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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX No 6 , January 29, 2011

Indian Foreign Policy Since The End of Cold War: Containing or Coping with Unipolarity?

Monday 31 January 2011, by Arvind Kumar



by Arvind Kumar

Indian Foreign Policy in a Unipolar World by Harsh V. Pant (ed.); Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, London, pp. IX + 378; Price: £ 70.00

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union many realists argue that unipolarity has arrived…the USA, in other words, is the sole great power. It has achieved global hegemony, a feat no other country has ever accomplished. Other realists, however, argue that the post-Cold War system is multipolar, not unipolar. The USA, they maintain, is by far the most powerful state on earth, but there are other great powers, such as China and Russia.1 Harsh V. Pant definitely is in agreement with the opinion of the first group of realists and his choice of the title ‘Indian Foreign Policy in a Unipolar World’ bears testimony to this. Now although John J. Mearsheimer does not mention India in the same league of great powers as China and Russia, there has definitely been a gradual recognition of India as an ‘emerging great power’ and the editor of the volume has meticulously put forward this thesis along with a set of scholars, policy-analysts and strategic and security studies experts from India, Australia, Europe and the United States. In the very introduction of the book Harsh V. Pant has quoted the former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who boldly declared that the “US is willing and ready to assist in the growth of India’s global power…which the US sees as largely positive”. (p. 1)
A similar opinion has recently been echoed by the American President, Barack Obama, on November 8, 2010 in the Central Hall of the Indian Parliament: “For in Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged. And it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India-bound by our shared interests and values-will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. This is the partnership I have come here to build. This is the vision that our nations can realise together…and let me say it as clearly as I can: the United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.”2
In this changed—or rather changing—scenario, the editor has noted that Indian foreign policy out of the structural confines of the Cold War’s strategic framework has become more expansive in term of prioritising its interests in the post- Cold War years. Pant has noted four variables which are having the most considerable impact on its present direction: India’ search for its due place in the international order which is largely dominated by the US; an accommodation with the global nuclear order as the international system comes to terms with ‘nuclear’ India; India’s balancing act of tackling the challenge of global terrorism without alienating its Islamic minority; and India’s search for energy security to ensure its current rate of economic growth. (p. 19)
The editor has established the theoretical parameters of rising powers and their basis of formulating foreign policies. Taking cues from a neo-realist theorist, Kenneth Waltz, Pant has demonstrated that it is the pressure of inter-national competition which overpowers the ideological preferences or internal political pressures of any nation-state. Waltz has amply clarified that his ‘structural-realism’ is a theory of international politics and not foreign policy as his theory is an attempt to explain the state interactions, whereas a theory of foreign policy would seek to explain the behaviours of a nation- state vis-à-vis the external realm. Waltz’s theory also explains how foreign policies of nations are affected in important ways by their placement or their relative power in the international system. (p. 4) Pant has further cited Fareed Zakaria’s point of view on foreign policy. According to Zakaria, ‘a good theory of foreign policy should first ask what effect the inter-national system has on the national behaviour, because the most powerful generalisable characteristic of a state in international relations is its relative position in the international system’. (p. 5) And in the given context the editor has established his arguments taking help from Robert Giplin’s thesis that a more wealthy and more powerful state will select a larger bundle of security and welfare goals than a less wealthy and less powerful state. (pp. 5-6)
The book has been divided into three parts. The first part of the book deals with the major themes in Indian foreign policy. First is the issue of balancing the global power system for India. Devin T. Hagerty, in his essay “India and the Global Balance of Power: A Neorealist Snapshot” using a neo-realist framework, has predicted India to be achieving the status of a great economic and military power by 2020. The author firmly believes in the unipolarity of the international system and sees an enormous opportunity for India aligning with the most powerful state, the US. By situating India in the conceptual framework of structural-realism, Hagerty has also analysed India’s developing relations with two important players in the global balance of power, namely, the US and China. (p. 24) In the second essay “India and the Emerging Non-Proliferation Order: The Second Nuclear Age”, C. Raja Mohan has stated that the ongoing ‘nuclear reconciliation between India and the global nuclear order is the outcome of the changes in the international distribution of power and perceived need of changing the dynamics of nuclear politics’. Raja Mohan has remained a consistent supporter of India adopting a ‘hawkish’ foreign policy and aligning with imperialist US since the time the Buddha smiled at Pokhran during the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) regime in 1998. He has also endorsed the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, signed by George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh, as ‘the single most important develop-ment in the rapid evolution of Indo-US relations during the early years of the 21st century’. (p. 43) Another contemporary and contentious thematic issue of terrorism has been discussed by Timothy D. Hoyt. In his essay “India and the Challenge of Global Terrorism: The ‘Long War’ and Competing Domestic Visions”, the author sees India’s increasing role in curbing the menace of global terrorism. The author has pointed to three dominant viewpoints prevailing on the issue of ‘War on Terror’ at the domestic level. First, the Nehruvians who believe the problem can be resolved through international cooperation. Second, the neoliberals who believe in negotiation but at the same time recognise the value of nuclear deterrence. The third viewpoint is represented by the hyper-realists who see the WMD as absolutely essential for Indian security and a prerequisite for acceptance as a great power. Hoyt concludes that the ramification of domestic debate on the Indian policy on global terrorism appears vague and therefore India is very unlikely to follow the US lead on global terrorism. While the neoliberals disagree with America’s war on terror, the other two are distrustful of the American exercise of power. (pp. 91-94) Manjeet S. Pardesi and Sumit Ganguly in their essay, “India and Energy Security: A Foreign Policy Priority”, have scrupulously studied India’s energy profile including resource bases like coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power and hydroelectricity. These authors see a hidden potential in consolidating the pursuit of energy security for ensuring India’s dominant position in South Asia, enhancing its influence in Central Asia and cooperative relations with China and the US. (p. 127)

