Essay: Indian Foreign Policy and Security

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Indian Foreign Policy -- When Will it Emerge?

Harsh V. Pant: Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy

Rajiv Sikri: Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India's Foreign Policy

As India continues to emerge as an important player in international power circles -- and has entered into a provocative nuclear deal with the United States

there is a commensurate growth of scholarship with reference to India's foreign policy future. India's future may be based on its part in the "strategic triangle"

(India, Russia, China) which could create a counterbalance to the sometimes bullying tactics of the fading superpower, the U.S. Which way will India lean?

In reading the two books by the authors noted above, a series of pertinent questions emerge. To wit, What is the proper role for India in the emerging international system? Is it pragmatic or even possible for India to become a strong, respected international player and at the same time connected at the nuclear hip with the United States? Should India participate as a "soft-balancing" partner in a coalition that seeks to keep the U.S. from global dominance? How can India develop stronger ties with Israel and with Israeli archenemy Iran at the same time?

But beyond the questions these books pose, there is the question of which author makes the strongest case for his positions on India's foreign policy. Professor Harsh V. Pant explores these questions with scholarship and objectivity -- but he gives himself away in a sense as a subtle proponent of Indian pride at his nation's emergence as a global player, which is woven into his narrative. While Pant's book painstakingly, competently reviews and critiques India's many foreign policy issues with the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, former Deputy Foreign Minister Rajiv Sikri's book brings his academic hammer down a little more often with full force on these same issues. A reader likes it when an author lands solid blows to the solar plexus of an issue.

The Central Puzzle: An alert, well-informed student is free to direct India's future foreign policy moves; but in this instance, we will let the onus for expertise fall on Pant and Sikri. Which book offers the most compelling arguments in terms of shaping India's future foreign policy and putting India's challenges into perspective? Meantime, it is the position of this writer that while the two books reveal a great deal about Indian foreign policies (or lack thereof) an investigative mind searches for foreign policy theory to bolster the results of the Pant and Sikri narratives. Hence, theoretical approaches to India's policy realities in the context of a changing world will also be presented in this paper.

Economics / Political / Geopolitical (Sikri): As for India's relations with its immediate neighbors, Sikri puts it forcefully: the generally "boorish, overbearing and condescending behaviour of most Indians towards its neighbours" have created an "ugly Indian" image (Sikri, p. 23)

. Add to that the fact that India's 8 to 9% annual economic growth rate contrasts dramatically with its "languishing" neighbors, and the seeds are sown for "a steady stream of illegal immigrants numbering more than 20 million" (Sikri, p. 23). The huge economic engine that is India is like a magnet, but it has also "severely compromised" Indian security as terrorists have set up cells inside India. Porous border protection could in the short run cause a huge distraction for India as it seeks to play ever more visible international role in the new alignment of great nations.

Sikri insists that India "has no alternative" but to be "generous" and "magnanimous" in its relations with its neighbors vis-a-vis foreign policy matters. Indeed Sikri states that India must treat neighboring states "like India's own states from an economic perspective" (p. 24). Sikri uses the phrase "hard-nosed self-interest" to describe India's neighborhood relations to date (Sikri's book was published in 2009).

Also alluding to India's neighbors, financial columnist Gideon Rachman (the Washington Quarterly, 2009) uses the phrase "Hard-headed realism" to describe India's reticence to criticize neighboring Burma for imprisoning renowned democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Rather than beefing up its economic neighbors to help its own economic future, India plays politics in this instance. As Rachman points out, India needs the blood-drenched Burmese regime on its side to help prevent a mass immigration of insurgents in northeastern India (Rachman, 2009, p. 120). Moreover, India fears that isolating Burma will push it towards China.

