Monday, June 9, 2014

PM Modi’s Foreign Policy

President’s Address To Parliament

      PM Modi’s government has used the vehicle of the President’s address to spell out its foreign policy priorities: These are, (1) SAARC countries, who are also  India’s close neighbors in South Asia, (2) China, a neighbor and a Great power, which does and will continue  to impinge directly on Indian interests, (3) Japan, a long standing economic power house, which can help transform Indian Infrastructure and economy, (4) Russia a long time Strategic and defense technology partner and (5) USA, still the sole super power, which has multifarious possibilities for partnership, but whose promise has still to be fully realized. (6) The European powers (i.e. UK, France, Germany), which still have areas of technological and strategic strength from which India can benefit.  Though SAARC, a pluri-lateral organization is mentioned, the focus is clearly on bilateral relations with this set of countries, which together will have a high priority in the nation’s foreign policy. .
   Perhaps, underlying these is a more hard headed evaluation that real gains to India can come only from give and take between these countries and India rather than from drawn out discussion at (or with) multilateral and regional fora.

Foreign Policy Approach

     The selective list of countries mentioned in the speech, are those that can have the greatest impact on India’s economic development, the welfare of its people and its national security.  India’s  “values” and “soft power” will be balanced with “pragmatism” to achieve “mutually beneficial relations.” These words and inaugural actions, suggest that neither self-imposed ideological shackles nor fearful assumptions about the impact of bilateral relations on third countries, will be a constraint in pursuing India’s interests. However, PM Modi’s previously articulated interest in foreign economic relations (trade & investment) to promote India’s economic and technological development suggests a much greater emphasis on opportunities for mutual economic gain.
    The Modi led government is likely to shun grandiose concepts of global architecture and global governance and focus pragmatically on its economic and National security goals.  It is likely to have a business-like approach: Identifying opportunities and threats and pragmatically going about using the former and minimizing the latter, in co-operation with whichever country is most helpful in each case.   This does not imply an absence of strategic objectives, strategic doctrine or plan, but a shift in emphasis away from philosophical principles and moralism to more specific achievable economic and technological objectives.


    A peaceful, economically integrated neighborhood tops the nation’s foreign policy agenda outlined in the President’s address. Historically, this included Myanmar, but the latter is now a member of ASEAN not SAARC. Though Myanmar is also a member of BIMSTEC this includes another ASEAN member Thialnd.
     Similarly, Tibet a part of India’s historical neighbor hood has for obvious regions to be dealt with as part of China policy.  The early invitation to SAARC leaders is suggestive of the fact, that the new government will give much closer attention to the SAARC countries than the previous one. Pakistan as the second largest country in SAARC, will undoubtedly get its due share (no more, no less) of attention within this grouping, both from the perspective of peace and security within the region and with respect to mutually beneficial economic integration and regional growth. 

China: Threat or Opportunity

       China, a great power neighbor obviously requires the sustained and serious foreign policy attention from India.  With the possible exception of China, all other countries in the Modi Govt’s list of foreign policy priorities can be seen as providing opportunities for economic and technological development. So is China, the second country on the list, a threat or an opportunity? China’s actions on its land (Indian) and maritime borders (S China sea and E China sea) have alerted the World to the “potential” threat of a rising and aggressive China.  But the unravelling of China's Export-Investment led growth model after the Global financial meltdown, suggests that the ultra-nationalist actions may be an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party leaders to divert public attention away from slowing economic growth to foreign concerns.  China’s economic weakness and counter-action by its maritime neighbors also provide a cautionary warning to its leadership and may strengthen those elements in China that are “pragmatic” and genuinely believe in “mutually beneficial relations” with India.  If this is true, then China can be converted from a potential threat into a potential opportunity for India.
   There are three basic issues that need to be addressed for India-China relations to become a win-win opportunity for both: (1) A border settlement: Premier Chou en Lai provided a template and a map which is reportedly still available in the Indian archive, but from which the Chinese have resiled.  This long buried proposal along with the India-China border agreement of 2005, can be the basis for a border settlement in which China accepts India’s claims in the East and India broadly accepts China’s 1960s claims in the West. Alternatively, if this is politically too difficult for the two sides to do, the ill defined LAC should be converted into a defined and agreed LOC. (2) The great asymmetry in trade relations arising from the ability of the Party (CCP) to control imports from India without any formal procedure. The massive trade imbalance can only be corrected if the party issues clear instructions to this effect.  India can provide greater access to China’s construction exports and FDI in infrastructure, in return for a shift of China’s Labor intensive export industries to India (some of its parts & components would also be imported from China). (3) China’s nuclear and missile proliferation to India’s neighbors:  By formally agreeing to support India’s entry into UNSC, NSG, MTCR, Wassanar group etc. China can partially assuage the deep distrust that such proliferation has aroused.


