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INDIA’S NEW GOVERNMENT AND ITS FOREIGN POLICY OPTIONS: An Analysis

Paper No. 1049                06.07.2004

by Dr. Subhash Kapila 

Introductory Observations:

The major determinants of the foreign policy of any nation are its national security interests and its economic interests. Logically, it is these two national interests around which should revolve the various formulations of the country’s foreign policy. Foreign policies of nations do not function in a vacuum insulated by delusional moral and ideological obsessions. Foreign policies perforce, have to take into account the prevailing regional and international strategic realities with which a nation has to strike workable equations based on one’s own existing power attributes and strategic utility to the key global powers. 

India’s foreign policies in the last eight years under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government can be assessed as successful when measured against the above indicators. The BJP Government’s foreign policies did make India “shine” in the international arena, not by delusional rhetoric but by an initial display of power potential by carrying out the nuclear weaponisation in 1998. It was a defining moment. Initial opposition by the United States and others were soon converted into opportunities for strategic partnerships/strategic cooperation with United States, Israel, France, UK, Vietnam and Myanmar. For the first time, even joint naval exercises were held with China. India’s then foreign policies were also successful in bringing significant international pressure on Pakistan to change tack.

Foreign policies of any nation need bi-partisan support, as the country’s national interests do not change with a change of political power. While the economic determinant could change in terms of nuances with a change of Government, the national security determinant cannot and should not, as the strategic perspectives that go into its formulation have to be long range. 

Regrettably, the new Indian Government, led by the Congress Party and through its flip-flop and ill-considered statements  has given indications, that it is all set to undo the foreign policy gains of India in the last eight years. 

The Congress Party’s election manifesto, formulated by its present Foreign Minister reflected the Congress Party’s traditional dislike of the United States and it also reflected this Party’s resentment with the gains made by the BJP Government in terms of evolving a strategic partnership with the United States. It is not the intention here to go into details as the entire spectrum of this aspect stands analysed in great detail in this author’s SAAG Paper No. 1002 dated 17.05.2004, entitled: “United States and India Relations Under The New Congress Coalition Government: An Analysis.” 

In generic terms, India’s new Government has three options open in relation to giving shape to its foreign policies, and these are:

  1. Non-alignment  Foreign Policy.
  2. Independent Foreign Policy.
  3. India’s Inter-dependent Foreign Policy with United States Option.

The ramifications of each are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs. 

Non-Alignment as Foreign Policy Precept:

Non-Alignment was Nehru’s brainchild and the Congress Party’s foreign policy fetish thereafter. Non-Alignment also seems to be the obsessive mind-set of the Congress Party’s present Foreign Minister and many of his genre in the Indian Foreign Service. 

However, even in the heyday of Non-Alignment India was never genuinely non-aligned. It had a marked tilt towards the former Soviet Union, Communist China and the countries of the Communist/Socialist bloc. The key components of India’s non-alignment policies were opposition to United States policies in all the strategic sub-systems of the world. 

The danger today is that a combination of the Congress Party’s attachment of non-alignment combined and seconded by the Communist Parties as leading members of the Congress Coalition Government, and furthered by a Foreign Minister with an obsessive-mindset of non-alignment could veer away India’s foreign policies in this direction. 

The chief manifestations of this option in terms of India’s foreign policy would be:

* United States policies in Greater Middle East, South East Asia and East Asia to be opposed, based more on inclination than substance.

* Enhancement of India’s relations with Russia.

* Enhancement of India’s relations with China in the pursuance of the “Panch Sheel" Concept- a concept much abused by China against India.

* Devaluation of United States-India evolving strategic partnership.

* Military-to-Military contacts with United States to be downplayed. 

Proponents of this foreign policy option, fail to take into account the following ramifications of the above manifestations: 

* Non-Alignment, even in the most genuine form was applicable only in a bi-polar world.                       

* Non-Alignment today exists as “ fossilized remains” of Indian’s delusional foreign policies. 

* India cannot afford politically, strategically or economically to remain at odds with the United States as the “unipolar power”. 

India’s non-alignment years in terms of her foreign policy formulations and attitudes were a national waste both strategically and economically. India’s new Congress Government, in the interests of India’s national security and economic development should not “inflict” this option on India. 

India’s Independent Foreign Policy Option: 

The Congress Party keep freely mixing up and using the word “independent” with “non-alignment”. The two, in the option of the author are entirely different. “Non-Alignment” was a policy precept of the Third World countries, as relatively powerless countries against the Big Powers. 

An “independent foreign policy” precept connotes that a nation has such highly developed national power attributes, that it is not susceptible to political and economic coercion by stronger powers and also that its national power attributes endow on it the strength to chart-out an independent foreign policy without fear of restraint from any quarter. 

India today has not reached the ‘independent foreign policy’ stage as yet due to the following reasons: 

* India’s half-a-century of mis-governance has thwarted the materalisation of its power potential.

* Nearly half-a-century of non-alignment foreign policies has left India with no genuine friends in the international arena. 

* Decades of ineffective national security management has left India with not even regional power capabilities in the Indian sub-continent. 

An “independent foreign policy” option in its most genuine and purist form is presently not available as an option to India. Taking “independent stands” on international issues without the “muscle to back-up it up” does not constitute an “independent foreign policy” It is only rhetoric. 

India’s Inter-Dependent Foreign Policy With United States Option: 

In a globalised world, inter-dependence transcends national barriers not only in the economic field, but also extends to the strategic and political fields. It has also extended itself to the fields of terrorism and crime-syndicates. 

The United States is the world’s predominant power. Its predominance extends in all fields from economics, politics, strategic and control of global financial and energy resources. Its likes and dislikes shape the international strategic realities. No amount of efforts to create a “ multi-polar world” by China or France, for over a decade now, has borne fruit. Why, in fact, China itself rose to ‘super-stardom’ by weaving foreign policies inter-dependent with those of USA in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. 

India has no option today but to follow foreign policies of interdependence with the United States, for the following reasons: 

* India’s economic advancement and consequent rise to regional power status and key global player can only come about with United States strategic and political concurrence.                                   

* India’s economic modernisation and strategic mobility upwards can only be ensured by United States military presence in Pakistan and Greater Middle East. The same would constrain India’s long range threat from China. 

* India’s aspirations to become an “Indian Ocean Power” cannot materialise without convergence with United States national security interests. 

* India’s vast outlay of financial resources for infrastructure and economic development cannot come about without United States direct involvement and goading of international financial institutions. 

India for all practical reasons needs the United States, in terms of materialisation of her national aspirations and protection of her national security interests. 

Concluding Observations:  

India’s foreign policies cannot be made captive to the delusional non-alignment gladiators or India’s Communist Parties who have never been known for their objectivity or to India’s minority Indian Muslims vote banks where every issue is viewed in a pan-Islamic context. 

In today’s global security environment and the international strategic realities likely to persist for the next 50 years, India neither has the luxury nor the time to find new anchors for her foreign policies from the fossilised remains of Nehruvian Non-Alignment or her “presumed power potential” not concretised  so far.

In the last eight years the centre-piece of India’s foreign policy has been the evolution of a strong political and strategic partnership with the United States. United States and India recognized the mutual convergences and imperatives and have been engaged in establishing a substantive bi-lateral relationship. 

India’s national security and economic interests dictate that this is India’s only foreign policy option available. India’s national aspirations can best be met by formulating India’s foreign policy inter-dependent with United States national interests and not in opposition to it   

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila @yahoo.com)

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