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Emerging Geopolitical Dynamics: Assessing India’s Foreign Policy

by Neeta Baporikar - 16 April, 2024, 12:00 758 Views 0 Comment

India has risen as a major player in the geo-politics at an international level. Part of this rise can be attributed to its dynamic, adaptive foreign policy and with regime changes, India’s emphasis on its foreign policy has not been resolute over the years as a response to shifting global geopolitical dynamics (Horimoto, 2017). Some things have remained constant; some things, however, have brought changes in the position of the country in the global world. Emerging global issues today in geopolitical dynamics include climate change, preserving biodiversity, exploitation of deep-sea resources, ensuring a fair global trading system, keeping sea lines of communication open, air space for civilian aircraft and combating terrorism.

Emerging Geopolitical Dynamics and Current Scenario 

India has a dominant role in a peaceful South Asia. But for that, it cannot remain bogged down in managing relationships in its neighbourhood. It should have the time and freedom to engage strategically with the rest of the world (Kukreja, 2020).

India will have to intensely engage, and delicately steer its way through the mutual regional rivalries of the Arab countries, Iran and Israel. Despite its relative decline, the US is the most powerful country in the world having unmatched comprehensive power. India also needs US cooperation to tackle the growing challenge of China. Of course, many differences remain, and at least some of them will not go away. However, both countries are in a pragmatic partnership and are cooperating in areas where interests coincide, without letting differences derail the relationship. Russia has traditionally been a very close and time-tested friend but for various reasons, this relationship occupies a somewhat lower priority in the foreign policy priorities of both countries. Russia has also become uncomfortably close to China. Even though Russia no longer occupies an unchallenged top spot among India’s defence suppliers, it is a critically important defence partner. Europe, Africa and Latin America are important for India primarily from an economic perspective. Even though India’s economic ties with Europe are vibrant and significant, much more can be done, particularly to get needed investments and technology. Africa and Latin America play a relatively marginal role in India’s foreign policy priorities, but the scope for enhancing economic ties is considerable.

However, the principal challenges to India’s national security emanate from China and Pakistan. Their strategic collaboration has deepened. A combined China-Pakistan front has emerged with an increase in Pakistan’s dependence on China. So, it is vital for India’s national security that the China-Pakistan nexus is broken, and Pakistan is isolated internationally. For this, India should be prepared to fight its own battles, without necessarily counting on other countries’ support. Further, support will come if other countries have sufficiently large stakes and see that India can effectively execute its policies. From China, India faces challenges at three levels – globally, regionally, and as a neighbour. At the global level, China is using its economic clout and status as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and an NPT-recognised nuclear power to thwart India’s rise in every possible way. For now, India needs friends and partners to deal with China and China’s weaknesses must not only be highlighted but exploited. These include a fragile economic model; failure to build an integrated polity with minorities’ justice; excessive dependence on foreign trade for growth; irresponsible attitude toward the environment; expansionist and hegemonic policies; selective approach to fighting terrorism, etc. At the regional level, China has been using Pakistan as a pawn to keep India tied down in South Asia.

Assessing India’s Foreign Policy

Indian foreign policy is undergoing a paradigm shift. It has had several such shifts over the last seven decades, but with time, these have amounted to continuity. Foreign policy analysts and experts best describe this phenomenon as “transformation through incremental adaptation”. While Indian foreign policy under successive prime ministers has adjusted to changing global geopolitical dynamics since 2014 PM Modi has brought new energy and clarity of articulation (Tourangbam, 2021).

To assess the shifts in India’s foreign policy undertaken by previous Indian governments, it is necessary to first identify ‘inflection points’ in the global context. Two major inflection points include: opening up and liberalization since the economic reform programme initiated in 1991 and ideological shift to non-alignment since 2014. GDP growth rates have risen as a result of economic liberalization and globalization. While socialist planning policies are being abandoned, redistributive policies continue simply because in democracies, the more numerous poor matter. Other objectives include energy, food and water security, the safety of the Indian diaspora, and global issues, such as nuclear disarmament, fair trade, and the environment. The weight of economic growth has tilted further east as India has become the fastest-growing large economy. Indicating the importance of foreign policy, especially Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), for domestic economic development, every foreign visit in recent times has been a search for FDI, energy security, and cooperation against terrorism. Similarly, the maritime partnership with Australia in the Indo-Pacific has been strengthened. A coherent Indian Ocean strategy by visiting all the Indian Ocean island nations at one go has been announced and also the same for framing of regional strategy by visiting all five Central Asian republics in one trip, lending coherence to our outreach to these oil-rich nations has been demonstrated. The focus is also on the ‘Act East’ strategy rather than ‘Look East’ by speeding up connectivity through Myanmar.

To conclude, while there is much continuity in India’s foreign policy, current energetic, bold diplomacy and superior implementation skills have indeed changed its paradigm. Indigenizing India’s defence manufacturing base, transformed bilateral relationships, providing a hedge against unpredictable China and a rogue Pakistan, closer equation with the U.S. has also given dividends in the form of greater proximity to the U.S. and its allies, such as Japan, Australia, and technologically developed NATO member states. Though, bold moves have been in the relationship with the U.S., efforts with difficult neighbours, such as China and Pakistan, have yet to bear fruits. On a positive note, it can be argued that Indian foreign policy is less ambiguous in deed than it is in terms of doctrine. To appreciate the degree of change as well as the enduring inconsistencies of foreign policy, the preferences of key actors at home, the country’s political institutions and the distribution of information need to be taken into account. However, Indian diplomacy is guided by bearings that arise from Indian thinking influenced over centuries by Kautilya’s Arthshastra or ancient texts such as the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. The state of foreign policy is both apparent and real and the sooner the world realizes that India’s philosophy of conducting international relations is based on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The World is One Family), which would be better for all concerned.

  References

Horimoto, T. (2017). Explaining India’s foreign policy: From dream to realization of major power. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific17(3), 463-496.

Kukreja, V. (2020). India in the emergent multipolar world order: Dynamics and strategic challenges. India Quarterly76(1), 8-23.

Tourangbam, M. (2021). India and the New Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal16(1), 54-66.

Neeta Baporikar
Author is a Research Focused Professor, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Namibia.
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