Foreign policy helps a country to protect and promote its national interests. It comprises the obligation to defend the county’s national security, to maximise economic benefits for the citizens from international trade and commerce, as also to enhance the effectiveness of its ‘soft power’ through propagation of its core cultural assets. The tool of foreign policy is also used energetically to promote and export a country’s ideological agenda, such as spread of communism, or religious revolutionary fervour or, in more recent times, export of democracy. The objective of the foreign policy of a country is to be able to create more space and more options for itself in the international arena. This calls for flexibility and pragmatism of a high order.
The book examines India’s current and looming foreign policy challenges from a strategic and policy-oriented perspective. It analyses the long-term factors and trends that determine the country’s foreign policy formulation, while focusing especially on India’s immediate and strategic neighbourhood.
The foreword to the book by C R Gharekhan highlights a very pertinent aspect of a country’s foreign policy when he says that a country can have relatively permanent friends as can be seen from the friendship between Pakistan and China which has lasted over five decades. Pakistan also seems to regard India as a permanent enemy.
The modern trend for countries is to establish ‘strategic relationships or partnerships’ — India has strategic relationships with as many as 30 countries. A country’s foreign policy is often described as an extension of its domestic politics. Presidents and Prime Ministers will often lobby for the sale and export of a particular commodity because the producer of that commodity forms a part of their electoral constituency. Mrs Margaret Thatcher of Britain felt no compunction in making a strong sales pitch in India for Westland helicopters since the manufacturing unit was located in her constituency.
What is new in today’s world is the impact that foreign policy has on domestic politics in many countries. The most obvious example for India is the huge controversy that the Indo-US nuclear deal generated here. It was probably for the first time that a government in India was obliged to seek a vote of confidence on a foreign policy issue.
The book looks at important issues like energy security, economic diplomacy, the interaction between defence and diplomacy and foreign policy institutions. It lays emphasis on trends rather than events, regions rather than individual countries and underlying long-term factors rather than details.
The foreign policy challenges are radically different from those of the 20th century. The United Nations Security Council reflects the mid-20th century power balance rather than today’s realities and is therefore, unsurprisingly ineffective in its core purpose of ensuring peace and security. The author very succinctly points out that the answer is not what the West in general and the US in particular are prescribing, namely the brazen licence to undertake military operations without UN authority under euphemistic pretexts, namely ‘humanitarian intervention’ (Yugoslavia in 1999), the so-called war on terror (Afghanistan in 2001), the elusive search for weapons of mass destruction (Iraq in 2003) and out-of-area operations (Afghanistan today). Where the US cannot or does not want to act on is own, “a supine European Union (EU) or an obedient North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is brought in.” In Kosovo, the European Union is taking over the functions and responsibility that belong to the UN. In Afghanistan, NATO has arrogated to itself the right to operations while keeping Afghanistan’s neighbours out. The author very rightly says, “Such might-is-right philosophy cannot but give rise to unease around the world.”
Another very valid point made by the author, who is a national career diplomat in service with the Indian Foreign Service for over 36 years, is regarding the economic front. Just a decade ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was in the forefront of leading a bailout of stricken economies in Russia, Argentina and many Asian countries. The role of the IMF as “the lender of last resort has atrophied,” says the author. The IMF and the World Bank no longer reflect today’s economic realities. He points to the ludicrous situation where India and China continue to have a quota in these organisations that is smaller than Germany’s! He asks, “How relevant and effective can the G-8 be without the full involvement of economies like India and China?”
With many new out-of-the-box ideas and policy suggestions, the book makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on foreign policy with India as the strategic country. Presenting a reappraisal of India’s approach, if it is to become a major player in the complex and rapidly evolving 21st century world, the book can serve as an important source material for students of Indian politics, international relations and defence and strategic studies and for others interested in India’s foreign policy.
(Sage Publications, B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110 044.)