THE second part of the book has looked at the bilateral relations of India vis-à-vis the major global powers of the international system. C. Christine Fair has analysed Indo-US relations in “India and the US: Embracing a New Paradigm”. Fair has done a detailed assessment of the cost-benefit calculus and subsequently brought out the expectations of the US from India and vice-versa. Fair has therefore, also identified the potential impediments that might emanate from the expectations in their mutual relations. Mohan Malik has studied Sino-India relations in his essay, “India and China: As China Rises, India Stirs”. After a detailed study of various aspects, he has concluded that India’s relations with China remain volatile and friction-ridden because of past experience, war, territorial disputes, unparallel interests, conflicting world-views and divergent geopolitical interests.
(p. 189) Deepa M. Ollapally has studied Indo-Russia relations in her essay, “India and Russia: Renewing the Relationship”. Ollapally has historically traced the relations between the two countries which have remained traditional foreign policy partners for most of the Cold War period and analysed how their relations were cut adrift with the Soviet disintegration. Assessing the regional context, the author has concluded with a positive note. She has shown how Indo-Russian relations have recovered and become robust once again and how China and Iran still play key roles in their mutual relations. (p. 298) Fraser Cameron has studied the India-EU relations in his “India and the EU: A Long Road Ahead”. His essay encapsulates a new era of relationship that has developed between the two since 1994 to launch the EU-India strategic partnership with the fifth India-EU summit held at Hague in 2004. The Helsinki summit of 2006 furthered the implementation of security dialogue and bilateral free trade agreement. The author has concluded that the relations between the two have a long way to go before they can properly be termed ‘strategic’ considering the increasing role of the US and China. (pp. 224-225)
The third part of this volume has analysed India’s regional policies. Stephen F. Burgess has dwelt on India’s role and its broad contours of policy in South Asia in his essay, “India and South Asia: Towards a Benign Hegemony”. The author has projected India as a generous hegemon in the South Asian region in terms of using soft power and also exercising hard power in order to maximise its interests and maintain its dominance. The exception in this regard has been Pakistan (p. 237) which has therefore been excluded as a separate subhead in the essay. The editor himself has dealt with India’s policy towards the Middle East in his “India and the Middle East: A Reassessment of Priorities”. In his study he sees a remarkable reorientation of Indian policy towards the Middle East in the post-Cold War era and this he has attributed to the increasing pressure on India to adopt a more visible role in Iraq and use its leverage on Iran to curtail the latter’s nuclear programme. (p. 251) He has analysed the policy towards Saudi Arabia with which he sees a new-found convergence. As regards Israel, he thinks the future of Indo-Israeli ties looks difficult. Stephen Blank has analysed India’s policy in the Central Asian region in his essay: “India and Central Asia: Part of the New Game”. As has been amply demonstrated in this volume regarding the increasing importance of Central Asia for this nation’s ‘energy’ concerns, the author has done a detailed study of India’s interests in Central Asia. The author has endorsed the efforts by this country to play an increasingly positive role in the Central Asian region. Manish Dabhade in his “India and East Asia: A Region Rediscovered” has studied the growing Indian role in East Asia in the post-Cold War era which primarily began with the ‘Look East Policy’. Dabhade is in agreement with the ‘self-help’ international system where survival remains the prime motivation of state behaviour; he concludes that India has followed the same policy by adopting a more assertive foreign policy in East Asia by ‘congaging’ China.
Well, there is no denying the fact that Indian foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has taken a complete Rightward shift which has been thoroughly established by this volume and therefore makes an indispensable read. The benefit of doubt definitely lies with the editor as the individual authors have acknowledged in their respective essays of their views being their own. It therefore can truly be acknowledged towards the end of this review that there has been not just apparent but solid evidence of India turning to a ‘hawk’ from a ‘dove’ in terms of foreign policy-making which is nothing but an endorsement of the ‘ahistorical’ and ‘asocial’ foreign policy we are seeking to pursue. What is worrying is that almost all the contributors in the volume have argued from the ‘realist’ and ‘neo-realist’ framework keeping aside the Kantian frame of ‘morality’ and ‘idealism’ in international politics. Raja Mohan, for instance, in his essay has vehemently supported the idea of India voting against Iran saying: “India understood that a vote in favour of Iran or even an abstention would have doomed or limited the prospects of the nuclear deal being approved in the US Congress…contrary to the many ideological criticisms of the decision at home, India had no incentive in defending Iran’s proliferation at the cost of its nuclear interest.” (pp. 68-69)


1. Mearshmeimer, John J., “Structural Realism” in Dunne, Tim, Milja Kurki and Steve Smith (edited), (2007) International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, Oxford University Press, London, p. 80.

2. The Indian Express, New Delhi, November 8, 2010.

Dr Arvind Kumar, a Research Associate at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, teaches Indian Foreign Policy at Zakir Husain College, University

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