Thursday, October 2, 2014
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India’s Next Foreign Policy

NEW DELHI – Next month, India will complete its marathon election. A new government is expected to assume power at the end of May, and, if the polls prove correct, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has named Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, will lead that government.

With India’s sluggish economic performance having rightly dominated the campaign, the question of what foreign policy the new government should pursue remains unanswered. Whatever the specifics, one imperative is clear: India must move beyond its allegiance to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

The muddle that NAM diplomacy causes is perhaps best reflected in the Congress-led Indian government’s recent quasi-endorsement of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government appear to have overlooked that China covets Indian territory and may thus be pleased that Russia has set a precedent for a powerful country to thumb its nose at international law and seize part of a neighboring country. It is as if Indian foreign policy has been on autopilot since the 1980’s, when the government almost always adopted a pro-Russia stance.

The reality is that the NAM was never particularly effective at keeping India out of conflict, as the wars with China and Pakistan in 1962, 1965, and 1971 clearly demonstrated. In 1971, it was the Soviet Union’s support, rather than that of the NAM, that helped India to overcome the refugee crisis caused by Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh. Likewise, in 1999, India relied on American intervention to pressure Pakistan to end its aggression around the Himalayan town of Kargil.

Given this track record, how can old NAM diplomacy be expected to resolve the foreign-policy challenges that India faces, especially at a time when China and Pakistan are uniting to confront India?

The most pressing threat to India’s peace lies on its borders, especially the Himalayan border with China, the world’s longest disputed frontier – not least because uncertainty there facilitates inflows of terrorist forces bent on undermining India’s territorial integrity and sowing seeds of ethnic and religious conflict. While India has fought terrorism longer than any other country, the problem now affects the entire region, including Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan.

With Islamist terrorism spilling across its borders, India can no longer leave the turmoil in the Arab world to others to manage. Instead, it must take an active role in efforts to contain and ameliorate it – and that means developing new strategic alliances. Just as terrorists have created a kind of multilateral offensive, the countries that they threaten must construct a multilateral defense.

For starters, India should welcome – and foster – the thaw in relations between the US and Iran. Given that both countries are friends of India, and that all three share many strategic interests, a nimble Indian government has an opening to help facilitate a diplomatic rapprochement.

Meanwhile, a strategic alliance that supports peace in the Indian and Pacific Ocean region – for example, among India, the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Vietnam – could be shaped quietly and calmly, without impeding any of the partners’ ability to establish economic ties with third parties, including China. India must also work vigorously to renew its relationships in Southeast Asia, where it risks abandoning the field to China.

At the same time, India must develop a strategic understanding with China, Russia, and the US concerning the jihadist explosion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian countries. Such an understanding would, of course, have rough edges, with India, Russia, and China simultaneously competing for influence in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, some sort of accord, whatever its gritty nuances, is both possible and necessary, given that preventing Afghanistan from relapsing into civil war or again becoming an export base for terrorism is in everyone’s interest, including Pakistan’s.

India’s next government must also nurture the country’s partnership with the US. Until recently, the bilateral relationship has tended to be guided by a transatlantic, trans-Eurasian perspective, while ignoring the trans-Pacific option. But India, blocked to its west by Pakistan, is increasingly looking east for trade and strategic partnerships. As it explores these possibilities, it can work with the US to shape a common perspective in Central Asia.

As for Pakistan, India’s NAM-driven inaction has given its nemesis the upper hand in isolating India strategically. This is extraordinary, given that Pakistan is the region’s principal protector of terrorist forces – and has now, sadly, become the victim of its home-grown militants.

America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will, in the short run, be a setback for the entire region. But, even as the US withdraws its infantry, it cannot ignore the threat that Islamist terror poses to America. That is why the US will increasingly depend on countries like India to ensure the success of its global anti-terror policy.

But the value of the bilateral relationship extends far beyond the war on terror. The US and India must also establish clear channels for technology transfer – military, industrial, and scientific, including with regard to space.

Any forward movement in US-India cooperation must be characterized by care and respect, with objectives that are unambiguous, practical, and achievable. If both governments devote the necessary time and energy to each other, they can create a partnership between the world’s two largest democracies capable of playing a key stabilizing role in South Asia and beyond.

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  1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    As a former member of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet, Mr. Jaswant Singh had held many portfolios. He belongs to the same party - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - as Narendra Modi, who as "its prime ministerial candidate" may soon become India's next leader.
    Mr. Singh wants to see changes in India's foreign politics. Yet what he wants to get done will also be a tall order. Not only "India must move beyond its allegiance to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)", perhaps India should leave this outmoded group altogether. Today India is among the world's ten largest economies. The NAM, conceived mainly by Jawaharlal Nehru, founded in 1961, in the depths of the Cold War, aimed to unite countries that did not wish to be allied with either the West led by the US or the Soviet-dominated eastern bloc.
    It represents the world's poorer states and has identified globalisation, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty as some of its main causes. Yet it has failed to deal with geopolitical issues decisively and some NAM leaders had in the past shown a good deal of artistry in manipulating power politics in countless of conflicts, that are still playing out to this day.
    Mr. Singh, as foreign minister in 2000 had welcomed a resolution passed by NAM which recommended that countries within the organisation, ruled by military governments should be expelled. He did not mention Pakistan by name, stressing only that his initiative was intended to isolate all military regimes within the NAM. He also insisted that the movement should commit itself uncompromisingly to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. Today he is still obsessed with Pakistan and fears China's rise to power. He is urging the world to curb the export of jihadism from Islamabad to Kabul and to prevent Beijing from relaunching attacks on India's "Himalayan border".
    If India decides to stay within the NAM, perhaps it is time to reform the movement. Some of the 120 members - Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal and Pakistan - are in India's sphere of interests and their stability can't be indifferent to Delhi. As 36 out of Asia's 45 nations are members of the NAM, and many of them in the "Pacific Ocean region", India should reach out to them, if it wants to forge "a strategic alliance that supports peace" in the area.
    It is a good idea that India "welcome – and foster – the thaw in relations between the US and Iran", but what can India do to help? Meanwhile he advocates for a "forward movement in US-India cooperation" and "technology transfer – military, industrial, and scientific, including with regard to space". He ought to know that red tape in India is the biggest obstacle to progress. Let's hope that Mr. Singh's dream will come true one day - the creation of "a partnership between the world’s two largest democracies capable of playing a key stabilizing role in South Asia and beyond".

