Foreign policy needs substance

Manish Tewari
Manish TewariSep 04, 2014 | 16:49

Foreign policy needs substance

FILE - PM Narendra Modi, second right, receives flowers from his Nepalese counterpart Sushil Koirala at the Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu. AP Photo

Does the BJP government have a foreign policy? Eighty days after the new dispensation has come into existence there seems to be nothing to suggest that there is a higher political direction let alone a long view of India's engagement with the world. Its foreign forays have been characterised more by form rather than substance.


WTO DG Roberto Azevedo says failure to pass a customs deal will affect trade. The Modi government argued the deal hurt Indian food security.


Champions of the government would contend that the government invited the extended neighbourhood to its coronation, Prime Minister travelled to Bhutan and Nepal. The Foreign Minister visited Bangladesh and Myanmar for the ASEAN confabulations; and therefore the neighbourhood is 'the' priority of this dispensation.


If indeed that is the case then what is the government's game plan for the region? With 23.4% of the world's population and only 2.96% of its land area a toxic history and a serrated geography South Asia is perhaps the most un-amalgamated region of the world. Given this reality can SAARC be revitalised to make it more efficacious? What about South Asian Free Trade agreements transiting to a free trade area, pruning of the sensitive list of products and the fundamental question does the division of the region into non-least and least developed states require a relook?

There is no evidence to suggest that these issues have even been pondered upon, forget evolving a Monroe doctrine that outlines a security doctrine that can ensure India's centrality in the region. Prayers cannot substitute for policy!

In today's nuanced eco-system India's influence would really be defined by its capacity to embrace and influence a spectrum of complex colloquies on multilateral matters. How then has the government performed on this parameter? The manner in which at the eleventh hour it blocked the trade facilitation agreement at the WTO did not cover it with any glory. Even if India had legitimate concerns that once the pact on simplifying custom rules is concluded developed countries would have no interest in finalising a separate deal on food subsidies. Thus the 2017 migration path agreed to at Bali would be a chimera. It should have then endeavoured to build a coalition that would have supported its position rather than being left isolated in the company of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.


India's veto may well signal the rise of a world of fragmented trading blocs which would have their own rubric and processes for settling divergences like the Trans-Pacific partnership. How does this square up with India's position of being a vocal proponent of global trade reform? Turning from multilateral to bilateral contexts what is that India wants out of its engagement with the US. With the Indo-US Civil Nuclear engagement having served the purpose of breaching the global nuclear apartheid and terminating India's isolation what is the next big 'idea' that should benchmark the relationship between these two democracies.


Similarly with China though their Foreign Minister visited India followed by an Indian delegation's visit to China commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Panscheel were there any concrete take away's from these interactions except renewed cartographic aggression. The European Union and its constituents remain important partners of India. With the 10th Asia-Europe meeting or ASEM summit coming up in Milan in October under the overarching theme of " Responsible Partnership for sustainable growth and Security" has this administration applied itself to the question as to how India could possibly take a leadership role in energising this engagement as opposed to pro-forma participation. The total trade between Asia and Europe was to the tune of 1.37 trillion Euros in 2012 that accounts for a substantial chunk of the global trade.



The BRICS has matured over the years and the fructification of the New Development bank ostensibly has invested it with a gravitas notwithstanding the intrinsic fault lines that underscore its existence. However the unresolved argument is what is the future that India sees in this partnership. Would it serve India better to restrict it to an Economic Union or does India see a larger political role for it and if so how does India then reconcile bloc equations with India's larger commitment to multilateralism.

This then takes us to the vexed question of the reform of both the ossified structures of the United Nations as well as the Bretton Woods institutions. Are there any new ideas, initiatives or energy that India would like to put on the table or does this government think that India would be better served by investing vigour into partnerships with other regional organisations that have become more cohesive and potent entities over the years.

Moving to the maritime domain how does India intend consolidating its dominant position sitting as it does on the head of the Indian Ocean. How would it ensure that the stability of the Indian Ocean region is not endangered by the rebalance of the US force posture towards Asia & China's blue water aspirations given that India's near abroad extends from the Straits of Hormuz to Malacca and the assertiveness that is increasingly at play east of the Malacca straits.

As India has committed itself to the inviolability of the global commons what should be it's role in ensuring that globally enforceable rules of engagement evolve expeditiously in the cyberspace and an aggressive push is provided to ensure that militarisation of outer space does not become our gravest security quandary in the near term. This is an illustrative not an exhaustive menu of strategic dilemmas that confront India. This is without even factoring the 'P' word into the calculus. The moot point being that the nation is perplexed if not confounded by the enigma as to whether the political establishment even grasps the complexity of India's imperatives, or is it episodic "Dhokla Diplomacy" at play?

Last updated: September 04, 2014 | 16:49
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