THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 November 2019 (5 years challenges to the Foreign policy (The Hindu))

5 years challenges to the Foreign policy (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 technology war;
  •  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.

Redefining neighbourhood

  •  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 swearing-in.
  •  However, the SAARC spirit soon evaporated, and after the Uri attack in 2016, India’s stance affected the convening of the SAARC summit in Islamabad.
  •  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 management.
  •  Translating India’s natural weight in the region into influence was easier in a pre-globalised world and before China emerged in its assertive avatar.
  •  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 countries.
  •  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 policy.
  •  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 changed.
  •  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.

External balancing

  •  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.

Way ahead

  •  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 help.
  •  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 urgent attention.
  •  The focus on the neighbourhood is certainly desirable, for only if we can shape events here can we look beyond.


Prelims Questions:

Q1. 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

Answer: B
Mains Questions:
Q1. What are the key challenges for India’s foreign policy in 2020? Why it is so different than 5 years before?

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