Economics / Political / Geopolitics (Pant): Pant says little about India's failure to lift its neighbors economically, rather he pounces on the idea that India can't possibly continue an 8% economic growth without being assured "energy security"

(Pant, p. 152). To continue it's economic growth India is relying partly on its relationship with Iran -- albeit a proposed gas 1,625-mile-long pipeline between India and Iran (through Pakistan) has "consumed a lot of diplomatic energy" (Pant, p. 156). India's relationship with Iran angers the U.S., hence, the "energy-starved" Indians are stuck between a rock (the U.S.) and a shortage of energy resources. Building a cooperative relationship with China is a smart move on India's part, but India best be cautious.

An example the delicate political / economic relationship India presently has with China can also be viewed in the context of the Dalai Lama. India has long respected the Dalai Lama and considered him not a "mere political dissident" but rather a "spiritual leader"; he is "widely revered in India" (Pant, 2009, p. 251). But when the Chinese viciously, brutally cracked down on Tibetan protests during the 2008 Olympic torch relay, not a squeak or squeal could be heard from India, Pant explains in his 2009 article published in Orb. "As India's weight…has grown in the international system" and is by way of achieving "great power status," Indian policy-makers are not clear as to what great power status entails" (Pant, p. 251). He lays out his objections in a tone far more assertive than he used in his 2008 book: At a time when the Indian foreign policy establishment "…should be vigorously debating…India's engagement with the world, it remains disappointingly silent." There is no "sense of direction" because India's policy makers are stuck in an "intellectual vacuum," Pant continues. He is beginning to sound like the more forceful Sikri in this journal article; "India has little to offer except some platitudinous rhetoric that does a disservice to India's rising global stature," Pant rants on page 251.

For his part, Sikri outclasses Pant on the Tibetan issue and the Dalai Lama, providing several pages reviewing what may happen when this Dalai Lama passes away. Sikri also should be far more forceful against China's claim to ownership with Tibet, Sikri asserts; moreover, India should protest the fact that China "…routinely and brazenly violated its solemn bilateral commitments" vis-a-vis Tibet (Sikri, p. 102).

Referring again to his 20078 book, Pant explains that both China and India own rights to oilfields in Iran and in Africa, but China is the bigger player when it comes to aggressive expansion of its national economic interests (think oil), and India is struggling to catch up. Pant does not mention that India and Pakistan are jointly working with Iran to build that pipeline, but Sikri (p. 41) does mention the cooperate pipeline, along with another pipeline that would cross Afghanistan and Pakistan to India from Turkey.

Pakistan / Culture / Civil-Military Relationship (Pant): Author Pant sets aside about 40 pages to discuss India and its sometime belligerent neighbor, Pakistan. Sikri uses about 17 pages for Pakistan. Sikri's view is that things are improving albeit Pakistan's ruling elite have hitherto shown a "mindset" that amounts to a "cocktail of arrogance and brashness…bordering on cockiness" (p. 39). Rather than needle, agitate and frustrate India constantly, Pakistan is showing signs of wanting positive change. Pakistan's Islamic cultural history is being revisited by the government and a new law passed "that minorities…enjoy the same rights as the majority" (Sikri, p. 42). Also encouraging news for Indians who fear Pakistanis and Pakistanis who loathe Indians is that the Pakistani security issues are more internal than external. The "greatest threat to the security of the Pakistani state" are the "jihadis" (terrorists) that are attacking Pakistani's army and government institutions (Sikri, p. 43). Sikri's book makes a very salient point by mentioning General Musharraf's departure as president; with a civilian government finally in place in Pakistan, India "should welcome… the new trade policy that liberalises imports from India and seeks Indian investments in selected projects in Pakistan" (Sikri, p. 44).

India / Civil-Military (Pant): What Sikri does not mention, and certainly should have, was then-president Musharraf's threat to use nuclear weapons against India in 2002. The general claimed that the only reason India did not "launch a full-scale war against Pakistan in 2002" (when Indian military forces were massing at the border with Pakistan and the world nervously watched this standoff) was that India knew Pakistan would utilize "unconventional tactics" (i.e., nukes) (Pant, p. 77). India responded that any nuclear strike against its… [END OF PREVIEW]

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