India Must Refresh its Foreign Policy
The next government in India will face several foreign policy challenges as the international order copes with a shifting balance of power and mutating competitive strategies of its primary determinants. One of the main challenges will be to deal with the contradictions in the US-Russia- China relationships, and in India’s relations with each of them.
In terms of comprehensive national interest, the relationship with the United States (US) remains critical for India. At $140 billion, it is our largest trading partner, and recipient of bulk of our Information Technology services exports. Despite being an overall trade deficit country, we have a nearly $25 billion surplus with it. It also hosts the largest number of Indian students (200,000) in foreign universities, the largest single country presence of Indian origin diaspora (4 million). It has an investment stock of around $28 billion in India, while Indian companies have invested around $18 billion in the US, especially over the past decade. Defence trade has risen from close to zero in 2008 to $18 billion today, and interoperability has been increased through regular bilateral and trilateral (Malabar, with inclusion of Japan) exercises, and signing of agreements providing for logistics support (LEMOA), and communications compatibility (COMCASA). Technology and co-production partnerships are being worked upon. It has supported and piloted India’s aspirations in multilateral export control regimes such as Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement.
The US, however, remains a difficult partner. It expects others to accept its foreign policy choices, often driven by its own domestic compulsions and preferences. Following political fatigue with two decades of post-Cold War unilateral military interventions, it has increasingly weaponised economic policies, variously sanctioning individuals, entities, governments and countries. Its partners are expected to follow, either on account of support they have received or may need, or in light of cost-benefit analysis, factoring in the deeper linkages with the US economy and society. India’s energy import bills will be higher on account of US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela.