Foreign Policy Priorities for the new government

Seshadri Chari

india_pak400While protecting national interest is our stated foreign policy direction, promoting the universal values, ethics and the eternal cultural ethos of India are the core principles of our foreign policy initiative. We have witnessed the consequences of divorcing pragmatism in the singular pursuit of morality and values in international affairs. Repeated aggressions and incursions into our territory and near isolation was the price India had to pay for adhering to the principles of ‘Panchsheel’ and value based relations with neighbours.

Foreign policy formulations are increasingly being influenced by economic and military might of the respective country and also the authority that it can exert in regions far and near. While India’s economic clout was next to nil, as a matter of principle, India did not attach much importance to military prowess. Many decades after the infamous World Wars, the technologically sophisticated and therefore high cost of wars is another determining factor of foreign policy, India being no exception. Foreign policy has become even more complicated with the addition of nuclear edge to weaponry, countries engaging in economic warfare through cornering resources, need to negotiating climate change and carbon credit restrictions & conditionalities of international lending agencies, not to mention cruising through the confusing labyrinth of bilateral and multilateral trade set ups.

The federal structure of India subjects her foreign policy to the dictates of domestic political dynamics. Also, governments in the past few decades have to balance between inclusive growth, economic liberalisation and international economic and political situations, without compromising with territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

The complexity of national, regional and global issues has made the foreign policy making in India an intricate exercise involving not just the best of brains and invaluable inputs from think tanks, but also a greater extent of cohesion and consensus on views between the major political parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party has always supported the foreign policy initiatives of the government of the day with national interest and solidarity in mind but without compromising with its independent stand on some matters.

India’s foreign policy with reference to China has to take into account the factors of comrade, contender and a competitor, all at a time leading to improvement in relations amidst mistrust. With the economic shift towards Asia, an emergent China is a challenge for India. The ambiguity of political command structure, growing unrest inside China and in Tibet, army-civil conflicts on modernisation are factors that stimulate China to take an aggressive stand in the region, the Indian Ocean area, Pacific and also in Southern waters antagonising Japan and other South Asian powers.

For historical reasons, India’s foreign policy has remained Pakistan-centric for long and now growing China-Pakistan nexus compounds the policy challenges for India. Pakistan’s political uncertainty, radicalised army, intolerant fundamentalist groups, unbridled non-state actors, undeclared policy of using terrorism as a state policy and seemingly qualifying for the failed state tag, throws up a formidable challenge for us. However much we may wish Pakistan well, we need to put in place a series of strategies and an effective response mechanism to deal with any eventuality in our Western front.

West Asia, home to about five million Indians and accounting for nearly seventy percent of our energy supply is in turmoil, taking us off guard, testing our strategic balance and challenging our engagement with countries influenced by the ‘Arab Spring’. The delicate balance that we maintained all these years while dealing with West Asia amidst Iran-Saudi Arabia, Iran-Israel, Israel-Palestine issues, seems to be spinning out of hands. We need to increase our engagement with West Asia and work towards forging an independent energy security policy through effective diplomatic and economic initiatives, deftly displaying non-involvement and non-alienation at the same time.

Africa and South East Asia are two regions where India has immense goodwill and growth potential. But sadly, we seem to have lost out in our initiatives due to sloppy foreign policy approach and gross neglect of strategic endeavours. There is an urgent need to initiate course correction and pursue a more pro-active policy in these areas to increase resource mobilisation and build bridges afresh. Central Asia, Russia and our engagement with BRICS also calls for a spirited approach and a fresh look.

The European Union experiment is yet to develop a viable common foreign policy but this does not allow India any liberty to sit back and relax. The EU’s averred objective of exporting democracy, human rights and free market economy as foreign policy initiatives are not we are looking for but we need to work out a feasible methodology to deal with the EU, both bilaterally and as a trade block.

US continues to remain a solitary power block willing to turn towards India to forge greater strategic partnership and in the process providing a roadmap for us to redefine the balance of power in the region to our best advantage while retaining our principled autonomy.

India’s strength is in being a soft power amidst hard power diplomacy practiced by so-called super powers. In a multi-polar world a mix of soft and hard power options exercised to an optimum level would produce better results for India in achieving her avowed goals of forging an integrated humanistic approach for sustainable universal development. India’s foreign policy has to reflect this inner strength and withstand the pressures of the outside world, to balance our national interest and work in the larger interest of the global society.

(The author is Jt. Director, Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) and Director, Forum for Strategic & security Studies (FSSS). He is the National Convener of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP. Email: charidr@gmail.com