India’s New Foreign Policy
C. Raja Mohan
ARI 65/2012 - 17/10/2012
Theme: India’s foreign policy in the 21st century will remain rooted in core values, but Delhi must necessarily adapt to changing external circumstances and shifting domestic needs. Summary: India’s foreign policy faces five important challenges in the years to come: (1) the creation of an area of peace and prosperity in the South-Asian Subcontinent; (2) the construction of a stable architecture for peace and cooperation in Asia; (3) the peaceful management of Asia’s maritime commons; (4) a new internationalism that will be shaped by a deepening integration with the global economy and an effective contribution to the management of global problems; and (5) a clear line between celebrating its own democratic values and imposing them on others. Keywords: India, foreign policy, peace, prosperity, regional architecture, Asia’s maritime commons, new internationalism, democratic values. Analysis: The word ‘new’ in the title of this analysis refers to the substantive changes in India’s foreign policy orientation in recent years. While the notion of ‘non-alignment’ continues to animate the domestic and international discourse on India’s foreign policy, Delhi’s international engagement has significantly evolved over the past two decades. India’s perception of itself and its role in the world have been dramatically transformed. If change, indeed, has been the central theme of India’s foreign policy in recent years, nowhere is it more evident than in its relations with the great powers. During the Cold War, India steadily drifted towards the Soviet Union and its relations with all the other major centres of power –the US, Western Europe, China and Japan– remained underdeveloped. However, from being ‘estranged democracies’ just a few years ago, India and the US are now locked in an unprecedented engagement, at once intense and expansive. After the prolonged chill in India’s bilateral relations with China from the 1960s to the 1980s, Beijing is now India’s largest trading partner in goods, and while it is building strategic partnerships with the EU and Japan, India has also managed to hold on to its special relationship with post Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, while change has been the trend of the times, the foreign policies of large countries like India are always rooted in a set of core values. These do not change with the usual turnover of governments and leaders and nor do they alter much over time. India’s commitment to internationalism, independence of judgement in the conduct of external relations, support for world democratisation and contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security are enduring legacies of India’s national movement and enjoy strong bipartisan support. India’s foreign policy in the 21st century will remain rooted in these core values, but Delhi must necessarily adapt to changing external circumstances and its shifting domestic needs. Its main purpose, however, will remain the same: the creation of a favourable external environment for the rapid improvement of the living standards of the Indian people. Despite considerable change in Indian foreign policy in recent years, there is much impatience among the friends of India in the West, who consider that Delhi must do a lot more on the world stage and do so swiftly. Unlike autocratic and authoritarian societies, where a strong ruler can rapidly turn the fundamentals of a nation’s foreign policy on their head, the adaptation of democracies to external and internal change is incremental and slow. While change occurs slowly, India compensates by ensuring that, as a large and diverse democracy, its foreign policy is both credible and predictable. Despite the large multiparty coalitions that have governed India in the past two decades, Delhi has managed to re-direct its internal and external orientation on a sustained basis. Looking ahead, it is possible to delineate five...
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