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Comment: India must have grand strategic design in its foreign policy

April 16, 2009

By Rajiv Sikri
India-Forums
April 15, 2009

There is need for new thinking in India's foreign
policy. In today's complicated and fast-changing
geo-political situation, India has wisely
diversified its foreign policy options, but must
retain flexibility in order to be able to pursue
an independent foreign policy, on which there is
an overwhelming national consensus.

There is need for new thinking in India's foreign
policy. In today's complicated and fast-changing
geo-political situation, India has wisely
diversified its foreign policy options, but must
retain flexibility in order to be able to pursue
an independent foreign policy, on which there is
an overwhelming national consensus.

India can become a major world power in the 21st
century only on its own strength and political
will, not because others want it to. Power is always taken, never given.

India is too large and independent to be a
reliable ally of the United States on the
latter's terms. While there are many short-term
factors bringing the two countries together, the
long-term strategic interests of the two
countries are likely to diverge. India must use
the current window of opportunity, when it is
being seriously viewed by the rest of the world
as a country that will inevitably play a much
greater role in world affairs in the coming
years, to evolve a strategy that would enable it
to become a global player in all respects -
economically, politically, militarily and technologically.

On its own, India cannot become a global player.
It will have to work with other rising powers
that also want a multi-polar world.

China will remain among India's most pressing and
difficult foreign policy challenges. India will
have to deal with China at many levels. It is a
possible partner in a cooperative endeavour to
build a multi-polar world. It is also a long-term
strategic competitor for influence and leadership
in Asia. But, above all, it is a neighbour that
has exaggerated and made preposterous territorial
claims on India, and that is suspicious of India
harbouring the Dalai Lama and a large population of Tibetan refugees.

India should eschew its current defensive, timid
and somewhat legalistic approach in dealing with
China. There is no need to be in awe of China. As
a country with aspirations for a larger regional
and global role, India has to do some hardheaded
scenario building such as a relentlessly rising
China or a disintegrating China.

What India does vis-a-vis the major global
players is perhaps not as important as what India
manages to achieve in its own neighbourhood.
India cannot be a credible great power unless it
has a natural sphere of influence where it is
dominant. As India prospers and develops, it has
to take along its neighbours; otherwise, its
economic growth will not be sustainable.

Ultimately, India's objective should be maximum
possible economic integration with it of its
neighbouring countries, which would tie their
destinies with India regardless of the political
predilections of the regimes in power. Economic
interdependence leading to economic integration
may also lead India's neighbours to have a better
appreciation of India's security concerns and to
cooperate with it in this respect. Without this,
the chances of peace and stability in South Asia are bleak.

India has to handle relations with its neighbours
with great care and delicacy, mindful of their
sensitivities, aspirations and dignity. India has
to earn the right to leadership by setting an
example, by showing magnanimity, and by
successfully managing the growing challenges and
contradictions of the region. Patience and an
appeal to its neighbours' self-interest have to
mark India's attitude. Such an approach will earn
India its neighbours' respect and admiration.
India has to understand that its neighbours will
never love it. India is feared by its neighbours, but perhaps not enough.

Even as it must be visionary, large-hearted and
sensitive to its neighbours, India needs to
firmly and unambiguously define for its
neighbours the goalposts of India's
non-negotiable national interests. India should
make it clear that it will be uncompromising on
security issues. That has to be India's bottom
line. Regrettably, an impression has gained
ground among India's neighbours that India is a
soft state whose nose can be tweaked with
impunity. It is imperative that India makes sure
that its neighbours know and respect India's core
interests. If not, India should be prepared to
use its many leverages against them.

Will India's relationship with destiny be
consummated? It can be, provided there is a
change of mindset among India's leaders and its
people. There can be no place for a 'chalta hai'
or 'anything goes' attitude. Aspiring to become a
great power, India will have to behave like one.

There are no short cuts. Piggybacking strategies
are futile. Based on an objective evaluation of
India's resources and comparative advantages,
India must have a clear grand strategic design.
India must have self-confidence in its destiny,
determinedly follow clear-headed policies without
being pushed around, and work purposefully to
build the required institutional structures and
public support to sustain its ambitions. Only
then can India forge ahead and transform its much
vaunted 'potential' into the reality of a strong,
prosperous and globally influential country.

(15.04.2009- Excerpted from Rajiv Sikri's
'Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India's
Foreign Policy', published by SAGE. Rajiv Sikri
can be contacted at rajivsikri@gmail.com)

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