  2. Commentedsrinivasan gopalan

    Mr. Jaswant Singh seems to have evolved an eclectic view on how to conduct the country's foreign policy even while debunking the extinct concept of the non-aligned movement (NAM). Nobody nowadays talks about NAM particularly after the collapse of the Berln Wall and the end to the Soviet Union's suzeranity that it coshared with the United States in the post-war period of close to four decades!! For all the noise Mr Singh made about not condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea by the Congress-led Indian government's recent quasi-endorsement", what stance would he have advocated on this by way of his hindsight as a foreign affairs minister of India under the NDA dispensation had not been spelt out by Jaswantji? Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds have unforunately become a pastime of Indian politicians on foreign policy as they invariably court both the US and the USSR with least compunction of conscience. A country's foreign policy needs to be nuanced and there is no virtue in condemining outright one power just to please anotehr power and vice versa in the global theatres of the absurd. Even small countries know how diplomatic they should be to wrest the best bargain for themselves and it is only big democratic countries like us which end up pleasing none and gaining little by our tactless pursuit of diplomacy over the yeas. As it should go without saying that talent knows what to do and tact knows how to do, let us be more circumspect in the conduct of our external relations instead of reacting to every small act of no substance or relevance to India situated as it is in the powderkeg of Asia where the Middle Kindgom is immoderately flexing its muscles both in economic and diplomatic affairs with India with the boundary talks meandering meaninglessly and painfully slowly for far too long! A best foreign policy is the one that is imperceptibly conceived and unobtrusively implemnted so that the net gain to us is not pain! Perhaps Chankya would have been aghast at his grave over our lack of finessee and refinement in foreign policy as the crop of political leaders the country are jejune of novel ideas and shorn of substantive ideals! g.srinivasan, journalist, new delhi

  3. Commentedhari naidu

    It seems Jaswant Singh has forgotten the strategic failure of India’s foreign policy to assert its national-interest and framework of policy under UPA coalition government. Dr. Singh/PM was never a foreign policy PM. While India was wasting its efforts on sundry national objectives of interest to US, mainland China was forging ahead with its strategic outlook towards Asian neighbors. And Obama’s just concluded state visit to Japan-S Korea-Malaysia and Philippines illustrates the declining influence of US foreign policy in Asia. China announced today going forward with its own FTA with Asean region. In other words, American Exceptionalism is what constraints India-US relations as recent (NY) diplomatic spat illustrates. India is a sub-continental power and needs not to subjugate its national security interest in favor of any other country. Like mainland China, India must project its own independent framework of national strategic policy to near and abroad.

    1. Given the existing anti-India lobby inside US Congress, it’d be ill advised to put India’s Government’s policy framework in context of what suits US and its Beltway Think-Tanks.

    2. Modi is a known quantity (personality) to Chinese leadership, according to People’s Daily. In other words, mainland China seems to think Modi/PM will approach mainland China with specific projects to develop Indian infrastructure, energy, transport system, and potential trade free zones.

    3. With respect to global terrorism, both China and India have good objective reason to find ways and means to cooperate across their Himalayan boarders.

    4. Modi should release the Sino-Indian War (1962) Report and make a de jure settlement of the Himalayan boundary demarcation lines of control with mainland China based on principle of reciprocity and compromise by both sides.

    5. Current bilateral trade is developing at a significant rate (in favour of China) and there is room to find a common trading currency to enforce its further development.

    6. Putin may have (finally) awakened Beijing to find alternative strategy to its national security policy framework for peace and cooperation.

    7. Panchila must be invoked to re-ignite Sino-Indian relation for growth and regional development.

  4. CommentedS.Mahmud Ali

    Mr Singh makes several excellent points regarding India's foreign policy choices and challenges as it prepares to usher in a post-election cabinet at the centre. Clearly, he believes the Congress-led coalition under Mnmohan Singh left major gaps in New Delhi's diplomatic carapace in a rapidly changing world. However, he seems to urge stronger relations with the USA, the EU, East Asian states opposed to China - policies undergirding the UPA government's diplomatic endeavours. In terms of substantive changes, the BJP-led putative new administration may not be able to effect sudden or notable shifts shortly after taking office. Indian policy, after all, is rarely made by its party-political elites. It is the permanent bureaucracies and the national security and intelligence establishments which generate the landscape on which politicians paint their particular policy portraits, as it were.

    The one exception was in the first two decades of India's independence when, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru pretty much ran India's foreign policy with the help of a few senior advisers and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau. That domineering role of the political leadership ended with the 1962 border war with China, a process which was sealed with Nehru's passing two years later. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, did pursue a domineering, prtsonalised, foreign-policy system, especially with regard to Pakistan and Bangladesh, but, in the end, deferred to the professionals in the permanent bureaucracies, civilian and military.

    Mr Singh cannot be unaware of the influence of the deep-state infrastructure to Indian national-security policy-making processes. He may, however, be more effective in shaping the discourse if he elected to acknowledge the veneer of decisive influence of the transient political elite vis-a-vis the substantive role played by the entrenched services in Delhi.

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