A failed foreign policy

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on March 12, 2018

The effects of falling economic clout are starting to show.

This is a sad comment to make, but it does appear that the foreign policy of the two UPA governments over the past decades has been a failure. As ‘evidence’ we have the Prime Minister’s view, made public at the recent New Delhi conference of heads of Indian diplomatic missions, that his government was “seeking a “fundamental reset” in the foreign policy of the country.

The Governments would like to continue with a foreign policy line if it has reaped rich dividends.

Alternatively, they would like a “reset” if it has not been able to deliver the goods. If Manmohan Singh wants a “reset” it is an admission of failure, and that is not going to stand his government in good stead in the effort to seek re-election at next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

After more than nine years in the driver’s seat, it is odd that the Prime Minister needed to fall back on homilies to state what the country’s foreign policy should be. Perhaps this is all right for a hard-boiled academic but such an approach is hardly acceptable from the head of government.

For example, even a student would find it easy to understand the point that “the single most important objective of Indian foreign policy is to create a global environment conducive to the wellbeing of our great country”.

Too general

Two other points made at the conference fall into the same category of bland generalisations. Singh is reported to have said that the country must integrate “more closely with the global economy because it has benefited from globalisation” and that “we are prepared to work with the international community to create a global, economic and security environment beneficial to all nations”.

Again, while the general principles enunciated are eminently acceptable, the test of the government’s foreign policy would surely lie in its being able to get the most out of a complex web of national interests .

That the UPA-2 government has failed to make much headway in the realm of foreign policy is underscored by the fact that ties with important nations have remained where they were at the beginning of the 21st century. This apart, ties with our immediate neighbours have not shown any “freshness”.

Chinese shadow

On the other hand, Chinese diplomacy in the region has continued to exert pressure on New Delhi, as it has in the past decades.

Indeed, if specific yardsticks are needed to plot the success or failure of the government’s foreign policy, we have only to consider the ties with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. All three arenas are highly complex because of the Chinese shadow over them. In fact, the diplomatic struggle with Beijing has been a continual one and will extend into the future as far as one can envision.

The question is: Are we in a better situation today than we were 10 years ago? The evidence suggests that nothing much has been attained over the period.

Admittedly, the bigger the economic clout of a country, the easier it is for foreign policy objectives to be attained. And for New Delhi, the task has become even more difficult now given the economic slowdown in the country.

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Published on November 06, 2013
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