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(The following article is from the Millennium issue of NEW INDIA DIGEST - Nov. 1999 to February 2000)


Indian Foreign Policy


J. N. Dixit

    The capacity of our foreign policy to cope with these broad trends in the international situation is inextricably linked with our current politico-economic and social predicament. The positive ingredients of this predicament during the little more than 50 years of our existence as an independent country are that we remain committed to carrying on the processes of national consolidation and governance through democratic means. We have ensured food security for our unmanageably vast population, maintained our political cohesion and unity and (barring the loss of territory at the end of the 1962 Sino-Indian war) sustained our territorial unity and integrity. We are endowed with natural resources and technologically qualified manpower and have had a general consensus in regard to perception of our national interests and our foreign policy orientation.

    Despite the shortcomings in our foreign policy, we have sustained a practical working relationship with most of our neighbours and with the majority of the countries of the world. Even where there are abiding adversarial relations with one or two of our neighbours, we have managed to prevent them from degenerating into military confrontation at least over the last two and a half decades of this century.

    On the negative side, the quality of politics in India has declined in many vital respects. Efforts at national consolidation and reconstruction have made very slow progress notably in the fields of education, public health and infrastructural economic capacities, controlling the rising curve of ethno-linguistic and religious fissiparous and secessionist tendencies and the unmanageable increase in our population. (The most optimistic estimate is that by the year 2050, India’s population will stabilise at around 1.5 billion).

    Our relations with most of our neighbours remain subject to undercurrents of tensions, related to specific issues or the perceptions about us in our neighbourhood regarding our hegemonic intentions. We are generally considered a soft state with the additional problem of our exaggerated sense of self and our unrealistic desire to be acknowledged as a leading nation unrelated to the perceptions about our political stability, or the substance of our economic, technological and military power. This listing of inadequacies is necessary as they constitute a barrier of limitations on our capacity to structure a foreign policy capable of meeting the challenges ahead.

    What then are the tasks ahead? And what can we do to fulfil them? Ensuring the continuity, unity and territorial integrity of the Indian Republic is a matter of the highest priority in this respect. The certainties, which animated our national struggle for freedom and the initial idealism about India’s national unity, stand eroded with the passage of time. Ethno-centric, linguistic and religious centrifugal tendencies have challenged the unity of India, be it in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab or the North-Eastern States. These tendencies, combined with territorial claims of neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and China, remain a threat to be coped with. The foreign policy dimension of the problem is that such forces find encouragement from foreign countries and foreign sources. The threat is not limited to claims articulated by neighbouring states such as Pakistan or China, but this threat forms the undercurrent of orientations in strategic policies of important countries such as the United States and the more cohesive nation-states and regional groupings.

    Our foreign policy would have to assiduously create a regional atmosphere and equations with important power centres of the world, which would prevent external encouragement to the inherent centrifugal tendencies affecting our polity. This step would involve an imaginative responsiveness to the aspirations of different segments of the Indian people and nurturing at least a non-adversarial, if not friendly, relationship with our neighbours and establishing a pattern of relations with important power centres of the world within the framework of which they will perceive a united India serving their broad economic and strategic interests. There will have to be decisive, even coercive, resistance to separatist forces originating from other countries and foreign agencies. This is not an a priori predication that India will continuously face a confrontationist situation with the international community. It is only emphasising that we must be aware of undercurrents of political realities in evolving international equations.

    The second important objective of India’s foreign policy would be to ensure an atmosphere of peace and stability in which India can focus on its economic development and can also cope with the complex problems affecting the well being of our people. This process would involve not only the fashioning of an appropriate domestic economic policy, but also the formulation of a "foreign economic policy" which would ensure the necessary financial, technological and foreign trade inputs to meet India’s developmental requirements in the broadest sense of the term. In terms of present calculations, India needs an investment of roughly 80 billion US dollars per annum in the infrastructure sector of its economy (energy, surface transport, ports, power generation, telecommunications and so on). Moreover, foreign policy has a vital role to play in creating peace and stability in our region and ensuring India’s image as an attractive economic partner in the process of global cooperation to meet the aforementioned objective.

