Foreign Policy challenges for the new Government

May 09,2014

                                                                                              Brookings India

                                                                                 IIC, 1830 hrs, Friday, 9 May 2014

                                                                  Foreign Policy challenges for the new Government


                                                                                Presentation by Ambassador Puri

Less than 72 hours from now, the last phase of polling in the world’s largest democracy will conclude.  Nearly 600 million people are expected to vote in the 9 phases put together.  In and of itself, this is a celebration of democracy.  No matter how much we Indians decry the ongoing political discourse, the diversion from issues relating to development and governance, let me assure you, by contemporary global stands, we are doing quite well. 


The extent to which issues relating to foreign and security policy have figured during the extended electoral process could be argued.  Professionals and purists lament the inadequate attention paid to foreign and security policy by all political parties, perhaps rightly so.  There can, however, be no doubt that whichever government assumes office after May 16, it will have to address many critical challenges that India faces.  It is important that the people’s mandate be clear and we have stable governance for five years. 


Predicting the outcome of elections is best left to psephologists. Even they do not always get their predictions right.  The study of trends is neither capable of assessing the true measure of the anger resulting from extended neglect of governance and mismanagement of foreign policy let alone predicting voter behaviour.


I am not a betting man.  If I were forced to take a position, I would agree with my friend Arun Jaitley, who said the choice before the voter is between a BJP-led NDA government in which Mr. Modi will be the Prime Minister or a fractured third front.  The country needs a BJP-led NDA government. I believe that is what we will get.


Challenges that foreign and security policy will face are likely to be exacerbated in the event, I think unlikely, of a third front government supported by the Congress from the outside.  Mercifully, even the Congress and the most vocal voices within the UPA appear reluctant to suggest UPA-III. 


What, therefore, are the foreign policy challenges and how do they appear to someone like me who has spent nearly four decades in the Indian Foreign Service?    I propose to spend the few minutes you have allocated to share some broad thoughts with you.


Ten years of uninterrupted mismanagement of foreign and security policy, characterized by hesitation, lack of direction and strategic confusion, will make it imperative for the next government, post May-2014, to urgently repair relationships in our immediate neighbourhood and rework the critical relationships with the United States and China. 


In our immediate neighbourhood, our bilateral relationships are crying out for immediate attention.  Each of our bilateral relationships are in varying degrees of disrepair.  We have a vital stake in the prosperity and well being of each of our neighbours.  We need to reach out to them, use whatever margin of persuasion we have to drive home the point that cooperation is not only in our individual, bilateral and collective interest but that maturity and wisdom so demand.  There really is no other alternative.  The time available does not permit me to delineate the specifics in relation to individual countries in the neighbourhood.  I would, however, be happy to do so during the Q/A session.


The importance of the relationship with the United States is a given.  Apart from an annual turnover of trade in goods and services of US$ 100 billion, we are partners on a wide canvas covering cooperation in a variety of areas, crucial for our national aspirations.  It was stamped a strategic partnership in 2010. And yet, the relationship now, looks more transactional and less strategic.


The strip-searching of a senior Indian diplomat in New York was in pursuance of a dispute brought by the United States, India’s strategic partner, against a serving Indian diplomat. 


US$ 10 billion worth of military equipment was imported from the United States in the last ten years. Neither were we able to provide strategic linkage to the development of our own indigenous defence industry nor were we able to leverage such purchases in the overall interest of our bilateral relations.


The claim that India does not provide IP protection to pharmaceutical products was triggered by just one compulsory license issued in 2012. In November this year, the USITC will deliver an assessment whether India’s economic and investment policies cause damage to US industrial interests. This will be the UPA’s gift to the next government.


There appears also to be very little convergence on critical issues affecting our core security interests, in respect of developments in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. 


When this period, the last ten years, is critically evaluated, I would not be surprised if the blame for this is equally apportioned on both sides.  Both sides need to be aware of the stakes involved.  Corrective action must equally be a joint effort.  It takes two to tango.


The importance of the relationship with China requires no elaboration.  As two large developing countries, both face challenges of development, which they address in circumstances and with approaches that are not similar.  Our cooperation in the multilateral arena, has been significant and productive.  And yet, there are issues at the bilateral level which need to be addressed in a more focussed manner than has perhaps been attempted hitherto.  It could be argued that properly handled, this could be a game changer.

We need to shed our conspiracy of silence. It is time the Henderson Brookes report is declassified. The stapled visa system was allowed to continue for one year till our Ambassador blew the whistle. Very little is known about what transpired in 17 rounds of border talks between the Special Representatives.

PM Vajpayee’s visit to China in June 2003 was a landmark. The Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles on the Boundary signed in April 2005 was an outcome of the momentum generated by Vajpayee jee’s visit.

There have been serious incidents along the LAC recently. The Chinese have adopted a more aggressive posture. Recent military exercises in Tibet, which increasingly include air force components, should be noted. Last year there was reportedly a joint exercise with the Pakistanis as well in Tibet, which was a first. We seem to be wavering on our insistence on reopening our Consulate in Lhasa.


Our exports are at $17.3 billion, while the Chinese are exporting nearly $50 billion to India. While we have set a target of 100 billion bilateral trade in 2015, this cannot be at the expense of an even larger trade deficit for India.


The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto promises to study “in detail” India’s nuclear doctrine and “revise and update it to make it relevant to the challenges of current times”. Many analysts have interpreted this to mean that India will alter its long-standing policy of ‘no-first use’ of nuclear weapons. The language of the BJP’s manifesto is, however, quite moderate and clear and does not prejudge the outcome. This issue needs to be viewed,  in the context of the failure of the previous government to update India’s nuclear doctrine and prevent the emergence of a rugged and credible nuclear force and evolve a strategy which would integrate the country’s conventional war-fighting potential with its nuclear weapons capability. It is time that the various issues connected to India’s nuclear doctrine, strategy and posture be examined.


New Delhi declared a voluntary moratorium on testing, that it would develop only a credible minimum deterrent, and offer a no-first-use pledge on employment of nuclear weapons in 1998.  This now continues to be widely accepted.


Nuclear weapons must never be used, but if they are to play their principal role as deterrents, there must be reassurance that the deterrent is real. India’s nuclear doctrine and strategy cannot be static. Changes have been taking place in our neighbourhood and in the abilities of our potential adversaries.

Related Media