India’s foreign policy in a globalised worldPosted: 12/10/2012
By Mona Moussavi, Editorial Assistant
India’s foreign policy is an ‘enabler’ in the country’s transformation, Ranjan Mathai, the Indian foreign secretary, said at the IISS last week. At the Keynote Address to the Fifth IISS–Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Dialogue, the foreign secretary discussed Afghanistan’s ‘neighbourhood’ towards 2015 and beyond, emerging Arab developments and the ways in which the India-UK strategic relationship could grow.
Mathai said India is increasingly ‘plugged in’ to a globalised world, and that a peaceful periphery is essential. Almost half of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now linked in one way or another to foreign trade, up from 20% in the 1990s. Specifically, India depends on ‘energy and critical raw materials from abroad’.
Nevertheless, India is functioning in a difficult economic environment, with uncertainty in markets, worries about the eurozone and fiscal challenges in the US. The slow-down of major economies has also led to a ‘preoccupation with domestic policies and priorities’ despite increasing globalisation and economic interdependence.
This increasing interdependence has also brought ‘new subjects’ into the realm of foreign policy: from environmental issues and sustainable development to international terrorism, piracy and crime. Cyberspace in particular is a key threat to India’s national security, the foreign secretary said.
Afghanistan and its neighbours in 2015 and beyond
Afghanistan’s successful transition towards playing a greater role in its own security and governance in the next few years is crucial, and will impact the region for many years to come. For this reason, India – as an immediate neighbour – does not have the luxury of a withdrawal or draw-down from Afghanistan: ‘We all have a stake in the success of the Afghan government and its partners in ISAF’, Mathai said. Specifically, Afghanistan’s neighbours could combat the continuing threat of terrorism and the ‘menacing narcotics trade’.
The continued support of the international community for Afghanistan is also vital. International commitments have to translate into ‘actual technical and financial assistance’ on the ground.
India envisions an Afghanistan that will harness and develop its resources. Afghanistan will act as a transport and trading hub, linking Central Asia with South Asia and beyond. This idea underpinned the Delhi Investment Conference, held in June 2012, and many of India’s infrastructure and capacity-building programmes in Afghanistan. Mathai noted that Afghanistan’s mineral resources and potential for hydrocarbons could be a ‘game-changer’ for prospects of collaboration rather than competition. He cited the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (‘TAPI’) pipeline project as an example of the potential scope of intensified regional cooperation.
Emerging Arab developments
India has welcomed democratic transitions in the Arab world and is willing to share its experience in areas such as electoral management and practice, the foreign secretary said. The region is of ‘vital strategic importance’ to India. It is home to more than six million Indians, and India’s economic engagement with the region is valued at more than $150 billion a year. It is also a source of over 65% of India’s oil and gas requirements and therefore critical for energy security, Mathai said.
India has conveyed its willingness to enhance cooperation with the new leadership in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. At the same time, Indian foreign policy is guided by a desire not to interfere in the internal affairs of states. ‘Societies cannot be re-ordered from outside through military force and people in all countries have the right to decide their own future’, he said.
Turning to the Syrian crisis, Mathai said India supports the UN’s mediating role as well as regional initiatives to advance internal dialogue within Syria. The continued stalemate must give way to a ‘Syrian-led political process’ to bring about democratic change.
India-UK strategic relations
Mathai outlined key issues the India-UK Strategic Dialogue addresses: counterterrorism, cyber-security, defence cooperation and nuclear disarmament. On the latter, India’s record and credentials need to be underlined, Mathai said, and the country was counting on the ‘continued support of the UK in ensuring India’s full membership of the four multi-lateral export control regimes’.
He emphasised India’s desire to strengthen its partnership with the UK in all areas; specifically, in business, technology and the defence industry. He also discussed India and Europe’s common fundamental values; a respect for scientific attitudes and an understanding of the importance of a secular approach in politics. Accordingly, India and the UK shared much in common in their ‘vision for the world of tomorrow’.
If these concepts are built on, the foreign secretary said, Indo-UK strategic relations could have a beneficial impact well beyond the bilateral sphere.