A Vision for India’s Future Foreign Policy

As the final years of the 20th century approached, India initiated its pivot into the global market economy through its landmark economic reforms. The overwhelming merits of these reforms ushered India towards unparalleled economic and diplomatic achievements. For instance, the Indian government ratified the groundbreaking US-India Civil Nuclear Treaty in 2008, which paved the way for India into the international nuclear elite club. Recently, India’s foreign policy has also felt a palpable presence of high-level dialogues between India’s Prime Minister’s Office and their equivalent counterparts world-over. There has emerged a hyper-energetic diplomacy attempting to position India’s role from being a rule-taker to a rule-maker.

However, there remains a resounding criticism that India has been unable to tap into its maximum potential. The following themes hence build upon the necessity for India to adopt an assertive reimagination in the most critical sectors of its economy and polity.

Looking Within to Promote Trade and Investment

An economy that is strong, flexible, and vibrant is essential to prevent disappointments such as withdrawal from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). A domain which requires immediate attention is sustaining foreign investments, wherein investors are often deterred by complex compliance frameworks, policy flip-flops, fickle tax laws, excessive regulatory fog, and the imminent suspicion of foreign capital. Given India’s aim to make its economy internationally competitive, it is imperative for India to sustain foreign capital flows whilst also attracting Fortune 500 companies to invest in India. A primary focus for India must be to establish a niche in manufacturing within textiles & garments, tech, and electric vehicles. By establishing strong manufacturing basis domestically, the nation is likely to witness positive international investment by big competitors such as Apple (in tech) and Tesla (in electric vehicles0, whilst also creating an influx of jobs and enhancement of Indian suppliers’ capabilities. Role of individual states in defining trade and investment must also be realigned with the new potential offered by paradiplomacy, either through the establishment of creating consular offices in individual states or setting up federal foreign affairs offices supervised by the federal government.

Public-Private Partnership for New Technology

Growth in IT, specifically data analytics, artificial intelligence, biotechnologies, quantum computing, as well as, entrepreneurship and skilling, is essential in India’s pivot to becoming a $10 trillion economy by 2030. India needs to build an ecosystem of partnership between the government and tech companies. The Government must improve the tech-infrastructure and lend support to tech companies to attract foreign and domestic investment. There is great potential in regulators, central and state agencies, partnering up with private sector firms to better understand the advances in technology. This will consequently enable legislations that are conducive to growth in tech, whilst fostering trust between the different players. A hassle-free infrastructure with limited judicial interference in performance is needed to make India attractive to eager international investors. Additionally, the Government must reinvent India’s education and skilling system to extract the maximum benefit out of India’s demographic dividend, projected to end by 2055. Finally, India must tap into the large potential market within emerging technologies, instead of focusing on smaller technologies, for instance data-labelling in AI.  As technology becomes pivotal to diplomacy, India needs to improve its techplomacy efforts by technology as the overarching goal that several ministries work towards- to ensure ethical and efficient advancement of India’s technological arsenal.

Outcome Oriented Diplomacy

India’s future diplomatic ventures should be towards establishing stronger ties with existing partners, whilst actively engaging new diplomatic opportunities. Extending beyond United States of America and the United Kingdom, a renewed focus must be placed on nations highlighted below.

A post-Brexit European Union offers India a strategic opportunity as their focus shifts towards other nations, particularly India. India must develop a new roadmap for strategic partnerships in technology, cyber security, maritime security, energy, and climate change. Particularly with Germany, India must seek increased investments, specifically in scholarships and academic partnerships. India must also focus on building its bilateral defence engagement with France, which has remained a key pillar of the India-France strategic partnership, whilst also establishing other areas of cooperation, particularly in nuclear energy.

In its own neighborhood, India must prioritise establishing mutually beneficial equations and overturning the unfairly discriminatory trade regimes between South Asia nations. With Afghanistan, with which India has shared warm ties and large-scale infrastructure projects, furthering military and diplomatic relations along with the development of the Chabahar Port should take focus. Forwarding the ‘Look East-Act East’ policy, ASEAN and India should jointly aim towards eliminating barriers of inadequate physical connectivity and infrastructural bottlenecks have impeded integration. India must utilize its advantage in the services, pharma, and IT and negotiate with especially Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, to liberalize their regulations to promote cooperation. In the aftermath of exiting the RCEP, the nation must aim towards eventually entering the RCEP, after negotiating a deal beneficial for India.

