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India’s Foreign Policy: A Strategic Deficit? – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

India’s foreign policy ever since Independence stands distinguished by being consistently strategically-deficit in terms of safeguarding India’s national security interests.

The idealistic and morally driven Non Alignment foreign policy devoid of a strategic vision during the Cold War years was a heavy millstone that robbed India of a vibrant foreign policy driven by a strategic vision and a securing of India’s strategic interests.


Such a foreign policy formulation could have been rationalised on the plea that India was then not economically and militarily strong and to steer clear of Cold War confrontations, an Indian foreign policy based on a high moralistic content bordering on neutralism would shield India against the Cold War strategic buffetings.

India’s foreign policy in the 21st Century logically should have been expected to be more strategically-driven by India’s national security interests since India in the last two decades had emerged that much more economically vibrant and militarily strong. India is now being perceived but not counted as being on an ascendant trajectory towards blossoming into a global player if not a global power.

Regrettably, while India may be perceived as on an ascendant curve economically and militarily, contrastingly, India’s foreign policy is increasingly on a strategic-deficit curve where India today stands “strategically diminished” as a result of flawed foreign policy formulations especially in the last seven years.

India stands “strategically diminished” in terms of its foreign policies for two major reasons. Growingly, a perception is gaining ground that India has outsourced its foreign policy to Washington and lets its foreign policy be driven by US political and strategic considerations rather than India’s national security considerations.

Following the above, is also the perception, that India’s foreign policy is becoming unpredictable and uncertain because increasingly India’s domestic political considerations arising from political survival of the Coalition Government in New Delhi has begun dominating India’s foreign policy at the expense of India’s strategic interests and security considerations.

The first major reason of India’s “strategic deficit” foreign policy has been India’s outsourcing its foreign policy formulations to Washington where US strategic considerations or political considerations were allowed to predominate India’s national security considerations. India’s foreign policy formulations on Pakistan and lately on Iran and Sri Lanka are the prime examples in this connection.

Two Indian Prime Ministers of different political dispensations allowed themselves to submit to US strategic dictates of adopting appeasement policies towards Pakistan even when India was being subjected to incessant Pakistan-sponsored proxy war and terrorist attacks no longer confined to Kashmir, but also to heartland India. India’s strong retaliatory policies as an imperative of India’s national security were stymied by US pressures because of its Afghanistan considerations and Pakistan weighing more heavily than India in US strategic calculus.

India’s national security interests demand that India forges a substantial strategic partnership with Iran not only on strategic considerations but also on grounds of energy security and economic interdependence including access to Central Asian markets. Since middle of the last decade, India not only succumbed to US pressures on UN voting against Iran but also scrapping the Iran-Pakistan-India energy pipelines. Currently India’s foreign policy is seen as crumbling to US dictates to US-dictated economic sanctions to cease Indian oil imports from Iran.

The latest glaring example of India’s “strategic-deficit” foreign policy is India voting against Sri Lanka on the US –inspired UN Resolution on human rights violations and war crimes in Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE which was an armed militia engaged in a war against Sri Lanka.

In all of the three cases discussed above, US pressures have evidently played a significant part in deviating Indian foreign policy from the anchors of India’s national security interests. Sadly, India’s military adversaries like China and Pakistan have now gained at India’s strategic expense and revel in the fact that India in the process stands “strategically diminished.

The second major reason where a “strategic-deficit” Indian foreign policy results in diminishing India’s strategic stature has been of late where the Indian Coalition Government for reasons of political survival is perceived as caving-in to domestic political pressures in terms of its foreign policy formulations are the cases of Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka once again

Bangladesh is of crucial strategic significance to India and out of India’s strategic partnerships the Bangladesh-India Strategic Partnership should be an over-riding strategic imperative of India’s foreign policy, and I have earlier devoted a whole SAAG Paper to this subject. In the pursuance of India’s national interests and India as the larger neighbour, it becomes incumbent for India to respect the strategic and political sensitivities of Bangladesh and of those Bangladesh political leaders who espouse similar stakes on India. Lack of foresight and anticipated foreign policy planning led to the recent disaster of West Bengal Chief Minister dropping out of the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh and stalling of the Teesta River water-sharing negotiations. Further persistence in this trend could lead to irreparable foreign policy losses on our vital eastern flank.

Sri Lanka comes into prominence on two counts as a prime example of a “strategic-deficit” Indian foreign policy. The first already stands discussed in outsourcing of Indian foreign policy to Washington and while succumbing to US pressures giving the impression of being type-casted as a mere camp-follower of US policies. Sri Lanka comes into significance the second time as a prime example where Indian national security considerations are set aside and a foreign policy formulation is adopted because if it had not been done so, the DMK in Tamilnadu would have withdrawn from the Ruling Coalition in New Delhi.

India’s foreign policy establishment at the apex levels gave a callous go-by to India’s national security interests in both the cases of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Callous is a mild term for the resultant strategic loss to India when viewed from the facts that both of India’s military adversaries are intent on weaning away Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from friendly postures towards India. Notably both Pakistan and China stood by Sri Lanka’s side against the United States on the human rights violation UN Resolution.

Two more strategic blunders of India’s foreign policy establishment need to be pointed out to highlight the “strategic deficit” in India’s foreign policy and these pertain to Nepal and Maldives recently.

Nepal as a strategic buffer-state shielding hundreds of kilometres of India’s northern peripheries from Chinese strategic presence was gifted away by India’s flawed foreign policies arising from perceptional misreading of Nepal’s domestic political dynamics. The Nepalese Maoists, courtesy India’s “strategic-deficit” foreign policy, were facilitated and handed on an Indian plate to emerge as a dominant actor in Nepal’s political dynamics, something which they could not achieve in ten years of armed conflict against the Nepalese State. In the process as I have stated earlier, China was by default allowed to have a substantial presence in Nepal and more crucially on India’s doorsteps opposite Bihar and Uttar Pradesh besides West Bengal.

Strategically, China and Pakistan have recently gained in Maldives where an Indian foreign policy callously oblivious to India’s strategic interests allowed the India-friendly President Nauheed to be displaced by a dubious civil coup. India had years back indulged in a military intervention in the Maldives to secure its national interests. Now that India was much stronger, there was no earthly reason as to why the Maldives was allowed to slip away from India’s strategic influence.

Concluding, all that can be said is that in all the cases referred above what stands out glaringly is that India’s foreign policy is “strategic- deficit” where the core national and strategic interests that should be the drivers of Indian foreign policy are callously or obliviously are put aside for other extraneous factors. An economically vibrant India and militarily strong India cannot play ‘second fiddle’ in its foreign policy formulations nor can it allow domestic politics to distort India’s foreign policy perspectives. India’s national security and strategic interests are ‘paramount’ and these and these only should be the anchors of India’s foreign policy.

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

One thought on “India’s Foreign Policy: A Strategic Deficit? – Analysis

  • March 24, 2012 at 5:16 am

    I would like to present my opinion on India’s foreign policy towards it’s neighbours. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are important for India from strategic point of view but it does not mean India has to appease them to keep Pakistan and China away. I think India should maintain good relations with them but at the same time let them know that there will be repercussions if they compromise India’s security interests. For example take the case of Sri Lanka. If they are guilty of war crimes then it’s not just India’s responsibility as a regional power but also its duty because crimes were committed against ethnic Indians and if there are skeletons in our closet(Gujrat, Kashmir, etc) then we should do something about it too. I conclude by saying that India does not have to adopt a coercive policy towards its neighbours but should let them know of perks and consequences of their relationship with India.


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