India’s foreign policy cannot be operationalized independent of contemporary and unfolding global geopolitical environment which in 2022 resembles the intense global polarisation of Cold War 1.0 which was Europe-centric. In 2022, Cold War 2.0 has already unfolded with the polarisation now Indo Pacific-centric in terms of manifestation notwithstanding the distraction of Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia and China figure in Cold War 1.0 and in Cold War 2.0 as the main polarisation inducers.
In Cold War 1.0, Indian foreign policy with an idealistic obsessive attachment to Non-Alignment, many a times selective, failed to secure India’s national security interests as historical events of that era would demonstrate. India’s main military threats from China and Pakistan could not be checkmated or deterred by Indian diplomacy of Non-Alignment. Both Power Blocs were uncertain and unsure of India’s long-term strategic intentions.
In the unfolding Cold War2.0 China Threat to Indian national security has exponentially with the China-Russia Axis fully operationalized and a China-Pakistan- Russia Trilateral which was in play in side-lining India’s legitimate security interests in Afghanistan.
Indian foreign policy today presents a conflicting picture in 2022 by once again reverting to the old template of “not taking sides”. India has forged substantive Strategic Partnerships with United States, Europe, Japan, and Australia and has committed itself to a ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’ by opting for the QUAD Security Quadrilateral whose end aim is China-Deterrence and by no means is in essence is a Red Cross Humanitarian & Disaster Relief Agency.
Despite above strategic preferences, India continues to linger-on as a Full Member of China-led and dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which with Russia in tow is aimed at United States and its Allies. India also has refused to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, whereas all of India’s strategic partners have condemned it.
The above is sought to be explained India’s foreign policy abolishment theoretically as ‘Balance of Interests”. This perceptionaly emerges as a fig-leaf used to justify India shirking from ‘Hard Foreign Policy Choices’ in a high polarised geopolitical and threatening security environment.
‘Balance of Power’ has been practised historically for centuries in international relations to checkmate ‘Emerging Threats’ to global security.
‘Balance of Power’ has been a recurring feature of global international relations for centuries to deal by freedom loving countries unitedly with ‘Revisionist Powers’ indulging in aggressive military adventurism to impose their hyper-nationalism will on their neighbours. In 2022, Russia in Ukraine Invasion and China in South China Sea and in Eastern Ladakh against India get type-casted in that category.
‘Balance of Interests’ in India’s foreign policy vocabulary perceptionaly was first propounded by then India’s Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in relation to India’s China-policy. Defence Minister Muherjee also famously asserted on the steps of Japanese Defence Agency that China was not considered as a ’ Threat to India or words to that effect
Cold War 1.0 and Cold War 2.0 now evolving because of Chinese military adventurism and jadedly demonstrated by Russia have negated that no choices of strategic ambiguity are available and that the ‘Balance of Interests’ is just a ‘fig leaf’ to avoid Hard Choices by India’s foreign policy establishment torn between India’s sentimental attachment to the Former Soviet Union and Indian misgivings about United States unadulterated commitment to the Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India.
India needs to recognise that Russia of 2022 is not the Soviet Union of 1960s-1970s.i China and to choose between Ind Even the Soviet Union was “selective” when it had Russia today is in a virtual ‘Military Alliance with China which is India’s ‘Enemy No. 1 by consideration of all available manifested postures by China.
To those who propound Balance of Interests concept as the foundation of Indian foreign policy, the question needs to be asked as to what is India’s Prime National Interest? Also needs to be asked as to which Indian National Interests are being balanced by adopting ‘Balance of Interests’ concept not historically available in international relations?
India’s Prime National Interests in 2022 focusing on security as prime determinant of India’s foreign policy can be delineated as under:
- Contain/ checkmate China and Pakistan Threats undermining Indian National Security by perpetuation of boundary disputes, escalation of armed conflict on borders, fomenting insurgencies within India and proxy wars against India.
- Deter China-Pakistan Axis concerted efforts to dilute India’s predominance in the Indian Ocean by Chinese Navy enhanced intrusiveness in Indian Ocean and China engaged in sizeable capacity=building of Pakistan Navy.
- Containing and neutralising China’s and Pakistan’s concerted Hybrid Warfare targeting India’s internal cohesion and internal stability.
- Neutralising False Narratives internationally generated by Chinese and Pakistan intelligence agencies to undermine India’s growing global geopolitical might.
- Maintenance of India’s War Preparedness at robust levels to firmly deal with external and internal threats generated by India’s enemies. India cannot afford to be dependent on a single nation for its military inventories.
Sanctity and credibility of safeguarding India’s national interests spelt out above unfolding geopolitical and threatening security environment endangered by China and Russia’s military adventurism can only be safeguarded by Indian foreign policy subscribing to the precept of ‘Balance of Power’ historically validated in such threatening global security environments.
Even if one was to concede that ‘Balance of Interests’ has some contemporary relevance then some crucial questions need to be Indian foreign policy planners. Does India seriously believe that by showing foreign policy deference to Chinese and Russian strategic sensitivities, China and Russia would “defer” to India’s National Interests? Can India be oblivious to the possibilities that “Strategic Distrust” or misgivings can dawn and endanger the decades of laboriously crafted Indian Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships with United States, Japan, Australia and the West?
Seriously, it cannot be denied that in the evolving threatening global security environment generated by China and Russia with Nuclear Escalation as an overhang, the only foreign policy space available for India is to accede to basing India’s foreign policy formulations on the ‘Balance of Power” strategies.
Did not India at the turn of the Millennium not commit itself at the highest level as being a ‘Natural Ally” of the United States and having a ‘Shared vision of 21st Century’? That stood validated by even follow-up Indian Government of different political dispensation.
The underlying rationale for a marked tilt in Indian foreign policy towards was catering for the “China Threat”. In 2022, the China Threat to India has acquired “Menacing Contours’ exponentially. India cannot deal with it singularly.
Further, the ‘China Threat’ now has enlarged in its dimensions and encompasses the whole of Indo Pacific and to Europe and Australia. In such a scenario India cannot adopt postures like ‘We are neither with the China-Russia Axis’ or ‘We are also not with US-Led Axis’.
If the latter assertion is taken into account then what India is doing by reinforcing and adding robustness to its Strategic Partnerships with United States and its Allies in Indo Pacific, across all military domains?
Concluding, it can be stressed ad nauseum that in the evolving geopolitical threatening global security environment that India has no strategic space but to adopt the ‘Balance of Power’ approach in its foreign policy formulations. The same is already visible for more than a decade, and then why not desist from assertions of ‘Balance of Interests’. That is stating the obvious as in the ‘Balance of Power’ strategies acountries National Interests are the policy determinant.