Emerging Challenges and Opportunities for India’s Foreign Policy!


by Prof. (Dr.) Sudhanshu Tripathi 8 January 2019

India needs to overcome its persisting inability to integrate the avenues of trade, technology, and investment into a coherent foreign policy formulation.

There have been some noticeable shifts in the world in the preceding decades which are leading towards gradual unfolding of a new world order in the coming times. And that may determine the emerging competitive tech-nationalism as well as tech-ecosystems in the civilian and military sectors. In this scenario, as increasingly rival tech systems will not cooperate with each other – in the AI or 5G domain – one can choose either Ericsson or Huawei, but can’t do both. While the US and China do not see each other eye to eye on many issues of common concerns like international trade and environment or terrorism etc., the marketing of technology including environmental protection technology on nationalist lines is now a grave threat to the peace and security of the whole world.
The effects of all these developments for India’s foreign policy will gradually become brighter with each day passing. It is in this context, and the year 2018 has been marked by some powerful changes for India, which pose grave challenges as well as offer good prospects. While India took a decisive shift to embrace Indo-Pacific from the erstwhile Asia-Pacific, described as a new cohesive strategic space – as a policy as well as a strategy, this step has now proved to be very significant for New Delhi as regards bringing uniformity and consistency in its recent policy initiatives in the entire region and in other parts of the world as well.

If ASEAN states in Southeast Asia to the sovereign countries in the Asia-Pacific ask India to play the decisive role of a net security-provider in this region, given its peninsular size, vibrant economy, and powerful army, perhaps so does West Asia too which is, in fact, an extended part of the Asian continent and is striving hard to establish even a semblance of peace and security in the region, as the region continues to remain a boiling cauldron due to macabre violence and terrorism including Islamic Terror (ISIS). And if India has devised its rechristened Look East policy and has been vigorously enacting it during all the past years, it is perhaps equally desirable for New Delhi to initiate something meaningful for West Asia too, as expected from its Look West Policy, because India had been a traditional and unconditional supporter to the Arab World vis-a-vis Israel for the long past, particularly on the most violent and obnoxious issue of Palestine.
Against this backdrop the beginning is marked with the first meeting of the Quad, a group of four countries viz. the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, in November 2017 with a view to protect and preserve peace and security in the region but the actual blueprint of India’s emerging Indo-Pacific policy was laid out by the PM Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, by emphasising upon rule-based order and security in the Asia-Pacific region, besides dwelling on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, North Korea’s military provocations and Islamist extremism, migration, cyber-security, counterterrorism etc.

Maintaining momentum towards strengthening of national as well as regional security, India inked a COMCASA agreement with the US, thereby assuming a stronger footing in case of Doklam-type crisis in future as it will have access to superior intelligence and information about battle situations to be provided by America. Further, it signed a logistics-sharing strategic pact with France which provides for the use of each other’s military facilities including opening naval bases to warships against the mounting tense scenario due to China’s growing military expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region.

The similar exercise in the form of a military logistics pact, ACSA with Japan is underway that will allow access to each other’s naval bases against the backdrop of their consolidating security ties, designed to balance China’s mounting fearful influence in the region and facilitate the Japanese ships to access fuel and servicing at major Indian naval bases including the Andaman and Nicobar islands which lie near the Malacca Straits, wherefrom a considerable amount of trade and fuel supplies of both Japan and China passes through besides helping the Indian navy, which is increasingly sending ships further out as a way to counter China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean and also to get access to Japanese facilities for logistics & maintenance. Further, India negotiated with Indonesia to procure a deep seaport for itself in Sabang in Aceh province to enhance maritime connectivity between the Provinces including Aceh in Sumatera Islands of Indonesia and Andaman and Nicobar Islands and also to explore collaboration to develop strategically located deep-sea port as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy. These besides there are other countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean region and Somaliland and Eritrea in the African continent which demand longer term investment by New Delhi for its strategic presence.

Again if the latest US’ announcement to withdraw its army from Afghanistan has aroused fear in India about its security as well as that of the region, it has at the same time enthused all terror outfits particularly the Taliban who will extract maximum mileage in Kabul, besides offering enough leverage to India to further consolidate its strategic presence by expanding its ongoing relief works pertaining to reconstruction of terror-infested Afghanistan.

Under this scenario while India’s present Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been consistently endeavouring to streamline and transform the country’s foreign policy as a dynamic, target-oriented, well-focused and effective policy instrument ever since he assumed office with landslide victory in 2014, an impartial assessment of the same indicates towards New Delhi’s persisting inability to integrate the avenues of trade, technology and investment into a coherent foreign policy formulation. Perhaps the best option today for India is to abandon techno-nationalism and, instead, leverage maximum potential for ensuring better yet cost-effective and pollution-free technological access for the country. This is possible as nothing is beyond human endeavour.