    The third objective to be aimed at would be to create national defence capacities to protect India’s unity and territorial integrity, a capacity which should primarily rely on our resources and our own technologies, but which should also be based on a balanced and sufficiently diversified pattern of external inputs in a manner wherein India does not become excessively dependent on one country or the other or one group of countries or the other. This precautionary step would involve calibrating our nuclear weaponisation and missile policies and policies related to the structuring of the three wings of our armed forces on lines which would be responsive to changing international power equations and technological developments. The overall aim should be to nurture and develop our strengths without going in for confrontation and without being isolated to the extent possible. This exercise would involve diplomatic skill, tact and flexibility of the highest order, in the context of the developing international situation, where the more important powers are aiming at fashioning a world order, which will perpetuate their pre-eminent position.

    The fourth objective would be to strengthen regional cooperation and to work for mutually beneficial equations between the South Asian and other regional groups and associations, so that regional cooperation becomes an instrumentality not only for peace and stability but also for long-term security and economic well being.

    The fifth objective would be to strengthen the UN, its organs and its specialised agencies keeping in mind two goals: first, to enable the UN to truly reflect the interests and aspirations of the majority of its membership and, second, to restrict to the extent possible the UN's becoming an instrumentality of superpower policies. All issues affecting UN reforms should be dealt with, keeping these goals in mind. This task is not going to be easy, given the present indications of UN reforms being undertaken in a selective and elitist manner based on the orientations of the more influential powers.

    India beseeching a permanent seat on the Security Council is not the solution. India should become strong enough in every respect and should attract sufficient voluntary support from the general membership of the UN and, based on this strength, it should become an influential voice at the UN. As this process would take time, in the interim phase, India should use its influence to make the IN more democratic by advocating the cause of greater representation for the smaller countries in the important organs of the UN and its agencies.

    The sixth task would be to undertake the necessary organisational and institutional reforms in the Ministry of External Affairs and the creation of institutional mechanisms for interdepartmental coordination and consultation, and creation of a National Security Council with clearly defined responsibilities and powers.

    The seventh short-or medium-term task would be for India to focus on managing its relations with Pakistan and China, so that the inherent tensions in its relations with these countries do not affect our vital interests. Also, a special relationship with the United States, Russia and Japan should be fashioned in the context of their undoubted political influence and economic clout which is likely to last into the twenty-first century.

    If India remains united, becomes politically stable and economically and technologically strong, it could acquire a leverage in playing an important role in international relations.

    First and foremost should be a focus on dealing with macro-level problems such as population control, environment management and economic development. Creating a strong Indian economy in the mainstream of international economic trends would lay the foundation for resisting intrusive international pressure or competition. India should acquire limited nuclear weapons and IRBM capacities to a level where regional or global powers would accept that generating pressure on India would not be worthwhile. The Indian army, air force and navy should be strengthened sufficiently to prevent military actions of the type which Iran and Iraq faced in the 1980s and 1990s. India should retain the freedom of option to adjust to external strategic threats and economic challenges detrimental to its interests.

    India, therefore, would face a complex world in the twenty-first century in which it has to survive with just a little over 50 years of experience as a modern nation-state. This survival has to be ensured in the context of the abiding reality in international relations that governments of great and influential powers command resources and military strengths that they use primarily to fulfil their perceived interests. As far as the international order consists of nation-states, which act in terms of their institutional strengths, economic resources and technological capacities, foreign relations will remain a competitive phenomenon, occasionally prone to confrontations. India’s foreign policy, therefore, has to predicate itself on realpolitik rather than on purely moral considerations, or an idealistic worldview, however desirable the latter may be.

    (This article is from the Millennium issue of NEW INDIA DIGEST - Nov. 1999 to February 2000)

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