Day 36 – Q 3. Do you think India’s policy of strategic autonomy or non-alignment is just a prettified language for ducking hard choices? Critically comment. (15 Marks)

  • IASbaba
  • March 7, 2022
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TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. Do you think India’s policy of strategic autonomy or non-alignment is just a prettified language for ducking hard choices? Critically comment. (15 Marks)

क्या आपको लगता है कि भारत की रणनीतिक स्वायत्तता या गुटनिरपेक्षता की नीति कठिन विकल्पों को टालने के लिए सिर्फ एक सुंदर भाषा है? समालोचनात्मक टिप्पणी करें।


Candidates need to comment or give his views critically (covering both positive and negative sides) about India’s policy of strategic autonomy or non-alignment being just a prettified language for ducking hard choices.


India’s choice of non-alignment as the definitive feature of its foreign policy during the bipolar Cold War era arguably represented India’s intention to practice strategic autonomy, by projecting an aversion to war, alliances, and power politics. The recent unfolding geopolitical milieu has clearly prompted India to re-examine its status in the international system, and reflect upon the central undercurrent of its foreign policy orientation: the practice of strategic autonomy, whether through non-alignment in the bipolar Cold Ward era, or multi-alignment in the emerging multipolar era. 

India’s policy of strategic autonomy or non-alignment is just a prettified language for ducking hard choices: critical examination

  • The articulation of non-alignment and India’s objectives for pursuing the policy of strategic autonomy have since been subjected to varied misinterpretations. 
  • From few callings, it “immoral” and wrongly identifying it as “neutrality,” to perceived notions of India breaking its vows of non-alignment by signing the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1971, India’s ability and willingness to practice strategic autonomy through non-alignment has often come under scrutiny. 
  • With the end of the Cold War and the coming of a brief unipolar era, non-alignment began to encounter carpers who questioned its relevance, and the lure of practicing strategic autonomy came under scrutiny as well.
  • Through the practice of strategic autonomy, India strives for an ideal traction giving it “maximum options in its relations with the outside world.” 
  • It is expected “to enhance India’s strategic space and capacity for independent agency,” allowing maximum flexibility and manoeuvrability to increase the options for India’s choices to promote and protect its interest. 
  • However, the practice of strategic autonomy is bound to come under circumstantial limitations. 
  • Strategic autonomy articulated as non-alignment during the Cold War era imbibed the idea that alliance-driven power politics in any iteration would be detrimental to the development of a newly independent nation such as India. 
  • The transformed geopolitical environment after the Cold War saw India adapt the practice of strategic autonomy to fully exploit the opportunities the globalized world had to offer. 
  • Ridding itself of its non-aligned past, India now espouses “alignment based on issues” rather than ideology, thereby maintaining “decisional autonomy.” 
  • It is interesting to note that India’s non-alignment, and hence its practice of strategic autonomy, have been questioned because of both its closeness to the Soviet Union during certain phases of the Cold War, and currently its strategic congruence with the United States. 
  • However, these foreign policy orientations on India’s part rather represent the practice of strategic autonomy, to protect India’s core interest in the face of exigent geopolitical scenarios. 
  • Currently, India has found strategic convergence with a number of countries, which see a joint interest in managing the ramifications of a rising and aggressive China. Whether the Quad is a “concert of powers” or a budding “Asian NATO” remains in the realm of conjecture. 
  • However, India’s alignment with like-minded countries toward evolving a “free, open, inclusive and rules based” Indo-Pacific also happens at a time when India will have to simultaneously navigate its way through its complex relationships with countries like China and Russia, and multilateral groupings like the BRICS and SCO.


India has come to “discover the benefits of working with different powers on different issues” in the multipolar world, which he likens to “having many balls up in the air at the same time and displaying the confidence and dexterity to drop none.

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