India - International Relations
Essentials of Indian foreign policy
Mehmet Ozkan sees India as a player of the international scene due to its huge economic growth rather than by a clear and assertive strategy of global insertion. It almost exclusively dialogues with its most immediate environment. From Istanbul.
In recent years, India has been receiving a lot of attention both from regional and global players. However, this attention did not turn in a concrete partnership with any country yet. Except the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA), India, too, is yet to develop a grand partnership strategy with other big players at international level. What appears is that the time has come for such developments. For quite sometime now, there is already an ongoing Indo-US strategic partnership meeting between Indian and American diplomats and academics. Without both side having a clear strategy or a blueprint about the future of the relations, these talks seem to go nowhere. What is very interesting is not only the lack of strategic perspectives on both sides, but also timing of such efforts.
In retrospect, Indian foreign policy preferences always fluctuate in a contradictory way that the world goes. It is quite interesting and amazing that it consistently follows a very clear line in that path. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the countries from all over the world were taking sides to exert their influences through alliances on global politics, India, along with some others, devised and led the non-alignment strategy which is basically, in essence, not more than a withdrawal from total global politics. When the world was in a period of so-called `cold peace` in the Cold-War era, India went to war with its neighbours including China and Pakistan. When the world was talking about the controlling of nuclear arms in 1960s and later, India exploded its nuclear test that opened the way for India to be a nuclear power.
This trend kept going subsequently. In the early 1990s when the world had no idea about the coming world order and tried to participate in discussions, India kept a quite low profile at international politics. However, India’s response came in early 2000s in a surprising and strong way by establishing a tri-lateral grouping with Brazil and South Africa - the IBSA. It existed in a time of almost all countries were supportive of the US and the West in their endeavour to battle against terrorism rather than focusing on a systemic change, while the IBSA hoped and worked for some structural changes in global system. In a time that security is seen as a principal threat, it is highly likely that any global power would give up its privileges and make some structural changes in the system. The best illustration of this was the rebuff of the UN Security Council enlargement attempts in 2005.
No global power would give up its privileges. The best illustration was the rebuff of the UN Security Council enlargement attempts.
Interestingly enough, in last few years almost all American allies are trying to distance itself from the US and formulate an independent foreign policy. This includes especially Germany in Europe, Brazil in Latin America, Turkey in the Middle East, South Africa in Africa, and even Pakistan in Central Asia. However, in spite of all this systemic changes in all over the world, India is trying to be much closer to the US ever. What is wrong with India? If the foreign policy is based on power policy calculations and rational choice, one expects that India follows the international changes and adapt itself to the newly emerging situation. Today, there is no doubt that the US needs India more than India needs the US. So far, what we see is a contrary trend to the expectations from India. It is also interesting to notice that India tries to get closer to the US when India is on the way to get its voice being heard more at international forums such as the Doha rounds, G-20 and even IBSA; and when a concerted effort to change the institutional structure of international system is underway. Why is that so?
My understanding is that this can be explained in two ways. One is the much-discussed but less understood lack of Indian strategic framework in foreign affairs. It has its origins in Indian psyche that has an embedded characteristic of letting others live while India is being let to live with its own. This culturally and religiously shaped historical legacy of India indicates that India has never deeply thought of dealing with others, especially those who are located beyond of its immediate region. India has never had an international outlook. From early history until today, Indian thinking has a very strong regional character, again, that comes from Hinduism philosophy, self-righteousness, and weak self-confidence, which is part of the colonial imprint. That partially may explain why India does not have a code of engagement with the US, and with other external powers to the region. What is happening today is that both international systemic developments and India’s entry into the global economy club with its steady growth rate are forcing India to tackle with its own psyche to change the historically-shaped mindset or at least to adjust it. Seen from this perspective, Indo-US talks will be quite sometime not more than a case-based partnership for short period of times on the issues ranging from combating terrorism to nuclear issues. Therefore, it is difficult to name them as part of a foreign policy framework but at best may be called as damage-control policies based on current developments in the region.
India’s entry into the global economy club is forcing it to tackle with its own psyche to change the historically-shaped mindset.
Second is the widespread dominance of a highly calculative and disciplined thinking in the mindsets of Indian policy makers and academics. They tend to take fewer risks and adventure in their endeavour especially during the time to integrate with the world. As the Indian economy and its international standing grow, India is keen on not upsetting anyone especially the rule-makers. One may expect that the more India grows the more effective and demanding would it be. However, this is not more than an analysis based on terminologies of the western power politics, rather than representing the realities on the ground. It is also not surprising that such a discourse has been especially used more frequently by the rule-makers to satisfy Indian pride at home, while wishing India to keep a low profile abroad.
One practical implication of the highly calculative mindset of Indians on changing global realities has may be observed through the Indian approach to the IBSA. In the early years, India had some strong political elements as part of the IBSA’s targeted aim, such as getting a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. This seems to be changing because especially in last several years, as India grows more economically, political tone in Indian approach to the IBSA has almost dissolved. The more economy-driven IBSA is, India thinks today, the better for the country is; despite the still existence of huge expectations from the tri-lateral grouping.
Perhaps, there are also some substantial economic elements as driving force behind the recent Indo-US partnership talks, along with a strong terrorism angle. Nevertheless, looked from a general perspective, the ongoing Indo-US partnership talks are interesting considering the international systemic developments, and seen from outside as an odd development happening at the heart of rising powers in global politics. For better or worse, Indian leaders move has been closely followed by others with interest and curiosity, while they are teaching to the world again that India is both too easy and too complicated to understand at first sight.