Posts Tagged ‘indian foreign policy’
I’ve written a piece for the World Politics Review about the role of strategic forecasting in Indian foreign policy thinking and foreign policy making. It draws on the main works written in India over the past decade or so and assesses their main ideas, quality and utility within policy-making circles. Here are a few first paragraphs on what the main thesis was:
With its rich civilizational history and long tradition of argumentation, India is no stranger to grand strategy. In 300 B.C., Chanakya, better known as Kautilya, the main adviser to King Chandragupta during the Mauryan Dynasty, wrote “The Arthaashastra,” a treatise on statecraft, military strategy and economic policy still referred to by many strategists today.
Yet many foreigners and Indians alike have noted that this tradition of strategic thinking has not found its way into contemporary Indian foreign policy. In 1992, the American analyst George Tanham famously wrote (.pdf) that India had “produced little formal strategic thinking and planning.” Pratab Bhanu Mehta, an influential academic and current head of the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi, has noted not only the lack of a “grand strategy” in Indian foreign policy thinking, but also the absence of traditional foreign policy drivers, such as the quest for power. The concept of nonalignment championed by India’s first prime minister, Jawarhal Nehru, which advocated preserving India’s freedom to act by not aligning it to any bloc or alliance, did serve as a guidepost for Indian foreign policy during the Cold War decades of superpower rivalry. However, the end of the Cold War left India without a clear foreign policy strategy for the dramatically changed global order that followed.
That has begun to change over the past decade or so, which has seen a proliferation of high-quality works devoted to Indian foreign policy strategy that provide a window on how India’s strategic thinkers view the world and India’s role in it in the next few decades. In more recent works, there has also been a concerted attempt to either conduct or draw upon rigorous strategic forecasting as part of the analysis and to integrate differing global scenarios into charting India’s future foreign policy strategy. A survey of what is being written and what is being said by Indian officials also suggests that foreign policy thinking by India’s strategic community is in the early stages of being integrated into the making and articulation of actual foreign policy. Though the extent of this congruency is difficult to measure and will probably be more visible only after another decade, these early signs are nonetheless promising.
You can read it on the WPR website here.
The 4 February vote on the Syrian crisis at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has led many commentators to declare a ‘watershed’ in Indian foreign policy.
Instead of abstaining — as it has usually done on questions regarding the Arab Spring — India voted in favour of the resolution. This has been interpreted by some as a foreign policy shift to support the West, and by others as a sign of India’s emerging power on the world stage.
But India’s vote at the UNSC is largely consistent with the cautious stance it has maintained throughout the entire Syrian crisis. From the beginning, the Indian position on Syria has focused on three things: first, condemnation of all violence and human rights violations irrespective of who the perpetrators are; second, encouraging a peaceful and inclusive political process for the resolution of the current crisis; and third, ensuring that Syria itself leads the resolution, with the latter taking into account the aspirations of all Syrians and respecting the country’s sovereignty.
India’s first official statement on Syria at the UNSC in April 2011 embodied this balance, highlighting the ramifications of ‘prolonged instability’ in the country, but also drawing attention to the fact that both sides of the conflict have committed acts of violence. When India, Brazil and South Africa visited senior officials in Damascus in August 2011, New Delhi reaffirmed its commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, condemned violence from all sides and encouraged President Assad to end violence and introduce political reforms. This balance continued when India abstained from a UN Human Rights Council vote on Syria later that month, noting that finger-pointing was no substitute for constructive dialogue.
Even as the death toll climbed later in the year and it became clear the Assad regime had no intention of reforming, India abstained during a UNSC resolution in October 2011, resisting substantial Western pressure. In explaining his country’s vote, Hardeep Puri, India’s permanent representative to the UN, said the threat of sanctions did not accommodate New Delhi’s concerns and the resolution did not condemn the violence perpetrated by the Syrian opposition. The October resolution was subsequently vetoed by Russia and China.
Many see India’s decision to vote for the UNSC resolution this February, rather than abstaining, as signalling a dramatic departure from its habitual Syria policy. They cite various reasons, including the West’s increased pressure on New Delhi, the growing death toll in Syria and India’s growing realisation that its energy interests in the Gulf states ultimately matter more. Yet the facts suggest continuity rather than change in India’s position. As Indian officials repeatedly mentioned when explaining their vote, New Delhi only decided to support the resolution after its reservations regarding regime change, sanctions and military intervention were addressed and the resolution’s language was watered down. Far from bowing to Western pressure, India was part of a group of countries working to resist it. In fact, according to some accounts, the resolution was so weak that even Russia considered supporting it until the collapse of last minute talks with the US.
As if to confirm the consistency of the Indian position, Vinay Kumar, India’s acting permanent representative to the UN, reiterated New Delhi’s long-held policy on Syria on 13 February. He expressed concern over the present situation, condemning violence from all sides, and called for a peaceful and inclusive political process led by the Syrian people. Contrary to some who read India’s latest UNSC vote as an abandonment of the Assad regime or an alignment with Western positions on Syria, Kumar noted that India believed ‘the leadership of Syria is a matter for the Syrian people to decide’. India also attended the 70-member ‘Friends of Syria’ conference in Tunis as an observer soon after the UNSC vote.