There is great potential in India’s relationship with Australia, Russia, and Japan. Going forward, India and Australia must work towards enhancing maritime connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region to promote people-to-people, business-to-business, and people-to-business interconnectedness. With Russia, India must aim towards accessing newer energy sources, ensuring ethicality in sharing energy, and establishing maritime partnerships to ease business and travel. With Japan, India must further collaborate on strategic infrastructure, particularly the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor- a tangible goal set at a Join Declaration, yet to be materialised.

Defence Diplomacy

Building upon this assertiveness, the most tangible representation of this assertiveness lies in India’s defence prowess. Whilst forwarding a muscular policy, the natio must aim towards becoming an Asian military power while continuing to be a net-security provider for the world. For this purpose, India must aim towards establishing self-reliance in defence equipment, which requires the Government to- achieve consistency in budgetary allocations, revamp the regulatory environment, and incentivize innovation in defence production. The Government must also fix the basic infrastructural problems within defence production- including a lack of specialists in the Defence Ministry, multi-layer decision making process, and the lack of coordination between the Defence Ministry and other departments. By establishing a level playing field in defence production between the private and public sector, the Government is more likely to witness greater competition and production that boosts India’s defence sector.

It is equally crucial for India to build defence partnerships globally, extending beyond the USA and Russia.   A realignment of focus towards Central Asia, Middle East, and its own neighbourhood, particularly with Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Myanmar, can offer strategic benefit. The U.A.E., which expressed clear support for India in the wake of the attacks on the Indian military base in the Uri district, also represents an opportunity of consistent partnership. With African nations, there is great potential in extending its military-to-military cooperation and establishing strong ties between local and foreign military officers. As the nation extends its military prowess world-over, India must consolidate its strategic position in defence diplomacy as the hub of defence production and exports, particularly with its neighbours. 

A Post-Balakot Pakistan Approach

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack at an army camp in Uri and the Pulwama suicide bombing that claimed the lives of over 40 CRPF personnel, the bilateral relationship between Indian and Pakistan is more bitter than ever and prone to brinkmanship. At this juncture, all indicators suggest Pakistan’s desire to use force and unwillingness to diplomatically negotiate with India. A new military-oriented muscular policy that display’s India’s assertiveness must be adopted. The primary means of exuding this assertiveness is through building a superior defence force in Asia.

It is therefore essential that India builds its ammunition reserve to engage in a limited military confrontation with the aggressor. Political strategists country-wide emphasized upon the need for India to reserve ammunition for minimum 40 days of intense fighting. This requires the Government to invest heartily in overcoming ammunition shortage for artillery guns, air defence, weapons, and tanks- particularly the 152 total types of ammunition considered critical by the Indian Army to fight a war. While the approach seems counterintuitive to peace, it will deter Pakistan from utilizing force as a negotiating tactic and consequently resort to diplomatic dialogues. This will lay the groundwork of the greater possibility of diplomatic cooperation. Contrarily, if this approach does not deter Pakistan, a military victory for the Indian army will be a major psychological blow for Pakistan.  

The Great China Game

For the past two decades, the so-called “Asian Century” has been defined by the rise of China and India’s economic growth. For the two extremely powerful actors in the continent, their relationship has alternated between conflict and cooperation. The last two decades saw the nations cooperating on a number of issues in forums, such as BRICS, New Development Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Similarly, both nations have retained similar positions on international issues of trade and climate change. It is hence possible and beneficial for India and China to push their bilateral relationship towards greater integration and collaboration.

Over the years, there has been tremendous growth in Chinese consumer good companies entering Indian markets and establishing manufacturing operations. Additionally, while the nations have bolstered trade in agricultural commodities in the aftermath of the Wuhan Summit, market access for Indian products in drugs and pharmaceuticals, IT, and IT related services needs to be improved to better trade with China. China must also prioritise fixing the trade deficit that currently exists in its favour, the biggest India has with any nation. A newer economic partnership between the two nations will lead to greater diplomatic partnership.

Both nations have complex political matters that require mutual sensitivity. An example will be China exercising caution in aligning with Pakistan in the Indo-Pak conflicts and India adopting a liberal view regarding China’s role in the South China Sea. The confluence of mutual interests will hence permit both countries to pursue their respective national and international goals without any deviation.

Conclusion

A resounding goal in India’s diplomatic endeavours has been to establish India as a resounding world power. There is no longer space for India to practice restraint in its policies. Being assertive, confident, and firm in its actions must form the cornerstone of all future steps India takes. When one visualizes India of the future, it must be an India which remains steadfast on its goals of achieving unparalleled economic success, military prowess, diplomatic rigour, and an overall prominent presence at the international level.

Published by mpgauravgogoi

Member of Parliament, Kaliabor Lok Sabha.

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