Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of India’s independent foreign policy, prioritised non-alignment and solidarity with the developing world as its guiding principles. The nation was guided by this policy until the late 1980s. 2017 also marks the 70th anniversary of the historic Asian Relations Conference (ARC), which marked the arrival of India on the world stage. Chaired by Nehru, the conference, held in New Delhi in March-April 1947, was attended by many leaders from Asian countries which were on the verge of gaining independence. It took place at a time when some colonial powers were harbouring dreams of holding on to their colonies in Asia. Nehru declared at the conference that India “did not have designs” on any country and that India’s “great design” was that of “promoting peace and progress all over the world”.
This marked the beginning of India's Non-Alignment at global level.
The ARC was followed by the Bandung (Asia-Africa) Conference of 1955; India played a key role in organising it. It was the precursor of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Leaders from 29 nations, including China, Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq, attended the conference at Bandung. They stressed that their main fight was against poverty, injustice, colonialism and imperialism. They made it clear that they did not want to get involved in the Cold War raging between the United States and the Soviet Union. Non-alignment became the main tenet of India’s foreign policy for the next 40 years.
In the 1950s and the 1960s, the U.S. had termed the concept of non-alignment as a hostile policy. John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, famously termed it “evil”.
India played a key role in highlighting the injustices under colonial rule in different parts of the world, especially in Africa. The moral and diplomatic support it provided in the decolonisation struggle in southern Africa did play a role in the eventual liberation of the countries in the region and the end of apartheid. India was also in the forefront of the efforts to raise the voice for the rights of Palestinians and other oppressed people. In short, India had a lot of goodwill in many capitals in the world, especially in newly independent countries.
The shift in the 1990s
From the 1990s onwards, India’s main focus was on getting closer to the West. Issues such as non-alignment and South-South Cooperation were slowly consigned to the back burner.
With the Cold War having ended and the socialist bloc in tatters, India’s foreign policy slowly started abandoning the Nehruvian premises. The thrust since then has been to transform India into a “great power”. With that goal in mind, India slowly started tilting towards the West. Indian policymakers like to point out that China’s rise was to a large extent because of its rapprochement with the West after Deng Xiaoping took the reins of power.
It is indeed correct that close ties with the U.S. helped China to emerge as a big economic power. Chinese policymakers used the rivalry between Moscow and Washington to their benefit. However, it was the opening of the Chinese economy and its headlong plunge into the free market that provided the base for its peaceful rise as a global power. But it has to be noted that Beijing never gave up its “strategic autonomy” by signing military agreements with Washington and agreeing to the use of its bases by the U.S. military.
Growing Axis with Israel and USA
Among the countries India has the closest relations with now are the U.S. and Israel. The two countries are poised to replace Russia as the biggest weapons suppliers to India. India no longer supports the Palestinian cause unequivocally even as Israel in increasingly accused of violating the basic rights of Palestine.
The help that Israel provides in defence and for internal security outweighs issues concerning Palestinian statehood and basic human rights. The Indian exchequer pays huge amounts for the services rendered by Israel.
Under the current government, the Indian President and Prime Minister (first visit by any Indian PM) have made well-publicised visits to Israel. Iran, a leading member of NAM with which India has “special relations”, is among many countries in the region that are unhappy with India’s Israel policy. Senior Iranian leaders, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have criticised the India-Israel relationship and the current government’s policies on Kashmir. (India is building a port in Chabahar, Iran. The country is an important source of energy supplies for India.)
Seven years after the second Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, the India signed the Civil nuclear deal with Washington. It was preceded by a Defence Framework Agreement which had the aim of bringing the militaries of the two countries closer. The annual Malabar military exercises involving the navies of the U.S., India and Japan are an outcome of the military and strategic relationship that has been growing since India signed the nuclear deal. The Defence Framework Agreement between the two countries was renewed for another 10 years in 2015.
The U.S. has since designated India as a “Major Defence Partner”, which gives it the same privileges as that of other U.S. allies such as Israel in the purchase of advanced weaponry. Under another agreement, the 'India-U.S. Defence Technology and Trade Initiative', the two countries will jointly develop and produce armaments.
In 2016, India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the U.S. The agreement allows the two countries to use each other's ports and military bases for logistics requirements of their respective armies.
The NAM until the 1980s had voiced strong objections to U.S. military presence in the region, especially on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. After the Cold War ended, the Americans have established hundreds of military bases, most of them in Asia and Africa. Hence, some critics have termed the 2016 “logistics agreement” with the U.S. as a “fundamental departure” from India’s time-tested policy of “strategic military neutrality”.
However, it must be noted that the Agreement does not create any obligations on either Party to carry out any joint activity. It does not provide for the establishment of any bases or basing arrangements.
The Logistics Support Agreement, along with other important military sales agreements with the U.S., was signed after the Barack Obama administration announced U.S’ military “pivot to the East”.
The goal of the USA was to build up a military and political alliance against China in the region along with Japan and India as the major bulwarks. Not just joint naval exercises, India and the U.S. are sharing intelligence on Chinese ship and submarine movements in the Indian Ocean.
Impact of this shift on Russia
Russia, India’s “all weather friend”, is obviously not very happy with the state of bilateral relations. New Delhi’s military embrace of Washington, coupled with the rapid rate of declining sale of Russian weaponry, has made Moscow cautious. Russia and China now have a much closer military and strategic relationship with a common rival on the global stage—the U.S. The “special relationship” with Moscow which stood India in good stead during the Cold War days could well be a thing of the past.
The Soviet Union’s support was crucial on the Kashmir issue during the Cold War when India had few supporters. During the Bangladesh War, it was the Indo-Soviet defence treaty that kept the U.S. and other powers from intervening on behalf of Islamabad.
Today, New Delhi and Moscow have divergent views on many subjects, including on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moscow wants the Taliban to be included in peace talks and has rejected Indian complaints about arms supplies and joint military exercises with Pakistan. The last military exercise was held in Gilgit-Baltistan, an area India claims is part of Jammu and Kashmir.
India's shift towards the US-Israel has led to creation of a new Moscow-Beijing - Islamabad Axis in Asia.
Can India's new foreign policy alignments help her secure a permanent UN Seat
One of the Indian government’s stated goals is getting permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council. Successive governments have been lobbying visiting heads of state on this issue since the turn of the century. But if India has to have a realistic chance of permanent membership of a restructured U.N., it needs the support of developing nations. These countries are an integral part of NAM. The 120-member NAM has been demanding the democratisation of the U.N’s top decision-making body for a long time. NAM members may, however, be reluctant to support an India that has changed. It is, after all, a country which now chooses to side with the West on key international issues.
India can get into UN only with the support of 120 member strong NAM which happens to be the largest grouping of countries outside UN.
Hence, India with its changed foreign policy stance, needs to balance the NAM also of which it is a founding and an important member.
Should India sign CISMOA and BECA agreements with the USA
CISMOA stands for Communication and Information Security Memorandum Agreement. Signing this agreement will allow the countries to share and exchange the encrypted and secret communications as well as the technologies involved in these communications.
BECA refers to Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial information which allow the two countries to exchange Geospatial information for both Civilian and Military use.
Why should we sign
• The signing of these agreements will allow India access to some of the sensitive and advanced technology and equipments supply of which has been made contingent upon the signing of these agreements.
• These agreements will allow seamless communication and information exchange that could come in handy in several cases like that of war, disaster management and cyber security.
• Indian armed forces have expressed reservation about sharing sensitive information with the USA.
• What will happen in case if US wants to use these information against a country with which India has friendly relations.
• Finally, this enhanced engagement with USA could harm our relations with our 'All Weather Ally' Russia.