Foreign policy showcases a country’s outlook towards the world as well as the outlook of the world towards it. It strengthens the nation’s frontiers, establishes its prominence as well as secures it domestically to comfortably implement domestic policies and plans. It has been of relevance since ancient times and is carried forward with successive additions and subtractions in its method to secure pre-planned goals.
In the case of India, it started inadvertently with the offset of World War I & II, when the soldiers of Indian army fought neck to neck with the allied forces to keep the central as well as axis powers at bay, respectively. Such moments of intimate bonding at the time of crisis deepened our relationship with the allied participants and secured us long time goodwill. Simultaneously, the participation of few sections of our Indian independence struggle soldiers in the Axis powers to fight against the British Empire secured us good relations with the other side. Socialist as well as communist leanings of our revolutionaries secured close proximity towards erstwhile USSR, Eastern Europe as well as China to some extent. India participated and became the founder member of the United Nations, therefore giving a voice to the cause of independence and securing the trust of international community to protect human rights abuse by the colonial masters. With the advent of the period of decolonization, India secured a hand of friendship with almost all colonized countries ranging from Asia to Africa and thus, India became a virtual leader of the so-called ‘Third World’ because of our participation in their struggle for independence. After India secured independence, our foresighted forefathers decided to stay as a member of the ‘Commonwealth’ grouping, thereby securing us the forum dedicated especially for the United Kingdom’s colonies to strengthen our foreign policy objectives.
How did we secure our interests in the dynamic and fast changing world of that era? The biggest pragmatic move was to announce and establish a forum of ‘Non-Alignment’ with likeminded countries, which established an independent policy towards the bipolar world and thereby quashing the superimposed congruency and dictates of the powerful blocs. It virtually established a third world with India as its leader. Since independence era, India did not support of setting up any pre-conditions for the establishment of bilateral relationships and therefore, we treated everyone equally well, regardless of their political structure. Non-alignment, non-interference, non-colonizer attitude secured us the trust of the marginally snubbed countries, having an insatiable hunger to make them heard in multilateral forums like the United Nations. We carried their voice and tried to secure equality in international operations.. By establishing a close relationship with USSR, we maintained a regional balance of power that helped us during 1965 and 1971 wars and Pokhran nuclear tests in 1974 especially. No first-use policy of nuclear warheads secured us a tag of being a ‘responsible nuclear capable’ nation. In the case of neighbors, India supported the offset of democratic transitions, secured human rights and promulgated peaceful coexistence among the South Asian neighborhood. ‘Gujral doctine’ reinstated our belief in non-interference, no big brother attitude, prominence to bilateral talks as well as mutual trust and respect between India and its neighbors. India’s relations with the West Asia (and Middle East) ensured strengthening of bilateral ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and independent relationships with all the major players in the region and a special support for the cause of Palestine, since 1950s. The goodwill earned during decolonization days and our support for their freedom struggle secured good relationship with the African Union and frequent high level visits as well as Indian technical and monetary support to the region reassures our commitment to the African prosperity. As a fellow member of the BRICS power bloc, India established good relations with not just Brazil but with the whole South American and Caribbean nations which dates back to erstwhile USSR days. Special emphasis on establishing ties with Japan and other South East Asian nations; even to the commonality of struggle against undemocratic Chinese muscle flexing has secured us high respect in the region. India’s relationship with Oceania and Pacific Islands group were strengthened by Commonwealth participation as well as the presence of huge and prosperous Indian Diaspora in the region. Friendship and peace treaties with USSR secured us good relationship with the Eastern Europe and historical relationship with the United Kingdom and Germany, and colonization experience of Dutch, French and Portuguese secured us the trust of West European nations. But in modern times, trade with the European Union guides our relationship to a level of prosperity and mutual trust and respect. In the nut-shell, India secured a well established and goodwill oriented relationship with most parts of the world.
Then, where does the problem lie? Despite establishing and maintaining strong relationship bilaterally as well as multilaterally with the world community, India failed to secure the trust of the South Asian region which is our immediate neighborhood. The region still sees us with an eye of doubt and tries to unite against our ‘perceived’ big brother attitude. Mishandling of bilateral relationship with Pakistan and China from both sides have led to huge suspicion and establishment of power blocs in the South Asian as well as Indian Ocean region. Sometimes, there has been sluggish response to foreign policy threats emanating from our neighborhood from the undemocratic muscle flexing of the adversaries. We also failed to secure prosperity in the South Asian region that may have circumscribed the violence, drug and human trafficking as well as terrorism issues. The sluggish response to the diplomatic moves of our undemocratic adversaries have forced us to open the Indian Ocean for the participation of non-regional members in the name of joint maritime and naval exercises. Our sense of care is being perceived as internal interference which is breeding lack of trust which pushes forward political imbalances and gives huge bargaining power to our neighbors at the cost of our strategic autonomy. Going beyond the region, expectants in the South East Asian regions are gradually disavowing our leadership to secure channels of trade and communication through the South China Sea. India has failed to secure substantial outcomes in its quest to admit itself as the permanent member of the reformed United Nations Security Council. Less emphasis to the volatile regions such as Africa as well as South America and Caribbean is pushing us backward to years in our foreign policy objectives, keeping in mind that these regions could become the next bone of contentions due to the presence of immense natural resources there.
But what are the material responses to our foreign policy that may ultimately help us secure peace and stability in the region as well as domestically? The clear cut policy of India to disengage itself from the political conflict of Sunni-Shia in the West Asian region has secured us long term peace and stability in our region, especially in domestic politics. Non-membership (permanent) in the UNSC has allowed us to abstain from expressing our views on the issues confronting the world community, which otherwise could have had strategic implications on our foreign policy. Being the largest defence equipment importer in the world, India has successfully secured long term peace and domestic stability because interference in India could jeopardize the largest defence market in the world. India has successfully secured a semi-permanent system of alliances to establish a strong balance of power in the Indian Ocean as well as South Asian region, especially to counter the undemocratic rise of China.
But still there is an existence of multiple lacunas in our foreign policy objectives that may prove detrimental to our interests in the future. Strong worded protests to the political structure of Nepal have bred an anti-India feeling among the locals of Nepal, even though India wants to save it from replicating the historical Sri Lankan blunder. Mishandling of relationship with Pakistan from both sides has promulgated suspicion and jeopardized security in the region and most importantly activated the secessionist elements in domestic politics. Over-enthusiasm to establish diplomatic and military cooperation with the West has put our relations with our long term ally, Russia at stake. Little emphasis on the African continent has allowed vested interests to breed in the region which are threatening our strategic interests there. Such vested interests are virtually neo-colonizing the region and embezzling precious natural resources from the region.The contemporary world is marching towards a diplomatic shift in alliances with the emergence of multiple strong participants in the field of diplomacy. In order to secure our strategic interests in the region as well as in multilateral forums, we need to expand our horizons to include far off and left over places, otherwise the dream of a reformed UNSC would be a ‘faux pas’. For India to take the lead of the region in multilateral forums, promulgating our soft power diplomacy by including various stakeholders and establishing people-to-people contacts even with the world of violence and rampage is required. The road to prosperity passes through the diplomatic channels of communication and ends with securing our strategic interests worldwide. The roads ahead look rosy but before the petals dry, let us travel through it cautiously to achieve our desired objectives.