While there remains a chance that India’s position on Syria will shift in the future, this seems doubtful at present. Much like its silence on other questions regarding the Arab Spring — from Libya to Bahrain to Egypt — India is trying to walk a tightrope and avoid taking bold stances. And while there may be many at home and abroad who wish that New Delhi were more assertive in its foreign policy, they should not be surprised if they continue to be disappointed, or fool themselves into seeing change where none exists.
This article was originally published at the East Asia Forum.
With the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue concluding earlier this month, what does the future look like for the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies? I consider this question in a piece for World Politics Review. I’ve pasted it below.
The Future of U.S.-India Relations
Judging by the atmospherics on display during last week’s inaugural U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, the bilateral relationship between the two countries appears to be on solid footing. U.S. Under Secretary for Public Affairs William Burns called the relationship “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of a joint responsibility to “determine the course of the world.” U.S. President Barack Obama even made a surprise visit at the dialogue’s reception, and announced that he would visit New Delhi in November.
Yet this flowery rhetoric masks the complex realities of what has been and continues to be a testy relationship between Washington and New Delhi. Even today, Indians worry that the United States is cozying up to Pakistan and China at their expense, while some in Washington charge that India is too caught up with its “neighborhood” concerns to assert its influence on the world stage. If the two countries hope to forge a stronger partnership in the 21st century, they will have to navigate past sharp disagreements and bridge wide perception gaps.
Divergent interests kept India and the United States estranged during the Cold War. India’s policy of “moral nonalignment” in the 1950s was viewed in Washington as immoral, while the U.S. arming of Pakistan after 1954 as part of a global containment policy engendered much mistrust in New Delhi. Estrangement continued through the 1970s and 1980s, as India drifted toward the Soviet camp, while the U.S. pursued rapprochement with China and armed Pakistan to undermine the USSR. While the end of the Cold War did lead to some bilateral cooperation, including joint military exercises in the 1990s, India’s nuclear test in 1998 — which it viewed as retaliation for Pakistan’s nuclear tests — drew Washington’s ire. It was only with the signing of the civilian nuclear deal under the Bush administration in 2008 that the relationship began to really take off.
Both sides now realize that there are manifold areas in which to pursue functional cooperation. Economically, India’s blistering growth rates and role in the G-20 means that it is unquestionably a global economic power, with room for expanding bilateral trade, investment, as well as educational linkages. Strategically, Washington views India as a counterbalance to Chinese hegemony in Asia, even if New Delhi is itself at times reluctant to play this role. Both the United States and India are among the world’s top-five greenhouse gas emitters and have been victims of extremism, and are thus vital to solutions on climate change and terrorism. India’s geographic proximity to the Indian Ocean and status as the world’s fifth-largest navy also means that opportunities exist for further cooperation in the maritime domain, from disaster relief to anti-piracy operations and joint patrols. Beyond these interests, both are also large, vibrant democracies.
Yet discord continues to persist. The two countries often lock horns on trade and climate issues, and there is still bad blood surrounding both the collapse of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2008 and the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009, where New Delhi is said to have colluded with China to obstruct any meaningful outcome. More recently, Indians have hissed at the Obama administration for interfering in the “internal” Kashmir issue, carelessly signing off on a joint U.S.-China role in South Asia (which India considers its neighborhood), and turning a blind eye on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and nuclear activities in exchange for Islamabad’s cooperation in Afghanistan. The United States, for its part, laments India’s more-conciliatory position on Iran and its inability to even pass the requisite legislation for civil nuclear cooperation to begin.
As Jasmeet Ahuja, a staff member for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told a conference at the American Enterprise Institute recently, “India needs to think strategically about how to engage. . . . If India does not want to, there isn’t much more that the U.S. can do.”
Forging a strategic partnership will require both sides to find a way to compromise on these issues and address their respective concerns, while also managing perception gaps. While India sees the world from the prism of “strategic autonomy” and views itself as a great power and civilization, the United States is used to relationships where it has the dominant voice. Despite the vast asymmetry in terms of material capabilities, both nations engage in preachy moralism, and neither is used to adopting a deferent attitude. Learning to deal with each other amid vibrant media communities and noisy democracies is a challenge in and of itself. The United States must understand and at times accommodate India’s perception of its “inherent greatness,” as India scholar Stephen Cohen once put it. But India similarly needs to comprehend that it is only one of many priorities on the U.S. agenda, and that other interests may at times take precedence.
Washington is often critical of New Delhi’s unwillingness to assume — or ambivalence about — a global role, or to think strategically beyond its immediate neighborhood. At a Brookings Institution event last week, Indian journalist Gautham Adhikari plainly admitted that “India does not have a strategic view of the world,” and urged New Delhi to formulate a comprehensive vision for its foreign policy. At the same time, Washington must grasp the fact that India is still grappling with a complex set of domestic challenges, from poverty that affects a third of its population to a growing Maoist insurgent threat, and external challenges that include a terrorism threat from Pakistan and unresolved border issues with China. Such a full plate understandably weighs New Delhi down and restricts its ability to assert a global presence.
A strong basis for cooperation exists between the United States and India, both in principle and on specific issues. But solidifying a strategic partnership in the 21st century will require compromise, vision and deftness from both sides. For, as Mr. Burns himself has noted, “progress in U.S.-Indian partnership is not automatic,” no matter what the atmospherics may suggest.