A Self-reliant Foreign Policy
Self-reliance is the theme of India’s 74th Independence Day.
● The concept of self-reliance is commonly associated with the economy and production of key goods and services within the country in light of the global ‘supply shock’ caused by the pandemic.
● But it also has a parallel dimension in the domain of foreign policy. If the domestic goal is to reduce dependence on imports for critical commodities, the foreign policy corollary is to recalibrate the time-tested axiom of ‘strategic autonomy’.
● India has historically prided itself as an independent developing country which does not take orders from or succumb to pressure from great powers. Whether the world order was bipolar (1947 to 1991), unipolar (1991 to 2008) or multipolar (present times), the need for autonomy in making foreign policy choices has remained constant.
Flexibility in the self-reliance policy
Strategic autonomy has often been adjusted in India’s history as per the changing milieu. In moments of crisis, India has reinterpreted freedom and shown flexibility for survival.
During the 1962 war with China, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had to appeal to the U.S. for emergency military aid to stave off the Chinese.
In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to enter a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward off both China and the U.S.
In Kargil in 1999, India welcomed a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down.
In all the above examples, India did not become any less autonomous when geopolitical circumstances compelled it to enter into de facto alliance-like cooperation with major powers. Rather, India secured its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity by manoeuvring the great power equations and playing the realpolitik game.
Today, in the wake of China’s incursions across the Line of Actual Control, India is at an inflection point with regard to strategic autonomy and is getting closer to the U.S.
✔ India should stay as an independent power centre by means of intensified cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world.
✔ Placing all its eggs in the U.S. basket to counterbalance China would be an error, as that can constrict India’s options in other theatres of national interest such as its ties with Iran and Russia and efforts to speed up indigenous defence modernisation.
✔ Diversification is the essence of self-reliance. A wide basket of strategic partners, including the U.S., is the only viable diplomatic way forward.
We are free and self-reliant not through isolation or alliance with one great power, but only in variable combinations with several like-minded partners. India is familiar with the phrase ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy. It is time to maximise its potential.