Indian Foreign Policy in a Changing World
Baljit Dhaka

Indian Foreign Policy in a Changing World

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Indian Foreign Policy in a Changing World 

Why in News?

  • Recently, Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, gave a lecture on the topic “Beyond the Delhi Dogma: Indian Foreign Policy in a Changing World”.  He has provided an assessment of the last 70 years of India’s foreign policy choices and gave insights on the diplomatic position of India currently. 

Different phases of Indian diplomacy were discussed-


  • The phase of optimistic non-alignment where India resisted the constraining of its choices and dilution of its sovereignty in a bipolar world. It saw energetic Indian diplomacy from Korea and Vietnam to the Suez and Hungary. However, India’s focus on diplomatic visibility sometimes led to overlooking the harsher realities of hard security.
  • Going to the UN regarding J&K.
  • Rejecting the offer “east-west swap deal” of China where India would recognize Chinese claims on Aksai Chin and China would give up its claims on the eastern sector.
  • The anticipated 1962 war, yet, the reluctance to attach overriding priority to securing borders.

1962-1971: Phase of recovery and realism:

  • India looked beyond non-alignment making pragmatic choices on security and political challenges E.g. concluding a defense agreement with the US in 1964.
  • Also, domestic challenges were acute, with political turbulence and economic distress.
  • India faced a tense situation with Pakistan in 1965 and finally led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
  • India became more realistic as it signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.

1971-1991: Phase of greater Indian regional assertion and phase of complexity:

  • E.g. the Creation of Bangladesh, but ended with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) misadventure in Sri Lanka.
  • Sino-US rapprochement of 1971 and the role of Pakistan as the interlocutor meant India had to face the US-China-Pakistan axis.
  • India’s optimistic outlook on Pakistan in 1972 at Shimla, resulted in a hostile Pakistan and a continuing problem in Jammu & Kashmir.

1991-1999: Phase of unipolarity made it a challenging task to retain India’s strategic autonomy:

  • India responded with an upgrade of diplomatic relations with Israel, outreach to Americans was done.
  • India opened up economically more to the world but fell behind ASEAN and China which opened up a decade earlier.
  • In 1998, India declared itself a Nuclear weapon power which led to US sanctions.

2000-2013: Vajpayee-Manmohan phase:

  • India gained the attributes of balancing power, as China began to emerge as the 2nd pole in world geopolitics, and the center of gravity of world geopolitics shifts towards the Asia-Pacific region.
  • The USA moved away from sanctions to Nuclear deal and in Kargil War and Operation Parakram world community weighted in favor of India as India was a balancing power now.
  • India also used the rising power of Russia and Japan to balance the complex geopolitical scenario.

2014-till now: Phase of Energetic engagement:

  • India’s rising global stature is evident from the overlooking posture of the global community on the issue of abrogation of Article 370.
  • India’s Act East policy- emphasizing a multi-polar Asia at the core of a multi-polar world.

India’s rising stature in the world:

  • India is being looked at by the countries of the global south for diplomatic and geopolitical help. For example:
  • The Indian navy has been deployed in the Gulf region since the attacks on oil tankers.
  • India was re-elected to the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) with the highest margin beating China’s candidate.

International infrastructure projects are moving Faster:

  • In Afghanistan, India completed the Salma dam, Parliamentary building, etc. Not even western countries were ready to take up these projects.


  • India is a part of the Alliance for Multilateralism and advocates for having rules, even if imperfect, rather than no rules.

Climate change:

  • India is engaging actively with the world community to mitigate its effects.
  • International Solar Alliance is headquartered in India.  

Suggestions to Indian diplomacy moving forward:

  • Greater realism: The purposeful pursuit of national interest in shifting global dynamics may not be easy but it must be done.  
  • Economic drivers to guide diplomacy a lot more than earlier, instead of old dogmas like economic autarky, self-reliance, import substitution.
  • The recent decision to get out of RCEP should not define our diplomacy as India wants to be pro-trade but RCEP was a bad deal for India.
  • The multi-polar world has emerged and all the pillars (e.g. US, China, Russia Japan, etc.) have to be managed without compromising with anyone.
  • Need for calculated risk-taking to take a quantum jump in global positioning. E.g. Uri and Dokhlam issue.
  • Need to read the global discourse right:
  • E.g. growing multipolarity, weaker multilateralism, the need for larger economic and political rebalancing needs to be carefully analyzed.
  • Giving up the dogmas: India cannot be dogmatic in approaching a visibly changing global order. For instance,
  • India cannot continue with unsettled borders, an unintegrated region, and under-exploited opportunities.
  • India needs to have a willingness to look beyond dogma and enter the real world of convergences to deal with contradictory approaches and objectives like-
    1. RIC (Russia-India-China) with JAI (Japan-America-India)
    2. Quad with the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)
    3. Iran with the Saudis
    4. Israel with Palestine