Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PM Modi's Foreign Policy: An Update

  A recent Policy paper (WsPP 4/2015) analyses the changes in foreign policy under PM Modi’s government. Here are some excerpts from this paper giving a flavor of the issues and arguments [i] :

     The most fundamental change in Foreign policy, is the one referred to in October 2014 as “India First.” [ii]   The choice of words was perhaps not the most diplomatic, but the implications remain the same and are amply supported by subsequent developments.  One of the achievements of the previous NSA was to bring out a foreign policy paper titled “Non-alignment 2.0” i.e. the 21st century version of the post War (WW II) foreign policy of “non-alignment” between the two poles of that time, USA and USSR.  By definition, Non-alignment starts with a definition of the “poles” or countries and their policies, between which one is non-aligned.   “India first” turns this approach on its head, by defining India itself as one of the poles, with a clear set of domestic and international objectives and expectations from other countries.  Instead of looking first at what other country’s objectives and expectations are, and  weaving our way through the contradictory objectives of other poles, we as a fixed pole, first define our own objectives and our expectations from other countries, including the “poles.” We then try to convince them to support our objectives, making whatever bargains necessary for achieving these objectives. 

     An essential element of this changed perspective, is the new government’s “pragmatic actions and ‘view of the world,’ ”  Therefore there has been a search for deals with every pole to further India’s  “primary objective of closing the economic and technological gap and building national power, in a pragmatic forward looking manner jettisoning ideological blinkers and minimizing historical baggage(Oct2014).”  This is neither ‘non-alignment 3.0’ nor ‘multi-alignment’, but the first step in the “Multipolar transition to a Tri-polar world” in which India will be one of the three leading poles by 2020, albeit the weakest of the three.[iii]  India in 2013 ranked third behind USA and China in terms of size of GDP at PPP and tenth behind Russia (9th) in terms of current dollar GDP. Its economic power, as measured by the VIPP index of potential power, was six.[iv] Author’s projections indicate that India’s rank will rise to number three by 2020. The Modi government’s aspirations of India becoming a ‘leading power’ not just a ‘balancing power,’” as outlined by the foreign secretary, reveals an appreciation of the emerging possibilities.

   Some analysts have called India’s new foreign policy approach as ‘multi-alignment.” But this is a misnomer, because India is not aligning either with the sole super power USA or with the fast rising great power China, nor with the Great powers of the past (Japan, Germany, Russia, France, UK).  It’s a “multipolar transition” because the relative position of these powers, with different strengths and weakness, is undergoing rapid change.  India is on the way to equaling and/or excelling them in certain dimensions, while still being in a position to benefit from their historical strengths.   This uncertain world, with the old equilibrium slowly crumbling, but a new one could take two decades to emerge, can be characterized as a multipolar transition.

   In October 2014, there were five areas in which I saw an emerging change in foreign policy: "The centrality of economic & technological development, the integration of domestic and foreign policy with respect to this objective, the emphasis on “national power” including “military power” and “Soft power” and a reduction in self-imposed constraints on actions that third counties may construe as inimical to their interests.”[v] These changes are now clearly underway.

  The policy paper argues that, (a)  Relations with USA have taken a decisive strategic upswing, but could grow even faster if the USA understood India’s limitations of low per capita income and high poverty and acted with more generosity, given these limitations. (b) That India is moving towards a policy of “symmetry” viz China, and (c) India is adopting a two pronged strategy toward Pakistan, based on a hard headed understanding of the deep state and its actions.  Further details can be seen in the policy paper (WsPP 4/2015).
   “The PM Modi led Indian government is changing the emphasis of India’s Foreign and National security policies. Elements of this change in approach are already visible. These involve a clearer definition of Indian interests (“India First”) in terms of economic and technological development, a greater focus on these goals in foreign policy and a consequent integration of domestic and foreign policies. Other changes involve a greater focus on the development of national power, in particular an enhancement of the somewhat neglected element of military power, its broader definition to include asymmetric warfare of which State financed-directed non-state actors are a dangerous part, and a jettisoning of self-imposed constraints of ideology and misplaced fear of offending other countries who display no such squeamishness in their behavior.   Overall a much more confident, credible and effective national security-foreign policy is predicted to emerge over the next five years.” [vi]  These have been rapidly operationalized over the year.

   A philosophical under pining cum broader direction for India’s new foreign policy is also emerging.  This is implicit in the government’s formulation of India going from being a “balancing power to a “leading power.”  The government plans to pursue a policy that accelerates the development of India to the position of the third most powerful economy in the World. It will also attempt to raise India’s rank in  strategic-military power, an effort that is more difficult, time consuming and costly, and therefore can benefit greatly from help from super power USA and other historical Great powers like Russia, France, UK, Japan and Germany.[vii]

[i] Virmani, Arvind, “Foreign Policy Under PM Modi”, Policy Paper No. 4/2015, New Delhi, May 2015. https://sites.google.com/site/drarvindvirmani/policy-papers
[iii]  Virmani, Arvind, "A Tripolar Century: USA, China and India," Working Paper No. 160, ICRIER, March, 2005. http://www.icrier.org/page.asp?MenuID=24&SubCatId=175&SubSubCatId=233. And other papers at https://sites.google.com/site/drarvindvirmani/india-great-power .
[iv] See for instance, Virmani, Arvind, "Fall and Rise of India", Working paper No. WsWp 1/2013, October 2013. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxkcmFydmluZHZpcm1hbml8Z3g6M2E0ZTNiNmVhYjA3MTM1Mw and other papers at  https://sites.google.com/site/drarvindvirmani/india-great-power .
[v] Foot note 1 op cit.
[vi] Foot note 1 op cit.

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