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.