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Charting a Course: India’s Foreign Policy Priorities in the Changing Global Landscape

Dynamic polarity and unanticipated challenges have shaped global politics where rising powers and middle powers and not just major powers play a crucial in the world order. The rise of traditional and non-traditional security threats has recalibrated Indian foreign policy as India moves from the era of non-alignment to the era of multi-alignment, which not only helps it to pursue its national interests but also tackle global challenges in a more cooperative manner. Ensuring non-traditional security simultaneously with traditional security has become a key element of Indian foreign policy. The COVID-19 pandemic, rising inter-state wars and climate change has further prompted India to diversify its relationship. The rising ambitions of China and its assertive territorial claims in the terrestrial and maritime arena have acted as a catalyst to diversify India’s engagement and invest its resources in its capacity building, to fuel economic growth and development. As John Mearsheimer, an American political scientist, stresses the equal importance of ‘latent power’ (economy and population) and military power to become a superpower, recent developments in Indian diplomacy and the Indian economy appear to follow Mearsheimer’s recipe to be a superpower. 

India’s emergence as the fastest growing economy and replacing its colonial master, the United Kingdom as the fifth largest global economy, simultaneously becoming the most populated nation with a vibrant young and skilled workforce has made it attractive to countries looking to de-risk from China and find expand market access. As ‘strategic autonomy’ forms the bedrock of India’s external engagements since its independence, its rising capabilities from high economic growth, digital infrastructure, indigenization of defence equipment and remarkable rise of sunrise sectors has enabled India to practice Jaishankar’s definition of realism which he defines as ‘when options are exercised from time to time’. According to a SIPRI report, India’s arms imports from Russia have declined drastically from 76% in 2009-13 to 36% in 2019-23, slashing procurement from Russia to less than half, a first since the 1960s. Since the Russia-Ukraine war, Russia’s share in Indian oil imports have increased from 1% before the war to 40% of all oil India imported in the first half of fiscal year 2023-24 (Landrin, 2023). Despite American intimidation and Western allegations of terming Indian purchase of Russian oil as ‘fuelling the war’, India continued to buy the oil at a discounted price for the economic well-being of its people, to the extent that it emerged as the fastest-growing economy after the war, immune to recession, as experienced in many European countries, earlier reliant heavily on the Russian hydrocarbon supplies. India’s strategic partnerships, with the USA, Japan, France and Israel among other Western powers and the Arabian countries of Saudi Arabia and UAE among others in diverse domains ranging from strategic sectors like defence, energy and space cooperation to agriculture, education and energy partnerships through technology sharing, investment, and resource mobilization embodies the rise of ‘multilateral moment’ in the Indian foreign policy. Similarly, high-level visits between India and Iran to foster trade, civilizational and connectivity ties and high-level visits, on the one hand, and India’s deepening energy investment, trade and people-to-people ties with the Arabian giant Saudi Arabia and UAE, which do not share the same vision as Iran for the Middle East show how India is manoeuvring the available option to mend ties and pursue its interest.

It is notable how India has maintained strategic partnerships with a diverse set of countries, without forming formal alliances with any of them. With China as adversarial in its backyard and Russia engulfed in the war, the US is emerging as India’s key developing and geostrategic partner enjoying a comprehensive global strategic partnership, sharing similar values and interests on a range of issues, especially in countering China. Though worries about “American ‘entrapment’ drive Delhi’s thinking on strategic autonomy” (Mohan, 2018), high-level exchanges, defence cooperation, counter-terrorism, trade and economic relations and technology partnership are the key parameters of India-US bilateral relations (Ministry of External Affairs, 2023).

As the world progresses towards apparently multipolarity, economic, environmental, security and political challenges have alarmed the decision-makers to navigate diversified partnerships in these domains to minimize disruptions from these challenges in geoeconomic and geopolitical significant regions. For instance, the Indian Ocean has become a hotbed for competition home to 64% of the global population, 62% of the Global GDP, and 50% of global trade and major sea lanes of communication (Vice President’s Secretariat India, 2023). With rising encirclements by China in India’s immediate neighbourhood and the subcontinent, India has intensified its partnership with the Euro-Atlantic and non-Chinese East Asian counterparts in this region, who view China’s geopolitical and institutional assertion as a threat to the global order. This has fostered rising trade, technology and sustainable development partnership with the aforementioned peers, through minilateral channels, some on shared values and others based on shared interests. As the power diffuses and restructures in the dynamic world politics and re-globalisation emerges due to the failure of traditional globalization to sustain international peace and security, India is forging its partnerships through minilateral platforms to address specific agenda, as it seeks to view itself as the Vishwamitra (world’s friend and voice of the global south) as evident by bilateral high-level visits to not-so-conventional regions of India’s engagement from the Scandinavian region and progressive West Asian countries to far-flung Pacific islands and middle powers of Europe. 

To conclude, in the changing global landscape, India is actively engaging in varied sectors with mutual benefits with major powers, advocating for equitable treatment by devising inclusive multilateral institutions focused on sustainable economic growth and increasing its engagement with new regions considered as strategic from a geopolitical point of view. With its rising hard power and soft power, India is well placed to partner and coordinate with developing countries, especially in the Global South for shared peace and prosperity. Placing interest and value-based partnerships, over ideological alliances is the rising trend in Indian diplomacy.  

References-

Landrin, S. (2023). India is acting as a hub for Russian oil. Le Monde, May 6. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/05/06/india-is-acting-as-a-hub-for-russian-oil_6025598_4.html

Ministry of External Affairs. (2023, October). India-US Bilateral Relations. https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Bilateral_Brief_as_on_09.10.2023.pdf

Mohan, C.R. (2018). Raja Mandala: Two Discourses on Startegic Autonomy, Carnegie India, September 18. https://carnegieindia.org/2018/09/18/raja-mandala-two-discourses-on-strategic-autonomy-pub-77278

Vice President’s Secretariat. (2023). Text of Vice-President’s address at the 2023 edition of the “Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue”. Press Information Bureau, November 15. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1977077#:~:text=This%20region%2C%20home%20to%2064,%2C%20Iron%20Ore%2C%20Fertilizers%20etc

Priyanshi Agrawal Priyanshi Agrawal
Author is a final year student of MA in International Relations at South Asian University, with a graduation in BA Economics (Hons) from Christ University.
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