, India needs to shape a domestic consensus.

Global developments

  • As Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his second term, the world looks more disorderly in 2019 than was the case five years ago.
    • S. President Donald Trump’s election and the new dose of unpredictability in U.S. policy pronouncements;
    • the trade war between the U.S. and China which is becoming a technology war;
    • Brexit and the European Union’s internal preoccupations;
    • erosion of U.S.-Russia arms control agreements and the likelihood of a new arms race covering nuclear, space and cyber domains;
    • the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and
    • growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are some of the developments that add to the complexity of India’s principal foreign policy challenge of dealing with the rise of China.

India’s redefined neighbourhood

  • Neighbourhood focus: As in 2014, in 2019 too Mr. Modi began his term with a neighbourhood focus but redefined it.
    • In 2014, all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders had been invited for the swearing-in.
    • However, the SAARC spirit soon evaporated, and after the Uri attack in 2016, India’s stance affected the convening of the SAARC summit in Islamabad.
  • Leaders of BIMSTEC invited: Since an invitation to Pakistan was out of the question, leaders from –
    • the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand)
    • with Kyrgyzstan, added as current Shanghai Cooperation Organisation chair, highlighted a new neighbourhood emphasis.

Pakistan factor

  • Dialogue with Pakistan: Unless the Modi government wants to outsource crisis management to external players, it may be better to have some kind of ongoing dialogue between the two countries.
    • This could be low-key and discreet, at whatever level considered appropriate, as long as no undue expectations are generated.
    • A policy in-between diplo-hugs and no-communication provides both nuance and leverage.
  • Cannot ignore Pakistan fully: Yet India will find it difficult to ignore Pakistan. A terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out and it would attract kinetic retaliation.
    • Despite good planning there is always the risk of unintended escalation as Balakot (this year) and the downing of an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 showed.
    • In the absence of communication channels between India and Pakistan, it appears that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played a role in ensuring the quick release of the IAF pilot, Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, thereby defusing the situation.

India’s priorities

  • Broad-based consent: Relations with countries on our periphery, irrespective of how we define our neighbourhood, will always be complex and need deft political management.
    • Translating India’s natural weight in the region into influence was easier in a pre-globalised world and before China emerged in its assertive avatar.
    • Today, it is more complex and playing favourites in the domestic politics of neighbours is a blunt instrument that may only be employed, in the last resort; and if employed it cannot be seen to fail.
    • Since that may be difficult to ensure, it is preferable to work on the basis of generating broad-based consent rather than dominance.
  • Diplomatic efforts: This necessitates using multi-pronged diplomatic efforts and being generous as the larger economy.
  • Neighbourhood organizations: It also needs a more confident and coordinated approach in handling neighbourhood organisations — SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Bangladesh, the Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation, the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
    • This should be preferably in tandem with bilateralism because our bilateral relations provide us with significant advantages.
    • With all our neighbours, ties of kinship, culture and language among the people straddle boundaries, making the role of governments in States bordering neighbours vital in fostering closer linkages.
    • This means investing attention in State governments, both at the political and bureaucratic levels.

China factor

  • China will remain the most important issue, as in 2014.
  • Prime Minister Modi went along with the old policy since the Rajiv Gandhi period that focussed on –
    • growing economic, commercial and cultural relations
    • while managing the differences on the boundary dispute through dialogue and confidence-building measures, in the expectation that this would create a more conducive environment for eventual negotiations.
      • Underlying this was a tacit assumption that with time, India would be better placed to secure a satisfactory outcome.
      • It has been apparent for over a decade that the trajectories were moving in the opposite direction and the gap between the two was widening.
    • Doklam stand-off: For PM Modi, the Doklam stand-off was a rude reminder of the reality that the tacit assumption behind the policy followed for three decades could no longer be sustained.
    • Wuhan summit: The informal summit in Wuhan restored a semblance of calm but does not address the long-term implications of the growing gap between the two countries.
    • Rivalry between U.S. and China: There is the growing strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China unfolding on our doorstep.
      • India no longer has the luxury of distance to be non-aligned.
      • At the same time, the U.S. is a fickle partner and never has it been more unpredictable than at present.

Way ahead

  • Expanding foreign policy: These require domestic decisions in terms of expanding the foreign policy establishment though having a seasoned professional at the top does help.
  • Coordination among the different ministries : We need to ensure far more coordination among the different ministries and agencies than has been the case so far. Our record in implementation projects is patchy at best and needs urgent attention.
  • Focus on neighbourhood: The focus on the neighbourhood is certainly desirable, for only if we can shape events here can we look beyond.
  • Dealing with China: The fact that China too is part of the neighbourhood compounds Mr. Modi’s foreign policy challenges in his second term.
  • Employing external balancing to create a conducive regional environment is a new game that will also require building a new consensus at home.

Mains question

  • India needs to realign or reset its foreign policy approach in the face of evolving global equations. Analyze.