The cold war was a period of indirect political conflict revolving around ideologies in a bipolar world. International politics revolved around the two superpowers of the time; United States of America and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (U.S.S.R.), now the Russian Federation. In this political disposition, choosing a side was a matter of life and death for many newly independent countries like India.
While many former-colonies chose a side in the ongoing cold war. Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s then prime minister) on the contrary decided that it will remain neutral. Recently being liberated from colonial rule of the British which it had experienced for over 2 centuries, India was against imperialism. Therefore, to prevent itself from losing sovereignty to a foreign power, Prime minister Nehru felt the need for non-alignment.
This decision earned India a position of trust and faith in the international forum. It was joined by Egypt, Indonesia, Yugoslavia and Ghana. This mutual belief of not aligning with any of the superpowers resulted in the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement (N.A.M.). It acted as a sort of buffer between the two superpowers, stepping up to sort out conflicts and differences.
Till the present, the formation of India’s foreign policy has been governed by this policy of non-alignment. However, post the cold war is this policy relevant anymore? Should India continue following the principle non-alignment?
In our globalized world, where economic systems are highly integrated with each other. It is virtually impossible for a nation to survive on its own. Distress in one country can have crumbling effects on several other countries in a completely different continent (E.g. Great Recession – 2008, BREXIT). In such a scenario, is it healthy for a nation to not choose sides in conflicts which engulf the whole world?
The answer is both, yes and no. India, despite its greatest diplomatic strength; non-alignment, cannot afford to remain neutral.
In the past two decades, its economic growth has made it a major player in the international arena. Being the 6th largest economy of the world makes it difficult for countries to ignore it and vice-versa. It is a major contender for the permanent membership of United Nations Security Council. It is also a major military power, with the world’s 4th largest military. India has been playing a major role in developmental projects in various under developed countries. It is now ‘too big to be neutral.‘
Furthermore, India is a member of various international groupings like BRICS, SAARC, MTCR, BIMSTEC etc. These groups serve its various interests. A formidable example is that of SAARC and BIMSTEC. The former is a forum for intergovernmental cooperation between the countries of the South Asian region. The latter is for countries around the sea of Bay of Bengal. Both groups have almost the same members, except Pakistan & Afghanistan. It is believed that whenever India wants to diplomatically isolate Pakistan in the region, it lays emphasis on BIMSTEC. This could be witnessed in recent boycott of SAARC by India due to Pakistan’s negligence towards addressing its terrorist endorsements.
The key to India maintaining neutrality are these groupings. These groups have resulted in the creation of a multipolar world (A global political system where power is centered in many countries or groups of countries). It needs to lay emphasis on these groupings to push its agenda forward. Due to India’s prevalent image of a neutral power, it can build upon it and use it to leverage diplomatic points.
Illustrating this with an example. India is one of the few countries in the world which enjoys friendly relations with both U.S.A. and Russia. Recently, India has been leaning towards the United States. Multiple defence deals and agreements have been signed including LEMOA, COMCASA etc. The relationship is now termed as a ‘strategic’ relationship. This inclination has been detrimental to Indo-Russian relations. Therefore, India through groups such as BRICS tries to balance it out. This results in India’s interests being met, while at the same time maintaining the persona of neutrality.
The future of India in this globalized world is now set on how well it is able to create, maintain and benefit from diplomatic relations. Without support and cooperation from other nations it will become difficult to forward its interests. History has proved it necessary to have allies and partners who can assist you in your time of need. Individual capacities have limits in international relations. A country does not have everything it needs for its existence. Its needs change as time advances. The indispensability of good relations cannot be igno
We have not eternal allies and we have not perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow.Lord Palmerston, British Prime Minister (1859-65)
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