By Dr. Subhash Kapila
India’s foreign policy opportunities and challenges in mid-2014 under the leadership of India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi will expectedly acquire bold and audacious contours dispelling the earlier ten years of appeasement and timidity.
India’s foreign policies in the 2004-2014 periods failed to exploit the strategic leverages that were being bestowed on India, internationally and regionally, in recognition of India’s emerging major power potential in the process of crystallising till mid-2004.
Perceptionaly, what is evident in mid-2014 is the debris of collateral damages of obsessive Pakistan-centric and China-centric Indian foreign policy with no gains visible for indulging in appeasement of these two prominent India’s military adversaries.
Perceptionaly again, India during the preceding ten years seemed to have outsourced and mortgaged its foreign policy directions to Washington which was more sensitive to Pakistan’s and China’s sensitivities than Indian national security interests.
Prime Minister Modi’s opening move even before oath-taking as PM was South Asia-centric and not Pakistan-centric as was being made out by the Indian media. PM Modi made a significant and imaginative political outreach to the SAARC Nations when he invited their leaders for his oath-taking ceremony. That all of them came was a measure of the Indian Prime Minister’s personal leadership waiting to unfold and his underlying objective of attaching first priority to India’s SAARC neighbours. They all came despite the very negative propaganda and demonization of Mr Modi indulged in by India’s then ruling Congress Party from 2002-2014.
PM Modi’s opening foreign policy act was therefore well conceived by him as in light of the above negative campaign it gave an opportunity to SAARC leaders to personally size-up PM Modi and vice versa.
In a further act of reinforcing his India’s neighbourhood- priorities policy it has been announced today that PM Modi’s first foreign visit would be to Bhutan, a nation strategically important for India because looming large over it is China. Nepal having been lost to China by the flawed policies of the previous Government, India cannot afford to let Bhutan slip under China’s influence likewise because of Indian insensitivities.
Now moving to the larger canvas of India’s opening moves under the new leadership of PM Modi, one would like to advocate that India’s foreign policy initiatives to be classified in two major categories.
Category I nations would be those nations which present promising “Opportunities” to India in terms of evolution of more robust and substantial partnerships and in which their past record does not carry any baggage of discord or tensions with India. Such nations would also be those nations which in the contemporary global security environment enjoy strategic convergences with India and can hopefully be strategic assets in India’s ascendant power trajectory.
Category II Nations would be those nations which are not likely to shape or emerge as “Opportunities” for India but would always be “Challenges” for India’s foreign policy decision makers. Such countries have a record of discord, strategic distrust of India and many irritants exist in their relationships with India. They cannot be wished away but nor can India afford to allocate disproportionate time and effort to win them over.
In Category I Nations for Indian foreign policy attention I would like to include Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Israel and France and possibly Germany.
In Category II Nations I would primarily classify and include USA, Russia, China, and Pakistan. These nations do not present opportunities for India to ascend the power-trajectory and more often than not would impede that process.
So as PM Modi starts planning his diplomatic calendar of foreign visits, it is the Category I Nations that should figure first.
Japan should be PM Modi’s’ first foreign visit as both countries enjoy significant strategic convergences on Asian and Indo Pacific security and stability. A strong Strategic Partnership exists between the two nations and these need to be reinforced significantly, by Japan being PM Modi’s first port of call. Needless to state that in Asia there are only three major powers, namely, China, Japan and India. China is not willing to cede or share strategic space in Asia neither to Japan nor India. Further China is in a conflictual relationship with both Japan and India.
Vietnam has long and historic ties with India and also a Strategic Partnership with India. Geostrategically located, it is also a significant geopolitical player in South East Asia and ASEAN region. Combining his visit to Japan with a visit to Vietnam on the return leg would be a significant step for India and Asian security.
France also has been a good friend of India and has been a reliable and trusted supplier of arms and armaments to India, besides a substantial Strategic Partnership. The Indian Ministry of Defence has for far too long sat on and impeded the126 MRCA Rafael Fighter aircraft. This has seriously affected India’s cutting edge defensive and offensive aerial combat capabilities. PM Modi with his dynamic style should prod the Indian Defence Ministry to finalise the deal within three months as it stood finalised a number of years back but for some nit-picking by the previous Government.
The United States has been placed in Category II because its intentions’ and approaches to India have always been ambiguous and at times contentious. Its National Security Strategy in the past has included references to prevention of rise of hegemonic nations in Asia including India. Except for the short span of 2-3 years in the md-2000s the record is not of substantive support to Indians national security interests despite a much-touted Strategic Partnership. United States has still not forsaken playing balance- of- power games in the Indian Sub-Continent by balancing Pakistan against India. Too many trade irritants also exist. India would be well advised to go-slow in rushing head-long into a resuscitation of the Strategic Partnership and let it be reinforced by the pressure of the unfolding international power-dynamics.
Russia too has been placed in Category II because Russia in terms of Asian security still persists in giving weightage to China strategically over India. Gone are the days when Russia stood as a bulwark in India’s favour as a countervailing power. India can afford to wait till geopolitically the Russia-China strategic nexus wears thin.
Lastly one comes to India’s military adversaries namely China and Pakistan. No Nobel Peace Prizes await any Indian Prime Minister for a breakthrough in their adversarial relationships and postures against India. Without wasting disproportionate time on both of them, India should follow the policy of “Congagement” with Pakistan and China. ‘Strategic Distrust’ would continue to predominate for a long time to come until their domestic political dynamics bring about radical transformations in their political cultures.
PM Modi can be expected to bring about a radical transformation in India’s military capabilities and higher defence structure endowing an inclusive role to India’s military hierarchy in national security affairs. This would make India’s defence capabilities that much stronger and enable India to withstand any military coercion or destabilisation by China or Pakistan besides making Indian foreign policy that much more robust.
Concluding, one can only refer to the pointers that are coming where China is making the first moves to establish contacts and dialogues with the new Modi Government in India and Pakistan would follow suit. Pakistan is not India’s long term threat. It is China that is India’s long term and potent threat and this strategic reality should not be wished away in our foreign policy making.
In terms of systemic changes in India’s foreign policy structures, PM Modi should dispense with the system of Special Envoys system (a slot for retired IFS diplomats), Track II initiatives and so many other Tracks which foul up the foreign policy making structures. Let institutionalised foreign policy be the rule and if dramatic results are to be achieved it should be the prerogative and be coming from the dynamism of PM Modi himself.
With so much on the plate to be handled in terms f India’s foreign policy by Prime Minister Modi as he sets out to map India’s foreign policies, it is incumbent that India’s foreign policy objectives be prioritised and be categorised into “Opportunities” and “Challenges” in relation to India’s national security interests. In the field of foreign policy formulation “Opportunities” are always fleeting and need to be grasped instantly. “Challenges” will always abound and must wait till geopolitical dynamics offer leverages to convert challenges into opportunities.