     To the surprise of some, Japan an economic power, is listed ahead of the USA on the list of countries that have priority in PM Modi’s administration. The primary reason for this is the perception that the Japanese government has the financial wherewithal, the ability and (under PM Abe) the will to help India solve its infrastructure problems, meet its energy deficits and efficient use of natural resources and thus accelerate economic growth significantly.  It also has a wide range of technological capabilities that it can use to help upgrade India’s strategic R&D and technological abilities. Given historical cultural links, shared democratic perspective and geographical location, it has the potential of becoming a true and equal “Strategic partner” for India in a decade or so, if it can resolve the political divisions between traditional, older pacifists and younger, modern, nationalists. Among the pending issues are an Indo-Japanese "Civil Nuclear Agreement" on the lines of those with France,UK, Russia etc and Japanese decisions on opening up Defence system sales and technology export.


   Russia is a valued partner because of its co-operation in developing strategic technology for mutual benefit. Despite the fact that its Defense industry was disrupted by the collapse of the USSR and has never quite recovered enough to meet its cost and time commitments, it remains a major partner. Its large energy and natural resources also have potential, which has not been fully exploited for mutual benefit. 


      After a great start to the India-US strategic relationship under the Bush administration and some successes during the Obama administration(a la Ashton Carter, former Deputy defence secretary), the India-USA relationship has become increasingly transactional after the global financial crisis. We must however, be careful to distinguish between the Security related and Economic aspects of the relationship.  The former has the potential to become a solid and mutually satisfying strategic partnership while the latter is inherently more transactional, given the divergence in economic interests. As the Modi led government has few if any ideological constraints & self-imposed restrictions, there is an opportunity to transform the Indo-US security partnership (strategic technology, defense production, national defense, terrorism and internal security). 
   With the Govt’s desire to harness private investment & entrepreneurship private business relations are bound to flourish, given US firms are (in general) still the most technologically advanced and competitive in the World.. Thus it is advisable to use government to government interactions on economic policies to minimize the politically inspired conflicts between the two countries through honest give and take and transactional deals to satisfy political pressure groups and vested interests.


    Sometimes, a simple slogan can catch the essence of a new approach to National security and international relations. For PM Modi’s government there are in my view two such that people will eventually use to describe the new approach adopted by the Indian Government. These are, 
(1)    Speak Softly but Carry a Bigger Stick, ('speaking softly' may not come easy to some in BJP vis-a-vis Pakistan or China, but must be done e.g. "We want peace with Pakistan but it cannot be achieved through nuclear blackmail, terrorism and mutilation of our soldiers;" Similarly a 'bigger stick' is best signaled through informal channels rather than derogatory/rude language. Finally, those who accused PM Nehru of making empty threats in 1961-62 musn't make the same mistake).
(2)    Deterrence without Delusions (of converting ideologically driven opponents into peace-nicks through "Pappi-Jhappi" style of International Relations: National Power & the will to use it is the only way to deter or dissuade aggression and in this context, "Actions speak louder than words").

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