The shifting trajectory of India’s foreign policy- The Hindu -02/11/2020

In the Third India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue that took place in Delhi recently, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation was signed. With this signing India is now a signatory to all U.S.-related foundational military agreements.

Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation would entitle India to receive highly classified U.S. defence and sensitive geo-spatial intelligence information.
With increasing bilateral cooperation, including defence partnership reaching new heights, there has been a growing perception of India’s increasing alignment with the U.S.

The U.S. has been vocal about the importance of India in the regional and global affairs and has shown keen interest in collaborating with India. During the recent visit, the U.S. Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, stated that India would be the most consequential partner for the US in the Indo-Pacific in the current century. India too, given the state of the regional geopolitical condition, has been shedding its reluctance of collaborating with the U.S.

Concerns:

The author M.K. Narayanan, a former National Security Adviser argues that India’s closer alignment with the U.S. would lead to some concerns for India.

Compromising India’s independence in military matters:

Despite the present administration’s argument of there being enough India-specific safeguards built into the four foundational military agreements, these foundational agreements effectively tie India to the wider U.S. strategic architecture in the region.
The author argues that with the signing of these agreements, India’s claims of maintaining strategic autonomy will increasingly sound hollow.
Previous governments had resisted attempts to get India to sign these agreements on the ground that it would compromise India’s security and independence in military matters.

Necessitates two-way information exchange:

The latest BECA would no doubt provide India with access to highly classified information but it would also require India to share some sensitive information.

Against non-alignment policy of India:

With the closer alignment with the U.S. and its Indo-Pacific policy, India is being viewed as being part of the wider anti-China ‘coalition of the willing’.
This goes against India’s previous policy of neutrality, and of maintaining its equidistance from power blocs.

Impact on India-China ties:

Too close an identification with the U.S. may have a negative impact on its relations with the Chinese.
Given the U.S.’s intentions to contain and check Chinese ambitions, India’s willingness to sign foundational military agreements with the U.S. would only exacerbate already deteriorating China-India relations.
As India gravitates towards the U.S. sphere of influence, the trust between the two Asian powerhouses would only decrease.
Though China-India relations have never been easy, India has always pursued a policy which put a premium on avoidance of conflicts with China. Even after Doklam in 2017, India preferred talks through the Wuhan and Mamallapuram summits, to maintain better relations.

Impact on India’s influence in the region:

Several of India’s neighbours (Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh), normally perceived to be within India’s sphere of influence, currently seem to be out of step with India’s approach on many issues.
There seems to be a growing Chinese influence in these countries. India’s approach to counter China by allowing for U.S.’s entry into the region would only cede more space for the U.S. in the region at the cost of its own influence in the region. Both China and the U.S., seem to be making inroads and enlarging their influence here.

The Maldives has chosen to enter into a military pact with the U.S. to counter Chinese expansionism in the Indian Ocean region.

India needs to devote greater attention to try and restore India-Iran ties which have frayed in recent years due to the U.S.’s sanctions.

India’s membership of SCO:

Reconciling India’s closeness with the U.S., with its full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which has China and Russia as its main protagonists — and was conceived as an anti-NATO entity — will test India’s diplomatic skills.

India’s membership of SCO does offer the potential for increasing its influence in the Central Asian region and also offers a platform to engage with two powerful nations of the Asian continent- Russia and China.

Affects India’s standing in NAM:

India currently has a detached outlook towards the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and has increasingly distanced itself from the African and Latin American group in terms of policy prescriptions.
India’s new alliance patterns could only further aggravate this trend and this could only degrade India’s standing in the NAM.

India’s relationship with Russia:

The seemingly increasing India’s alignment with the U.S. would have a negative effect on the India-Russia ties, which has been a major feature of India’s foreign policy for more than half a century.
Almost certainly in the circumstances, India can hardly hope to count on Russia as a strategic ally particularly at a time, when Russia-China relations have vastly expanded and a strategic congruence exists between the two countries.

India would lose its unique character of having a working relationship with the major powers of the world if India-Russia relations were to deteriorate at such a critical phase of global geopolitics.

Projection as opportunistic behaviour:

The argument that India’s new foreign policy based on deeper collaboration with the U.S. is essentially a pragmatic one, in keeping with the current state of global disorder would only project India as an opportunistic nation for its ideologically agnostic attitude and behaviour.

Conclusion:

India should balance the ideals of strategic autonomy and non-alignment policy with its immediate and long term national interests.
India should also pay attention to offset its loss of influence and momentum in its immediate neighbourhood (in South Asia), and in its extended neighbourhood (in West Asia).

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