Two variables, i.e. domestic and international variables, shape India or any country's foreign policy.
Domestically, the history , culture, geography, and economy of India have played an important role in deciding India's foreign policy priorities and values, while the international dimension is distinguished by the cold war in which NATO and the Warsaw Pact rivalry occurred. Thus, the development of the United Nations, the arms race, particularly the nuclear arms race, anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, etc., have also shaped our foreign policy goals and objectives.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister, took these variables into due consideration and played a leading role in shaping the foreign policy of the country.
Where India stands to date as the outcome of its foreign policies?
- India was viewed in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region as a natural rising power.
- It has cultural and historical relations with Nepal. It enjoyed traditional goodwill and influence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
- In Afghanistan, it has made investments worth billions of dollars and cultivated vibrant relations.
- It had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian connectivity project, with Iran being its gateway.
- At the same time, it competed and cooperated with China, and the long frontier between the two countries remained largely peaceful.
What is the situation for today?
- India may be facing the most severe national security crisis in 20 years, with China shifting the status quo in the western sector along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in its favour.
- Sri Lanka has tilted towards China, which is undertaking massive infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean island.
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, has miffed Bangladesh.
- India is out of the multiparty talks as Afghanistan is undergoing a significant transformation.
- Iran has inaugurated a railway link project connecting the Chabahar port, on the Gulf of Oman, to Zahedan (which India was to have constructed) without India.
- There is a relative decline in the smart power of India, especially in the neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood, which demands a deeper understanding of the trajectory of foreign policy itself.
In India's foreign policy, is there any India-US Closer Alignment?
- In India's strategic autonomy, which pre-dates the current government, steady erosion has taken place. India started to constantly align its policies with U.S. interests as India began to deepen its relationship with the United States.
- The best example is the case of Iran. The agreement was signed in 2003 to build the port of Chabahar. But India was moving slowly under U.S. pressure, even though the project offered India an alternate route to bypass Pakistan in Central Asia.
- India voted at the United Nations against Iran; scuttled an ambitious gas pipeline project; and dramatically cut the trade ties.
- In 2018, when the U.S. withdrawn from the Iran agreement and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, India topped the U.S. side, reducing its oil imports to zero.
- These policy changes coexisted with India’s deepening defense and military ties with the U.S. U.S. wants India to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region to contain China’s rise. While India has steadily deepened military cooperation in the recent past — the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is one example.
- These developments likely altered the assessment of India by Beijing. The border aggression at different points on the LAC could not be a localized conflict; it is part of a larger strategic move.
- Beijing's assessment that India has already become a de facto ally of the U.S. may be one of the reasons for the move.
The perils of hubris
Before announcing that they have arrived, great powers wait to develop their status. After winning the Second World War (with allies), the Soviet Union began to behave like a superpower. It was time for China to bid for four decades before it began to take on the mighty U.S. Its emphasis has almost entirely been on its economic growth since the 1970s. India, at least from these modern examples, can understand.
What India should learn from past experiences?
- Need for greater policy realism: India needs to alter the picture of a reluctant power. India should realise that diplomacy with soft power is not sufficient to protect the country.
- Need for a strong economy: It is not possible to develop an expansionary foreign policy on the outer edge of the global economy. India needs to create a powerful economic base to meet the ambitions of global influence.
- In the backdrop of setbacks, especially in the neighbourhood, India has to reconsider its diplomacy’s trajectory as India’s official policy is that it is committed to multilateralism. Even after India started moving away from non-alignment, which it calls irrelevant in the post -Cold War world order, India should maintain the strategic autonomy as the bedrock of its policy thinking.