Burning Issues- India’s shifting foreign policy stance

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Why in news

  1. The Shangri-La Dialogue speech (Singapore, Jun 2018) of PM Modi is being seen as a major foreign policy shift.
  2. Despite speaking at the same event, the words of India’s and US’s document were starkly different. This indicates that New Delhi and Washington are no longer on the same page.
  3. Warming up of India to Russia and China is another unmistakable sign of a shift.
  4. It seems the philosophy of Non-Alignment has been revived.

Evidence of changed foreign policy

Informal summits


  1. ‘Doklam’ is an issue of the past.
  2. The BRI isn’t as much a concern as before.
  3. India’s non-confrontational attitude with respect to China’s presence in the Maldives and Nepal.


S-400 Deal is being negotiated.

  1. The frequency of meetings with China and Russia far outnumbers those with USA
  2. PM Modi will have met President Xi and President Putin four-five times each by the end of this year, if one counts informal and formal summits, as well as meetings at the SCO, BRICS and G-20
  3. In contrast, nearly half the year has gone in just scheduling the upcoming 2+2 meet of Indian and U.S. Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs.

Shangrila Dialogue Speech

  1. India referred to the Indo-Pacific as a “natural geographical region”, not a strategic one, while the USA called the Indo-Pacific a “priority theatre” and a “subset of America’s broader security strategy” for its Indo-Pacific Command.
  2. While India referred to India’s good relations with the U.S., Russia and China in equal measure, US vowed to counter China’s moves in the Indo-Pacific, and referred to the U.S. National Defence Strategy released this January, which puts both China and Russia in its crosshairs as the world’s two “revisionist powers”.

The Quad has also been given short shrift.

  1. India rejected an Australian request to join maritime exercises along with the U.S. and Japan this June, and said quite plainly last month that there was no plan to “militarise” the Quad.
  2. This is in contrast with India’s acceptance of military exercises with countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Russia-China led grouping.

India has decided to continue energy deals with Iran and Venezuela in defiance of American sanctions.

Trade protectionism is clearly the other big point of divergence between India and the U.S.

  1. Both countries have, in recent months, taken each other to the World Trade Organisation on several issues.
  2. There has been a surge in disputes between the two countries:
  • on the new American steel and aluminium tariffs,
  • the proposed cuts in H1B professional visas and cancellation of H4 spouse visas,
  • on India’s tariffs and resistance to U.S. exports of dairy and pork products, on Indian price reductions on medical devices, and
  • Reserve Bank of India rules on data localisation on Indian servers for U.S. companies.
  • The row over Harley-Davidson motorcycles has ended up denting the ties quite seriously.

The biggest challenges to a common India-U.S. vision are now emerging from the new U.S. law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal with the threat of more secondary sanctions.

  1. Both actions have a direct impact on India, given its high dependence on defense hardware from Russia and its considerable energy interests in Iran.
  2. India’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 missile system will become the litmus test of whether India and the U.S. can resolve their differences.

Recent changes in Indian foreign policy – Shift towards intelligent non-alignment and cautious prudence.

India, in the Shangrila-La speech:

  1. invoked the “Bandung spirit of 1955”.
  2. praised Singapore for teaching the world the importance of making “free and fair choices” and “embracing diversity at home”.
  3. stressed that “When nations stand on the side of principles, not behind one power or the other, they earn the respect of the world,”
  4. warned the world about the possible return of “great power rivalries”, and
  5. emphasised the importance and centrality of the ASEAN in the concept of the Indo-Pacific.

The complexities of dealing with the two major powers have always led India to seek out support for other intermediate powers and coalitions across the world.

  1. The old G-77 was not an ideological construct. India was, in limited ways, mobilising a power source outside of the Great Powers. This strategy has its limitations; its effectiveness in confronting the hard power realities imposed by the Great Powers has always been in doubt. But India is still looking for that functional substitute: A coalition that stands a little apart from the Great Powers.
  2. The rediscovered fascination for the ASEAN, Africa, and the commitment to pursue these relationships shows a shift towards the old coalition building of the 1950s.

Why India shifted its stance?

  1. India’s foremost objective has been the preservation of her ‘strategic autonomy’ with respect to foreign policymaking.
  2. Aligning excessively with any particular nation or group can be counterproductive to India’s long-term interests
  3. The US, in recent years, has displayed the tendency to betray its allies for short-term gains.


  1. India seems to be striving for a more balanced approach in what it increasingly sees as an uncertain world.
  2. The “principled” vision India has embraced projects is a departure from the transactionalism and pragmatism espoused by her over the last few years.
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