Reframing India’s foreign policy priorities


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NAM, SAARC

Mains level: Paper 2- India's foreign policy challenges

The article highlights the challenges facing the India’s foreign policy and factors responsible for these challenging circumstances.

Stronger China in 2021 and Impact on India

  • China is about the only major country which had a positive rate of growth at the end of 2020, and its economy is poised to grow even faster in 2021.
  • Europe has recently revived its China links by ‘concluding in principle the negotiations for an EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment’.
  •  The China-EU Investment Treaty which is an indication that Europe values its economy more than its politics.
  • In one swift move, Europe has thus shattered all hope that China would remain ostracised in 2021.
  • India which has greatly curtailed its relations with China in the wake of Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, will find itself in difficult position.

Major changes in West Asia and implications for India

  • In West Asia, the Abraham Accords have sharpened the division between the Saudi Bloc and Iran-Turkey.
  • Despite the hype surrounding the Abraham Accords the risk of a confrontation between Iran and Israel remains high.
  • This does pose problems for India, since both have relations with it.
  • Meanwhile, China demonstrates a willingness to play a much larger role in the region, including contemplating a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement with Iran.

Foreing policy challenges for India in 2021

  • No breakthrough in Sino-Indian relations has, or is likely to occur.
  • India-Iran relations today lack warmth.
  • In Afghanistan, India has been marginalised as far as the peace process is concerned.
  • While India’s charges against Pakistan of sponsoring terror have had some impact globally, it has further aggravated tensions between the two neighbours and pushed Pakistan closer to China.
  • Hostility between India and Nepal appears to have reduced lately, relations continue to be strained.
  • Through a series of diplomatic visits, India has made efforts to improve relations with some of its neighbours such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but as of now worthwhile results are not evident.
  • One key takeaway is that as India-China relations deteriorate, India’s neighbours are not averse to taking sides, increasing India’s isolation.
  • India will serve as the president of the powerful UN Security Council for the month of August, 2021, but if it is to make a real impact, it must be seen to possess substantial weight to shape policies, more so in its traditional areas of influence.

Factors responsible for India’s foreing policy issues

  • There is a perception that India’s closeness to the U.S. has resulted in the weakening of its links with traditional friends such as Russia and Iran.
  • Perhaps the most relevant explanation could be the shifting balance of power in the region in which India is situated, notably the rise of China.
  • The enlarging conflict between the two biggest powers in Asia is compelling many nations to pick sides in the conflict.
  • Othe important factor is that India’s foreign policy suffers from an ideational vacuum.
  • India remains isolated from two important supranational bodies of which it used to be a founding member, viz., the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).


As part of the ideational restructuring of India’s foreign policy, what is urgently required, apart from competent statecraft, is the adoption of prudent policies, pursuit of realistically achievable objectives, and, above all, a demonstration of continuity of policy, irrespective of changes in the nature of the Administration.

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