A self-reliant foreign policy

  • IASbaba
  • August 14, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2

  • Indian foreign policy
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

A self-reliant foreign policy

Context: Self-reliance is the theme of India’s 74th Independence Day.  

About Self-reliance 

  • Economically: It means production of key goods and services within the country. In other words, the goal is to reduce import dependence of critical commodities, especially in the backdrop of global ‘supply shock’ caused by the pandemic. 
  • Foreign policy: The foreign policy corollary is to sustain the ‘strategic autonomy’ in international affairs i.e. not taking orders from or succumbing to pressure from great powers. It means not becoming subordinate to foreign hegemon. 

India’s advocacy for autonomy (& non-alignment) in making foreign policy choices has remained constant, despite changes in world order over decades. 

  • Bipolar from 1947 to 1991- era of Cold War where world was divided in two camps one headed by USA and other headed by erstwhile USSR 
  • Unipolar from 1991 to 2008 – With disintegration of USSR, USA became the sole super power while China caught up with USA in overall power 
  • Multipolar at present times where there are big powers and several middle powers  

At the same time, India has shown flexibility in Foreign policy 

  • Strategic autonomy has often been adjusted in India’s history as per the changing situations 
  • In moments of crisis, India has reinterpreted freedom and shown flexibility for survival. For example 
  • During the 1962 war with China, the greatest advocate of non-alignment, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had to appeal to the U.S. for emergency military aid to stave off the Chinese aggression along Indian borders 
  • In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to enter a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward off both China and the U.S 
  • In Kargil in 1999, India welcomed a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down 

Do above examples indicate that India abandoned autonomy (or non-alignment)? 

  • In all the above examples, India did not become any less autonomous when geopolitical circumstances compelled it to enter into de facto alliance-like cooperation with major powers.  
  • Rather, India secured its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity by manoeuvring the great power equations and playing the realpolitik game. 

Is there a need for India to rethink its approach to Strategic autonomy? 

  • India is at an inflection point with regard to strategic autonomy. China and the U.S. are sliding into a new Cold War, with India’s security and sovereignty being challenged primarily by the former 
  • Non-alignment 2.0 in a threat environment from nuclear neighbour (China) makes little sense, especially when US is looking for partners in region to contain China 
  • Thus, there is strong advocacy for an alliance like partnership with USA 

What are fears associated with India’s close proximity to the U.S.? 

  • Increasing Risk: For India, which values freedom, placing all its eggs in the U.S. basket to counterbalance China would be an error. 
  • Reduced Space for India: It would mean India coming under the pressure of US interests that can cost India its strategic autonomy. 
  • Impacts other interests: Stronger Indo-US alliance can constrict India’s options in other theatres of national interest such as its ties with Iran and Russia  
  • Challenges to Domestic goals: It can also slowdown efforts of improving indigenous defence modernisation (US pressure to buy its weapons in exchange for its support to India to counter China) 

Way Ahead 

  • India should stay as an independent power centre by means of intensified cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world. 
  • Diversification is the essence of self-reliance.  
  • A wide basket of strategic partners, including the U.S., with a sharper focus on constraining China, is a viable diplomatic way forward in the current emerging multipolar world order. 

Connecting the dots:

  • Disintegration of USSR – Reasons and impact on India 
  • Interlinkage of Globalisation and Foreign Policy 

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