Foreign policy challenges five years
later (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: BIMSTEC, SAARC
Mains level: India’s foreign policies and challenges
In an unpredictable global environment and with resource
constraints, India needs to shape a domestic consensus.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his second term, the world
looks more disorderly in 2019 than was the case five years ago. U.S.
President Donald Trump’s election and the new dose of unpredictability in
U.S. policy pronouncements;
The trade war between the U.S. and China which is becoming a
Brexit and the European Union’s internal preoccupations; erosion
of U.S.-Russia arms control agreements and the likelihood of a new arms race
covering nuclear, space and cyber domains;
The U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and growing
tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are some of the developments that add
to the complexity of India’s principal foreign policy challenge of dealing
with the rise of China.
As in 2014, in 2019 too Mr. Modi began his term with a
neighbourhood focus but redefined it. In 2014, all South Asian Association
for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders had been invited for the
However, the SAARC spirit soon evaporated, and after the Uri
attack in 2016, India’s stance affected the convening of the SAARC summit in
Since an invitation to Pakistan was out of the question, leaders
from the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic
Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
Myanmar and Thailand) with Kyrgyzstan, added as current Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation chair, highlighted a new neighbourhood emphasis.
Relations with countries on our periphery, irrespective of how we
define our neighbourhood, will always be complex and need deft political
Translating India’s natural weight in the region into influence
was easier in a pre-globalised world and before China emerged in its
Today, it is more complex and playing favourites in the domestic
politics of neighbours is a blunt instrument that may only be employed, in
the last resort; and if employed it cannot be seen to fail.
Since that may be difficult to ensure, it is preferable to work on
the basis of generating broad-based consent rather than dominance.
The multi-pronged diplomatic efforts
This necessitates using multi-pronged diplomatic efforts and being
generous as the larger economy.
It also needs a more confident and coordinated approach in
handling neighbourhood organisations — SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Bangladesh, the
Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum
for Regional Cooperation, the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
This should be preferably in tandem with bilateralism because our
bilateral relations provide us with significant advantages.
With all our neighbours, ties of kinship, culture and language
among the people straddle boundaries, making the role of governments in
States bordering neighbours vital in fostering closer linkages.
This means investing attention in State governments, both at the
political and bureaucratic levels.
Managing China and the U.S.
China will remain the most important issue, as in 2014.
Then, Mr. Modi went along with the old policy since the Rajiv
Gandhi period that focussed on growing economic, commercial and cultural
relations while managing the differences on the boundary dispute through
dialogue and confidence-building measures, in the expectation that this
would create a more conducive environment for eventual negotiations.
Underlying this was a tacit assumption that with time, India would
be better placed to secure a satisfactory outcome.
It has been apparent for over a decade that the trajectories were
moving in the opposite direction and the gap between the two was widening.
For Mr. Modi, the Doklam stand-off was a rude reminder of the
reality that the tacit assumption behind the policy followed for three
decades could no longer be sustained.
The informal summit in Wuhan restored a semblance of calm but does
not address the long-term implications of the growing gap between the two
There is the growing strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China
unfolding on our doorstep.
We no longer have the luxury of distance to be non-aligned. At the
same time, the U.S. is a fickle partner and never has it been more
unpredictable than at present.
Key issues harming the relations with India
As part of its policy on tightening sanctions pressure on Iran,
the U.S. has terminated the sanctions waiver that had enabled India to
import limited quantities of Iranian crude till last month.
The Generalised System of Preferences scheme has been withdrawn,
adversely impacting about 12% of India’s exports to the U.S., as a sign of
growing impatience with India’s inability to address the U.S.’s concerns
regarding market access, tariff lines and recent changes in the e-commerce
A third looming issue, perhaps the most critical, is the threat of
sanctions under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),
were India to proceed with the purchase of the S-400 air and missile defence
system from Russia.
Till the end of last year, then U.S. Defence Secretary James
Mattis had been confident of India securing a waiver — but times have
Other potential tricky issues could relate to whether Huawei,
which is currently the prime target in the U.S.-China technology war, is
allowed to participate in the 5G trials (telecom) in India.
The reconciliation talks between the U.S. and the Taliban as the
U.S. negotiates its exit from Afghanistan raise New Delhi’s apprehensions
about the Taliban’s return, constituting another potential irritant.
How New Delhi manages its relations with Washington will be
closely watched in Beijing and Moscow, which have been moving closer.
It is reminiscent of 1971 when China began moving closer to the
U.S. to balance the then USSR, with which its relationship was strained.
Today, both see merit in a common front against the U.S., though
for China the rivalry with the U.S. is all-encompassing because of its
geography and Taiwan.
Russia has interests beyond, in Afghanistan, West and Central Asia
and Europe, and it is here that it will need to exploit new opportunities to
reshape the relationship.
In a post-ideology age of promiscuity with rivalries unfolding
around us, the harsh reality is that India lacks the ability to shape events
around it on account of resource limitations.
These require domestic decisions in terms of expanding the foreign
policy establishment though having a seasoned professional at the top does
We need to ensure far more coordination among the different
ministries and agencies than has been the case so far.
Our record in implementation projects is patchy at best and needs
The focus on the neighbourhood is certainly desirable, for only if
we can shape events here can we look beyond.
However, the fact that China too is part of the neighbourhood
compounds Mr. Modi’s foreign policy challenges in his second term.
Employing external balancing to create a conducive regional
environment is a new game that will also require building a new consensus at
Q.1) Which of the following best explains Net National Disposable Income? (a) Income which individuals receive for doing productive work in the form
of wages, rent, interest and profits.
(b) The sum total of incomes of residents that remain with them after paying
taxes and transacting cash and kinds with nonresidents.
(c) The part of the income of individuals which they spend in paying taxes.
(d) All income which is actually received by all individuals in a year
Q.1) What are the key challenges for India’s foreign policy in 2020? Why it is
so different than 5 years before?