The Pragmatic Challenge to Indian Foreign Policy

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Deepa Ollapally and Rajesh Rajagopalan

The Pragmatic Challenge to Indian Foreign Policy

subversive pragmatic vision is increasingly challenging some of the key foundations of India’s traditional nationalist and left-of-center foreign policy, diluting the consensus that shaped the policy, and raising new possibilities especially for India’s relations with the United States and global nuclear arms control. This debate between two centrist foreign policy perspectives is not yet settled. The two are described here as ‘‘traditional nationalist’’ and ‘‘pragmatist,’’ with the former representing the established and dominant perspective, and the latter as the emerging challenger.1 Actual Indian policy mostly splits the difference, mouthing traditional nationalist (hereafter referred to as simply nationalist) slogans while following pragmatist prescriptions. One major result has been the widening of political space for closer relations with the United States, even without a stable consensus. These taxonomies are ideal types: it is very unlikely that those characterized as either nationalist or pragmatist would agree with or accept every tenet of these categories. The categorizations are designed to provide an outline of the competing lines of argumentation about Indian foreign policy, rather than identify nationalists or pragmatists per se. It also is important to note that it is difficult right now in India to associate these perspectives with particular political parties, think tanks, or ministries. Thus, these perspectives are individualistic and do not correspond to particular organizations. They do, however, represent the views of important public intellectuals, policy analysts, academics, journalists, diplomats, and government officials. Deepa Ollapally is associate director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and Research Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. Rajesh Rajagopalan is Professor of International Politics at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the Sigur Center’s multi-year project on ‘‘Worldviews of Aspiring Powers,’’ from which this article is drawn. Copyright # 2011 Center for Strategic and International Studies The Washington Quarterly • 34:2 pp. 145Á162 DOI: 10.1080/0163660X.2011.562430 THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY SPRING 2011 145

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Deepa Ollapally and Rajesh Rajagopalan

The Nationalist Perspective

The debate
between two centrist foreign policy perspectives is not yet settled.

The nationalist perspective traces its roots to India’s traditional Cold War foreign policy. Shaped by India’s anti-colonial independence movement, it emphasizes national sovereignty as well as autonomy, and sought common cause with other thirdworld countries and non-alignment with either side in the Cold War, instincts that still guide the nationalists.

Independence of Foreign Policy India’s capacity for autonomous action in foreign policy is of fundamental importance to nationalists. This has taken on different policy manifestations at different times, including as ‘‘non-alignment’’ during the Cold War and more recently as ‘‘strategic autonomy.’’ As Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna noted in a September 2009 speech, ‘‘Our main objective is ensuring a conducive international environment for consolidating our strategic autonomy.’’2 Nationalists tend to see New Delhi as being under constant pressure to submit India’s interests to those of other major powers. This usually means from the United States, though at different times it has also meant from the West in general or China. Nationalists see foreign policy as an arena of conflict, with major powers constantly seeking to subvert India’s pursuit of its national interest to force New Delhi to follow policies that are in the interests of other powers. For example, some...
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