Be Smart, Keep Old Friends Close: What India’s Foreign Policy Should Be

Posted by Rahul Thapa in GlobeScope, Politics
January 15, 2017

The American historian and social activist Howard Zinn said, “In the United States today, the Declaration of Independence hangs on schoolroom walls, but foreign policy follows Machiavelli.”

But the above statement applies to not just the United States but every country that harbours superpower aspirations. India has always been seen as a peace loving and non-confrontational country and rightly so. However, in the quest to achieve a greater global footprint, New Delhi needs to assert itself.

Since, the coming of the new NDA regime, the Prime Minister has visited 42 countries as of July 2016. Our foreign policy too has seen a radical change from Look East to Act East. China’s ‘String of Pearls‘ theory has been countered by engaging with countries like Suriname, Fiji, Mongolia and Mexico either through diplomacy or by reviving historical ties.

With the issue of South China Sea (SCS) flaring up between the United States and China over the control of a resource-rich $5 trillion trade area, particular, Spratly and Paracel islands; India is expected to engage actively in the South East Asia region.

Countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka have been critical of India’s big brother attitude which New Delhi must address to assuage any fears.

Also with the world being on the brink of a Cold War 2.0 it is imperative for India again to meditate and appease it’s one time all-weather partner and traditional ally in Russia, and it’s new found strategic partner, the United States. India being a founding member of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that steered clear at the height of Cold War will be expected to play a conscious, proactive role.

Also the muddle in the Middle East, whether it be the relations between Israel and Palestine, the refugee influx or the growing radicalism, New Delhi definitely needs to stay focused in channelising its own sway without attracting any wrath.

Our foreign policy is designed keeping in mind historic relevance and economic, military and cultural aspects are also considered. However, there is also a need to ensure that a clear definition of bilateral and strategic relationships are put in place.

A bilateral relation is a diplomatic channel between two countries that is aimed at fostering ties either in economics, culture and political overtures mainly aimed at creating newer and improved ties. In contrast to this, a strategic relationship encompasses a wide array in defense, economics, cultural and politics thereby making these countries allies, in war and peace.

Since India’s first strategic partnership with France, it has now over 30 such partnerships with various countries, most recently with Rwanda. New Delhi, therefore, needs to give specially focus on these strategic partnerships. Therefore it should ensure that by enhancing  strategic ties with other countries it cannot afford to dilute the importance of the relationship with other traditional allies like Russia and United States.

As diplomacy and foreign relations are dynamic and they evolve with time, it is therefore, imperative for India to enhance its workforce in foreign affairs in various missions and in ambassadorial roles. Presently, the workforce majorly comes from the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) conducted by the UPSC, however the intake is at the bare minimum with only the top 30 or so in the position who become IFS probationers. The government did call for a proposal to include the lateral entry of professors and experts into the service however the decision was put on the back burner due to protests. But if India needs to enhance its global outreach it is therefore imperative to have greater prominence and exposure.

Also there is a considerable amount of Indian population in the Gulf and the Middle East and with the political situation remaining sensitive. it is with greater urgency that we must enable and train our foreign squads for missions in these areas to handle evacuations and handle hostage situations. The most recent operation in Yemen showed the gravity of the situation where the Indian mission in Djibouti was used as a stopover due to the inability of the intelligence to reach to an agreement with the Houthis rebels and the Yemeni government supported by Saudi Arabia making the entire operation risky but nonetheless successful.

An even bigger threat is the rise of extremism in places like Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria, where the fate of many Indian workers and expats remain uncertain. India is therefore completely dependent on Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran to secure the release of their expats should a hostage situation arise.

As the father of diplomacy Metternich once said, “when Paris sneezes Europe catches a cold“. Similarly India should assert itself diplomatically without being overtly dependent on countries, so that it doesn’t catch a cold when others sneeze.


Image source: Etienne Oliveau, Pool/Getty  Images