By Dr Subhash Kapila
Major global flashpoints generating challenges for Indian foreign policy stretch from North Korea to the Middle East via the South China Sea disputes, China’s disruptive strategies in South Asia, Pakistan’s Islamic terrorism exports and the explosive Saudi-Iran confrontation and ultimately the external military interventions in Syria.
As an Emerged Power, India cannot be a passive spectator as these global flashpoints become incendiary and explode, and whose unintended consequences may unleash uncontrolled violence. India needs to speak out and initiate foreign policy responses supportive of those oppose or checkmate nations which flout international conventions, are defiant of global public opinion and indulge in military aggression and brinkmanship. This is only possible when the Indian foreign policy establishment engages itself in a lateral analysis of the global flashpoints and their linkages.
In the above spectrum of global flashpoints what is notable is that China stands out directly or indirectly involved in all the flashpoints that exist in the wider Indo Pacific Asia. Confronting China directly or indirectly along this entire spectrum is the United States which has and ought to have vital security stakes in Indo Pacific Asia.
In the Middle East, it is Russia that acquires more prominence as the nation in growing power-play against the United States with China in the backdrop protecting Russia’s Eastern vulnerable flanks.
In view of the above the foremost Indian foreign policy challenge would be to reset its attitudinal policy inclinations towards China and Russia. In 2017, both China and Russia have veered strongly towards Pakistan as their preferred partner in South Asia just to strategically embarrass India. Indian foreign policy establishment needs to modulate India’s policy formulations towards China and Pakistan viewing through the Pakistan-prism tilt.
India as an acknowledged Emerged Power in the Indo Pacific Asia context and with vital stakes in Middle East stability can no longer afford the historically dubious policies of Non-Alignment. India willy-nilly gets drawn into the turbulence that these global flashpoints generate globally and regionally. In essence, the management of such turbulences and India adroitly navigating through such turbulences generate significant foreign policy challenges for India.
But in achieving the above, India’s foreign policy has now to initiate strategies where Indian foreign policy does not shirk from practising ‘realpolitik, balance of power formulations and even strategic alignment in the global and regional power play in which China and Russia are in a tussle with the United States. India’s foreign policy in 2017 reflects strongly that an Indian strategic alignment has already evolved with the United States. But at times Indian foreign policy today does reflect some ambiguous or confused approaches in its stand on the global flashpoints. Or, one could state that India needs to be more unequivocal as to where it stands or positions itself on the global flashpoints outlined above.
North Korea is the prime example where India must come out strongly in stringent condemnation of its nuclear blackmail, terrorist assassinations abroad and missiles-firings coercive blackmail of South Korea and Japan. North Korea is emboldened to do so because of China’s implicit backing and now Russia too is getting on the same act. North Korea is not only a security threat to the United States, South Korea and Japan, all the nations which in 2017 India is involved in evolving security linkages. Additionally, North Korea also has China-sponsored WMD linkages with Pakistan. On all counts above, India must synchronise its foreign policy responses on North Korea with those of the United States, South Korea and Japan.
On China’s conflict escalation in the South China Sea disputes, arrogating to itself complete sovereignty over the entire South China Sea maritime expanse and in defiance of international conventions, India has stiffened its stances lately. Here again, Indian foreign policy approaches must be in intimate synchronisation with those of the United States and Japan. India has a valued strategic partnership with Vietnam—a country more critically affected by Chinese aggression. Indian foreign policy needs to reflect more stiff condemnation of China’s intransigence, military-capacity building of Vietnam and India’s participation in South China Sea joint patrols with US Navy and Japanese Navy.
China imposes heavy and critical burdens on Indian foreign policy contextually in relation to South Asia with particular reference to the China-Pakistan Axis which has jointly unleashed both external and internal security threats for Indian security. Add to this, China’s attempts to wean away from India the smaller South Asia nations. Indian foreign policy in 2017 should not hedge in terms of matching responses to China’s disruptive strategies against India matching China’s entire disruptive spectrum against India.
In South Asia, China with assistance of Pakistan, and both by their demonstrated anti-India containment stances have confirmed that that China and Pakistan now jointly in 2017 are not states adversarial to India bit also locked in incessant border confrontations. So why Indian foreign policy should consider or explore openings for dialogues with China and Pakistan. Why should India continue with its membership of China-dominated groupings like BRICS and SCO? China and Pakistan stand confirmed as India’s ‘enemy states’ and Indian foreign policy should reflect this stark reality in its formulations.
India’s foreign policy in the Middle East faces immense challenges in that regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are involved in intense regional power tussles with each other with potential flashpoints extending from Syria in the North to Yemen in the South. Of all these regional powers, it is Iran which is most vital for India in terms of our national security interests. India and Iran logically should have more strategic convergences than India possibly could have with Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have historically been strong supporters of Pakistan and therefore Indian foreign policy is afforded little bandwidth for winning them over to be supportive of Indian interests.
Iran therefore should be the cynosure of India’s foreign policy despite occasional aberrations from Iran’s side like recent statements on Kashmir from the Supreme Leader.
The challenge for Indian foreign policy becomes complex in view of United States latest stances on Iran by the Trump Administration. Indian foreign policy faces challenges in 2017 in balancing its national security interest primacy in India-Iran relations and at the same time assuring the United States that a sound India-Iran relationship would ultimately be more contributive to US national security interest in the Middle East.
In Syria, India’s convergence of interests may coincide with those of Russia than with the United States. So there is a big dilemma for the Indian foreign policy establishment here. India cannot be on the wrong side of history by siding with the US-Saudi-Turkey combine intent on a regime-change in Syria. The foregoing, more necessitated by strategic impulses to prevent Iran-led Shia domination of the Northern Crescent, rather than by any Syrian threats to US and Saudi security.
Israel must continue to receive focussed attention from the Indian foreign policy establishment even though it may appear contradictory to Indian preference for Iran. The distinction must be that Iran has to be viewed in the regional context whereas Israel has to be viewed at a different and higher plane. Despite the public vitriolic rhetoric that flows between Iran and Israel, there are many subterranean links between the two nations. In the Middle East, Israel emerges as a foreign policy convergence between the United States and India.
Concluding, one would like to assert that in relation to global flashpoints that have the potential to flare-up explosively with unpredictable consequences for Indian security, the Indian foreign policy establishment should be well prepared with their considered responses rather than last moment knee-jerk reactions. Perspective planning cell should form an essential component of the Indian foreign policy establishment to enable long-range contingency planning.