Aatmanirbhar Foreign Policy: Is it practically viable?

Aatmanirbhar Foreign Policy: Is it practically viable?

By Dr. D.K. Giri

The Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort reflected a much mellowed tone, whereas the country needed a clarion call to fight a dwindling economy, a strife-torn society, and foreign ingress into our territory. We focus here on the ongoing border conflict with China and the challenge for India’s foreign policy to restore the status quo ante. Several rounds of talks at military and diplomatic levels have not yielded satisfactory and complete result so far. So the Chinese border threat continues to be a challenge for India’s foreign policy.

Admittedly, the Prime Minister repeated his twin allegations of expansionism of China and terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. This leads to the strategic thinking of a two-front war on the East with China and the West with Pakistan, should that situation ever eventuate. While preparation of war is a necessary strategy, diplomatic and economic retaliation will be the cutting-edge under the current circumstances in international politics. The latter, centred on diplomatic offensive is not as strong as we would like it to be.

Given the ideological and strategic call of Aatmanirbhar (Self-reliant) Bharat, observers and experts have begun to talk about self-reliance in foreign policy as well. Self reliance itself as a concept and policy in the present context is outdated and unworkable. We have maintained this in this column and elsewhere. This is the age of inter-dependence. Rather a complex inter-dependence espoused by authors like Robert O Keohane and Joseph S Nye. This is backed by the policy of using comparative advantage of various countries. Self-reliance often leads to isolation and autarky.

Also, in view of the multiple challenges of acquiring appropriate and advance technology, defence support, economic exchange, social and political solidarity, a country cannot be self-reliant. The better approach would have been to strive to be self-confident. But since the Prime Minister used it, it has become a ‘gospel truth’ for supporters of the regime who are tweaking and expanding it to mean everything under the sun, like globalism based on self-reliance. The slogans ‘Make in India’, make it global or ‘local is global’ are contradiction in terms.

Interestingly, the ridiculous extension of the concept of Aatmanirbhar in to foreign policy is also happening. Articles calling for a self-reliant foreign policy can be scanned in the media. For the sake of endorsement of a concept, the writers talk about a new approach to foreign policy from the position of strength. For instance, indigenisation of defence production will add to self-reliance. Likewise, strategic autonomy which is again an untenable proposition is cited as a determinant of self-reliance. In the same breath, the proponents of the self-reliance talk about multiple engagements with medium powers instead of relying on a big power like United States. They talk of a ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy.

One finds such formulations fudging an approach and confusing friends and partners. Anyone practicing the proverb, “a friend to everybody is a friend to nobody” may be perceived as duplicitous and utilitarian. Although the contrarian view suggested by William Clay is, “this is quite a game. Politics, that there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” Indian foreign policy should consist of conflating interest and friendship, a combination of both the axioms.

Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister in the last six years has undone quite a few historic mistakes, broken new grounds in our foreign policy. But in certain cases not able to shake off shackles of the past. Self-reliance, non-alignment, neutrality, strategic autonomy etc. are some of the obsolete concepts the current regime is still holding on to.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to re-imagine India’s foreign policy. In order to do so using a regressive technique, let us eliminate what is not possible or advisable. The context for such an exercise is the challenge of rebuffing Chinese incursion into our territory. In fact, Beijing suddenly has jolted us into rethinking our foreign policy. Earlier, it was Kashmir issue and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism that largely determined our foreign policy. While we competed and confronted Pakistan, we tried to do business with China, knowing very well that China is behind Pakistan’s aggressive stances against India. Now, China, as the mentor of Pakistan has taken on the responsibility of confronting India.

The mistake of not correctly reading the Chinese mind that harboured a history of hostility towards India has cost us dearly in the past and now. Correcting this mistake here and now has to be the cornerstone of our revamped foreign policy. Coming back to eliminating what cannot be done, one, India cannot give in to Chinese incursion. Two, it cannot on its own push Chinese back to pre-May position by launching a military offensive. Three, it cannot build adequate military arsenal on its own to successfully fight China in a one-to-one war. Fourth, it cannot reverse its current anti-China approach and reconcile once again to Chinese hegemonic strategy in the region. We have reached a point of no return.

In the light of the above improbabilities and an undesirable steps, what should New Delhi embrace that is feasible and in the interest of our country. New Delhi has to extend the area of confrontation with China beyond the borders. New Delhi should engage Beijing in the Indian Ocean region, South China Sea and Indo-Pacific. Even at the borders where India has strategic advantage, it could do tit for tat. Second, New Delhi should engage actively with all those countries at the receiving end of Chinese expansionism — Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, Mongolia and other Central Asian countries. New Delhi has done well by recognising the diplomatic contact between UAE and Israel.

The Middle East is going to be the next theatre of confrontation between China with its couple of allies and the rest. New Delhi should choose her tent right now. India’s romance with Iran is fading for various reasons. Third, New Delhi has to make formal alliance with Japan, America and Australia, the members of the Quad in order to buttress its security vis-a-vis-China. It should never be a lone ranger in this big task of confronting China. We have advocated, as a long-term strategy, adding the fall of Chinese empire, liberation of Tibet, Xinxiang, East Mongolia and so on. This may sound radical but it is possible and desirable in the interest of freedom, rule-based international order and harmony.

New Delhi should stop dithering on a military engagement in Afghanistan, which gives room for Pakistan and China to manoeuvre and partly placate United States which has an abiding interest in stability and security of Afghanistan. Another strategic point which may be unpopular at the moment is to decouple Pakistan from China by using good offices of common friends like Saudi Arabia. Apparently Pakistan is not too comfortable with Chinese domination but has no choice. Even a psychological initiative based on our common ancestry might make Pakistan rethink. Without active support of China and past indirect support of America in the context of Afghanistan, Pakistan is toothless against India. Finally, the most important ingredient for cooking of a new foreign policy is to build up our economy by luring at least 60 per cent of companies vacating China, signing a free-trade agreement with the US as well as European Union.

The author is Prof. International Politics, JMI


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Aatmanirbhar Foreign Policy: Is it practically viable?

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