The following speech was delivered at the launch of Mumbai University’s Security Studies programme. It has been edited for publication on this website.
Security studies provides the framework for the identification and analysis of both current and emerging threats–and foreign policy provides the policies and actions that can address them. Naturally, the foreign policy response must adapt according to the evolving nature of the threat.
Since India remains a lower-middle-income country with low human development indices, the primary objective of our foreign policy continues to be the establishment of a peaceful regional environment in which the economy can grow rapidly. However, India is also the world’s fastest growing major economy. With growth at around 7%, it has become the third-largest economy by purchasing power parity (PPP) and the seventh-largest by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This has therefore widened India’s security parameter beyond the immediate vicinity: it extends from the eastern coast of Africa to the Indo-Pacific region, linking to Central Asia in the North. Its significant foreign policy objectives thus include ensuring trade and energy security, the safety and well being of the Indian diaspora, and freedom of navigation, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
Eminent American author and poet William Faulkner wrote evocatively in his novel, Requiem for a Nun, that “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” This profound observation on human affairs applies as much to countries as to the characters to which Faulkner was referring.
It holds true especially in the context of India’s current security problems which can be traced to its colonial past. It was the British colonial policy of divide-and-rule, specifically, that resulted in the eventual partition of India on the basis of religion. This is a tragic example of the past not being ‘dead’ at all, as Pakistan continues to be the most hostile and difficult bilateral relationship for India.
India, a land of many religions, has followers of its two largest groups, Hindus and Muslims, intermingling here in every city and village. Yet, the actual maps drawn to demarcate borders between India and the newly created state of Pakistan were cavalier in the extreme. Similarly, the border between India and Tibet was not clearly or irrevocably set out and this has left an unsettled situation along the India-China border after the Chinese military takeover of Tibet in 1951.
These unresolved boundary issues became more problematic as the world slid into the Cold War shortly after India’s independence. The global polarisation led to the creation of the two power blocs which resulted in these conflicts staying frozen.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of non-alignment kept India distant from power politics, but Pakistan joined the U.S.-led security alliances in Asia. Some of these have been disbanded, yet the personal and ideological equations formed while they were in operation have an afterlife.
The conflicts with Pakistan and China that have lingered since Independence remain India’s primary security challenge, compounded by the fact that China and Pakistan are the closest of military allies and all three countries possess nuclear weapons.
India and the world have to deal diplomatically with the consequences of China’s no-longer-peaceful rise, and use a combination of diplomacy and coercion to address the terror threat emanating out of Pakistan. Additionally, India, like other countries, needs to adjust rapidly to the uncertainties in the global security matrix that U.S. President-elect, Donald Trump’s statements have presented.
Such security challenges elicit appropriate foreign policy formulations and diplomatic actions. For example, Pakistan poses the following threats: state- sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India; providing funding and training support to internal militant groups in Kashmir, and earlier in Punjab; counterfeiting Indian currency; cross-border drug smuggling;, and building a rapidly growing arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.
India’s foreign policy response to these challenges has been: raising the issue of cross-border terrorism at multilateral forums, such as the UN, G20, the BRICS Summit, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit; diplomatically isolating Pakistan in the region by shifting focus from SAARC to regional associations, like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technological and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) that exclude Pakistan; limited military strikes to raise the costs for Pakistan’s export of terror; revisiting the No-First-Use policy for nuclear weapons probably in response to Pakistan’s growing arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons; actively building an indigenous defence manufacturing base.
Similarly, China poses the following threats: repeated probing along the unsettled border with India; growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean as part of the new Maritime Silk Road project; naval presence at the Gwadar port and military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); the repeated blocking of the placement of convicted Pakistani terrorists on the UN Security Council (UNSC) terror list as also India’s joining of technology control regimes, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Pakistan and China are closely aligned in trying to confine India within the South Asia paradigm, and this constrains all Indian efforts to assume a larger global role, including through membership of the UNSC.
India’s foreign policy response to China’s unfriendliness has been: receptivity of the pivot towards the U.S. to restore balance in Asia, as evident in the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision Statement in 2015 and the signing of the Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016; strengthening ties with the U.S.’s Asian allies as reflected by the intent to purchase US-2 amphibious aircraft from Japan and the recently signed India-Japan Civil Nuclear Agreement; constituting and participating in joint multilateral naval exercises in the Indian Ocean region led by the U.S.; expanding defence cooperation with Vietnam and Singapore; signing uranium supply agreements with China’s neighbouring states of Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pronouncements and what followed in their wake are the best recent illustration of policy adapting to changing security matrices. Trump’s comments on the obsolescence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) due to its inability to combat terrorism, led to the creation of an anti-terror division within NATO, a review of the proposal to establish a defence and security arm in the EU, and also a rethinking of relations with Russia.
Similarly, Trump expressed reluctance to continue with the U.S.’s security treaty alliances in Asia and displayed indifference to Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia developing their own nuclear weapons programmes. The reaction from Japan was for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to meet with Trump to highlight the importance of continued U.S.-Japan security cooperation.
Trump had also threatened to reject the Permanent Five (P5) and Germany’s nuclear deal with Iran: this could have had a bearing on the recent announcement from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) about the reduction of oil output, with Saudi Arabia agreeing to make an exception for Iran, though, which will continue to increase production.
There are other elements too in the shifting global power matrix, such as non-OPEC members aligning with OPEC-driven cuts in oil output to check the continuing fall in the price of oil, besides Russian activism in the Middle East, paralleled by Syrian President Assad’s success in Aleppo, with support from Iran and Russia.
Clearly then, foreign policy and security studies are inextricably linked. India has to devise the suitable policy responses to the security threats that China and Pakistan pose. But additionally the country’s foreign policy establishment too has to formulate policies to tackle the larger issues that emerge from the widening of India’s security parameter to ensure food, water and energy security, and global threats such as climate change.
Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.
This speech was delivered at the launch of Mumbai University’s Security Studies programme on December 1.
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