Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Strategic autonomy in foreign policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Strategic autonomy and alignment with the U.S.

India has been maintaining strategic autonomy in its foreign policy since Independence. But the end of Cold War and growing closeness towards the U.S. raises concerns. This article addresses this issue.

India’s foreign policy: characterised by autonomy

  • India has historically prided itself as an independent developing country which does not take orders from or succumb to pressure from great powers.
  • Indian maintained this stance in its foreign policy when the world order was bipolar from 1947 to 1991, dominated by the U.S. and Russia.
  • Also, when the world was unipolar from 1991 to 2008, dominated by the U.S.
  • Or when it is multipolar as at the present times.
  • The need for autonomy in making foreign policy choices has remained constant.

Flexibility in foreign policy

  • However, strategic autonomy has often been adjusted in India’s history as per the changing milieu.
  • During the 1962 war with China, Prime Minister Nehru, had to appeal to the U.S. for emergency military aid.
  • In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to enter a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward off both China and the U.S.
  • And in Kargil in 1999, India welcomed a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down.
  • In all the above examples, India did not become any less autonomous when geopolitical circumstances compelled it to enter into de facto alliance-like cooperation with major powers.
  • Rather, India secured its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity by manoeuvering the great power equations and playing the realpolitik game.

Concerns over India’s growing closeness to the U.S.

  • As India is facing China’s growing aggression along the LAC, Non-alignment 2.0 with China and the U.S. makes little sense.
  • Fears that proximity to the U.S. will lead to loss of India’s strategic autonomy are overblown.
  • Because independent India has never been subordinated to a foreign hegemon.

What should be India’s strategy

  • In the threat environment marked by a pushy China, India should aim to have both- American support and stay as an independent power centre by cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world.
  • For India complete dependence on the U.S. to counter China would be an error.
  • Such complete dependence would be detrimental to India’s national interest such as its ties with Iran and Russia and efforts to speed up indigenous defence modernisation.
  • A wide and diverse range of strategic partners, including the U.S. is the only viable diplomatic way forward in the current emerging multipolar world order.

Consider the question “Does India’s close alignment with the U.S. harms its strategic autonomy? Suggest the strategy to balance India’s security concerns and maintaining strategic autonomy.”


We are free and self-reliant not through isolation or alliance with one great power, but only in variable combinations with several like-minded partners. India is familiar with the phrase ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy. It is time to maximise its potential.

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Manisha Dadarwal
3 years ago

Very nice coverage by civilsdaily

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Kunal Kumar
3 years ago


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Advaith Vedanth
3 years ago

very good contents but no one in comment section compared to insight

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Aswin m
3 years ago


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Kunal Kumar
3 years ago

Very nice explanation by civilsdaily


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