Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Finding alternative to non-alignment


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NAM

Mains level : Paper 2- Finding alternative to non-alignment in India's foreign policy

The article analyses role of non-alignment in India’s foreign policy and India’s struggle to find the alternative to the non-alignment.


  • Non-alignment was a policy fashioned during the Cold War, to retain the autonomy of policy between two politico-military blocs.
  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) provided a platform for newly independent developing nations to join together to protect this autonomy.
  • NAM campaigned for de-colonisation, universal nuclear disarmament and against apartheid.
  • After the end of the Cold War, the NAM countries were able to diversify their network of relationships across the erstwhile east-west divide.

Non-alignment and India’s foreign policy in the present context

  • For a few years now, non-alignment has not been projected by our policymakers as a tenet of India’s foreign policy.
  • India has not yet found a universally accepted alternative to the non-alignment yet.
  • “Strategic autonomy” as an alternative soon acquired a connotation similar to non-alignment, with an anti-U.S. tint.
  •  Multi-alignment has not found universal favour, since it may convey the impression of opportunism, whereas we seek strategic convergences.
  • Seeking issue-based partnerships or coalitions is a description that has not stuck.
  • “Advancing prosperity and influence” was a description External Affairs minister settled for, to describe the aspirations that our network of international partnerships seeks to further.

Role of geography and politics

  • Two major imperatives flow from India’s geography-1) economic and security interests in the Indo-Pacific space. 2) the strategic importance of the continental landmass to its north and west.
  • The Indo-Pacific has inspired the Act East policy of bilateral and multilateral engagements in Southeast Asia and East Asia and the Pacific.
  • Shared India-U.S. interests in dealing with the challenge from China in the maritime domain have been a strategic underpinning of the bilateral partnership since the early 2000s.

Issues in India’s engagement with the U.S.

  • In the immediate-term, Indian and U.S. perspectives are less convergent in India’s continental neighbourhood.
  • Connectivity and cooperation with Afghanistan and Central Asia need engagement with Iran and Russia, as well as with the Russia-China dynamics in the region.
  • Russia extends to the Eurasian landmass bordering India’s near and extended neighbourhood.
  • A close Russia-China partnership should move India to broad-base relations with Russia.
  • A strong stake in relations with India could reinforce Russia’s reluctance to be a junior partner of China.
  • As the U.S. confronts the challenge to its dominance from China, classical balance of power considerations would dictate accommodation with Russia.
  •  U.S. should see ties with India as a joint venture not an alliance in which they could pursue shared objectives to mutual benefit and accept that differences of perspectives will have to be addressed.
  • This template could have wider applicability for bilateral relations in today’s world order, which former could be described as militarily unipolar, economically multipolar and politically confused. 
  • The U.S. could acknowledge that India’s development of trade routes through Iran which could provide it route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan and Russia, respectively.

Consider the question “India has not been able to find an alternative to NAM which has been described as the basic tenet of India’s foreign policy. Discuss.”


India should find the alternative to the non-alignment which accommodate its interest in relations with the U.S. at the same time allow it “strategic autonomy”.

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