Indian Foreign Policy: A Road Map for the Decade Ahead


Pranab Mukherjee**

India’s Foreign Policy is a product of its history, geopolitical setting and the needs and aspirations of its people as distilled by its democratic institutions. This policy is inspired by the vision of our founding fathers, in particular Pandit Nehru, and is nourished by a tradition of continuity and consensus.

India is set resolutely on a path of economic growth of at least 8% per annum. In a decade from now India is slated to be the 3rd largest economy in the world with a significant portion of the world’s output in key areas such as Information and Communication Technologies, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, automotive manufacturing and light engineering. Given current trends, Indian companies would have spread themselves further afield and become important players in the global supply chain. Human resource is our most vital asset. Indian professionals and workers will play a key role in the economic resurgence of India and would emerge, with the Indian diaspora, as significant contributors to the reassertion of India’s economic weight.

A Major Role in Economic Renaissance

India’s Foreign Policy is poised to play a major role in this economic renaissance. There is a range of foreign policy instruments available today to advance our economic interests – traditional commercial work, negotiation of preferential or free trading areas, active participation in multilateral forums etc. The government need to creatively add to this toolbox and in fact retune mindsets so that our entire approach to a bilateral relationship is premised primarily on that relationship’s contribution to our economic well-being. What is needed, to list only a few, include a significant upgrading of our economic relationship with South East Asia, East Asia, Latin America and Africa, building new investment driven partnerships with the US and EU and nurturing a web of cooperative energy security networks in Asia and with new suppliers in West Africa, Central Asia and Latin America.

Traditionally threats to India’s security have largely come overland from the North and the West and from the waters in the South and the West. In future the importance of the East in the country’s security calculus is slated to rise. Maritime security, WMD proliferation, energy security and terrorism are important and emerging issues with a bearing on the security of the region. The emphasis should be to promote an environment of peace and security in the region and beyond, which indeed is a pre-requisite for development.

Relations With Neighbours

The other major theme for India Foreign Policy a decade hence has to be a significantly different set of relationships in the neighbourhood. A major power has hardly ever emerged – or sustained itself – on the world scene from amidst a conflict-ridden and impoverished neighbourhood. The street on which India has to build future home should reflect our values and our aspirations, in particular our desire for a peaceful and prosperous future. India, as the largest country in South Asia with land and sea borders with all its neighbours in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and indeed as the eldest ‘sister’ in South Asia, has to assume greater responsibility for the region’s challenges.

India’s neighbours can and should share in our drive for prosperity. Bhutan, for example, has significantly raised its per capita income as a result of its energy exports to India. Sri Lanka has drawn full value from its importance to the logistics of Indian trade. Both Maldives and Sri Lanka are benefiting from Indian tourism. So too is Mauritius, which also serves as an investment route into India. Citizens of Nepal have long sought employment opportunities in India, a trend that will only become stronger. More recently, China has discovered the advantages of trading with India, and our bilateral trade is growing at an astonishing 60% plus per annum. With Thailand, India has concluded an FTA and with Myanmar, we are exploring new opportunities in energy and infrastructure. Afghanistan has benefited from the participation of Indian companies in its reconstruction and economic revival.

Indo-Pak Relations

The coming decade is crucial for India-Pakistan relations, which even today are at a cross-roads. It is not possible to change borders, but the country can surely make efforts to strengthen bilateral relationship. Initiatives that promote people-to-people relations has resulted the deep yearning amongst ordinary people for peace and normalcy. Sustaining and expanding this process would be one of the important challenges of India’s foreign policy. But this can happen only when diplomacy is allowed to function without interruption. If, on the other hand, terrorism is perceived and practiced as an instrument of statecraft, then the most imaginative diplomacy will founder on lack of domestic support.

Relations With Major Powers

India’s relations with the major powers – United States, European Union, Russia, China and Japan as well as the emerging powers of Latin America and Africa have undergone a major makeover in the past decade and a half. The bandwidth of engagement with these powers is wider than ever. India’s Foreign Policy would need to actively promote the building of a qualitatively different relationship with the major powers in the decade ahead thus contributing positively to our political, economic and security objectives.

The exponential and qualitative change in India-US relations has rightly attracted global attention. The India-US civil nuclear agreement symbolizes not only a maturing of bilateral relations but also a clear recognition of the responsible record of India as a state possessing advanced nuclear technologies. India’s cooperation on matters impinging on regional and international security is a reflection and recognition of its capabilities and its role in fostering peace and security. In the future the relationship has to build more on the convergence of values and interests between India and the US and to add a bigger economic element to cooperation. As India grows and integrates with the global economy, there is bound to be more demand for US goods, technology and services and at the same time greater penetration of the vast US market by Indian companies. There is another evolving significant factor of complementarities in human resources. All these have the potential to unleash a much broader and deeper strategic engagement between the two countries.

India’s strategic partnership with Russia has had to weather the difficulties thrown up after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Developments in the post-Cold War period have imposed different sets of constraints but have also offered newer options for both India and Russia. For India, Russia is a partner in fight against global terrorism, an ally in the field of civil nuclear, space and defence technologies and a key player in the quest for energy sufficiency.

India and Europe share values of democracy, pluralism, human rights and respect for rule of law with similar institutions such as a free press and an independent judiciary. India is now one of EU’s six strategic partners and the EU remains India’s largest export destination and one of the largest sources of foreign investment into India. India’s strategic partnership is based on mutual interest and the great potential both sides see for enhanced cooperation, including in tackling global problems such as terrorism and environmental degradation.

India’s ‘Look East’ policy was more than an economic imperative. It was a significant shift in India’s vision of the world and her place in the emerging post-Cold War global scenario. In the years to come it will be our endeavour to strengthen political, physical and economic connectivity between India and East Asia and broaden the underpinnings of our quest for peace and prosperity.

The India-China relationship is bound to be one of the most important bilateral relationships in the coming decade simply by the sheer weight of demographic and economic numbers. How India manages this relationship will have a tremendous impact on peace and stability in the regional and increasingly the global context. India-China relations have traditionally been viewed through the prism of ‘balance of power’ or ‘conflict of interests’ with Asia as the theatre of competition. This theory has become outdated in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. It is increasingly recognized that there is enough space and opportunity for both to grow. Both countries have taken a number of initiatives to improve bilateral relations across a range of areas, without allowing existing differences to affect the overall development of their ties. China is set to emerge as India’s leading trading partner in the future and both countries, which face many common challenges, are exploring cooperative approaches to a range of issues including terrorism and protection of the environment.

India attaches great importance to close, cooperative and friendly relations with Japan, the second largest economy in the World, and the other major pillar in Asia of our foreign policy. India’s ‘global partnership’ with Japan reflects our common search for geopolitical, strategic and economic options in a rapidly changing world. In the next decade this relationship is set to become one of the most important factors in India’s foreign policy matrix.

A Challenge and Opportunity

In the coming decade, India’s foreign policy would have to contend with intensified engagement with not only the major powers but also emerging power centers as well as our immediate and extended neighbourhood. Demographic trends, policy choices and India’s inherent societal strengths have come together to put India among the key players of this century. The world’s perception of India, its capacities and its strengths has changed irreversibly. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for our foreign policy. India has to act, and more quickly than before, from a platform of increased self-assurance and responsibility to ensure that the country continues to enjoy a peaceful and supportive environment for pursuing her development goals and able to contribute, to the fashioning of a better world based on universal human values.

*Adapted from the Address of Union External Affairs Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, at the National Defence College, New Delhi.



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