Contemporary Indian foreign policy can be divided into different stages, during which the country steadily transitioned from an idealistic to a more pragmatic foreign policy. The first stage came after decades of colonial rule, as India became independent following the British withdrawal in 1947. Lasting from 1947 to 1962, the first stage of India’s foreign policy was marked by idealism. It was during this period that India sought to strengthen its newly-gained sovereignty and was introduced to the world of multilateral diplomacy and the objective of peaceful coexistence of states. It was also during this period that the international power balance became bipolar, namely between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR). To stay out of the competitive rivalry between the two blocks, the so-called non-alignment became the foundation of India’s foreign policy. It meant not joining any alliances of two great powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. Being among the first countries to gain independence, India was one of those leading the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Its members believed in staying out of the competition of the two rival blocs in the Cold War, preserving their independence and developing their economy without becoming affiliated.
1962, however, marked a new chapter in Indian foreign policy. Following the military defeat against China, India’s leadership in NAM and its foreign policy were questioned. The war with China embarrassed India. One-on-hand Indian diplomacy could not forestall an armed conflict with its neighbor. On the other hand, its armed forces suffered a defeat due to inadequate preparation and equipment. The next phase of Indian foreign policy, which lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union, was marked by a focus on national security, with Indian diplomacy becoming more pragmatic to safeguard its security. This period saw a more assertive foreign policy, wars with Pakistan, and the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation. The signing of the treaty meant a clear shift from the previous policy of non-alignment. However, due to Pakistan’s close ties to the United States and China, India had no choice but to get closer to the Soviet Union. Stemming from the humiliating defeat in 1962, the security dilemma from the alliance of Pakistan with the United States and China, and China’s nuclear test in Lop Nor in 1964, India conducted its nuclear explosion test in 1974. The test sought to deter as well as showcase India’s independence.
Another shift in India’s foreign policy came with the end of the Cold War. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States became the strongest state in the ‘unipolar’ world. For this reason, India reconsidered its foreign policy. The new one sought to strengthen bilateral and multilateral relations with the West, whilst maintaining relations with its former partners. As India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar argued, the idea of the independent mindset that was reflected in the policy of non-alignment today could be better reflected and “expressed in multiple partnerships”. This essentially means the previous policy of non-alignment is reflected in a policy of multi-alignment. Through a pragmatic foreign policy approach, today’s India builds ties with all, for example with the United States, Russia, China, Iran, and the European Union. Through the multi-alignment policy of fostering closer relationships, it emphasizes balance. Contemporary Indian foreign policy seeks cooperation where its interest is reflected. For example, India is a member of the G20, the BRICS formation, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad). The simultaneous alignment is part of a calculated policy to maintain an independent mindset. What meant no alignments during the Cold War now implies numerous alignments. With such foreign policy orientation kept in mind, India’s role in the Quad and the Quad’s offer to India, will be analyzed.
What is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprises four countries: Japan, Australia, the United States, and India. The countries first came together to coordinate the response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. Having been called the Tsunami Core Group, their cooperation was set up to coordinate the responses to the humanitarian challenges posed by the crisis. This coordinated approach, however, came to an end once the humanitarian efforts have been concluded. In 2007, following the initiative of Shinzo Abe, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Japan argued for an enhancement of a more value-based cooperation, thus formalizing the Quad. This saw the four countries discussing possible enhanced cooperation on the side of an ASEAN summit as well as a joint naval exercise the following year, drawing harsh criticism from Beijing. Abe’s initiative, however, did not last long as neither India nor Australia wanted the Quad to impact their relationship with China. For the next ten years, therefore, no enhanced multilateral cooperation took place.
Over the next years, however, China’s foreign policy evolved significantly, prompting members to adopt their strategic thinking, and bringing back a demand for the Quad in 2017. It was also until that year that the United States shifted its focus to Asia as part of its Pivot to Asia policy. China’s continuing rise on a global and regional level coupled with an assertive foreign policy meant the four members rethought their stance on the Quad and their increased cooperation. Between the ten years of leaving Quad behind and returning to it, all members’ foreign policy and security have been impacted by the evolving Chinese foreign policy. The very thing that caused disagreements among the members to enhance their cooperation in 2008 was the cause for their increased interest in Quad in 2017.
Today, the members cooperate in several fields, such as diplomacy, economy, or defense. They aim to create a resilient, free, and open Indo-Pacific region. The strategic cooperation, therefore, indirectly aims to balance the rising power of China economically, politically, and militarily in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, this includes keeping vital sea routes free of external influence or decreasing dependence on the Chinese supply chain. Overall, the new spirit and cooperation of the Quad aim to limit and counter Chinese foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region. Just like during the first run of the Quad, China has voiced criticism of the cooperation. The language of such criticism, however, has come to be toned down due to the unclear cooperation strategy.
India in the Quad
Ahead of the Quad’s most recent leaders’ summit, the Quad Leaders’ Tokyo Summit 2022, the Indian Ambassador to Japan outlined India’s stance on the Quad. Responding to a question about whether issues related to China would be the main source of attention during the summit, Ambassador Sanjay Kumar Verma argued for the importance of having a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region. The response showcases and encompasses the history of Indian foreign policy, as well as India’s stance on multilateral cooperation. It demonstrates a foreign policy of cooperating for something specific rather than against something. In this regard, for India, the Quad is not a cooperation aimed against China but rather a tool to achieve a peaceful and stable region. When the impetus of Indian foreign and security policy is to counter the rising power and influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region, it is not a policy directed against China, but rather a policy created for a specific reason, in which China is in the way. Stemming from the historic policy of non-alignment and its contemporary vision of multi-alignment, the Quad is a way for India to achieve such a balance. The Quad serves as a tool to balance multilateral cooperation whilst also achieving foreign policy interests.
For India, China is a strategic rival. The policy of India towards China, however, differs from this of the other members of the Quad. As the geographical proximity of India to China is significantly different from that of the other members, so does India’s cautious foreign and security policy. Being the only one in the Quad to border China, India is determined to maintain peace along its borders. The very border which, as history has showcased with the war in 1962 or the recent clashes in 2020, is rather tense. It is therefore in the interest of India to prevent the Quad from only discussing security-related matters and becoming cooperation directly aimed at countering China. The latter would antagonize China, thus increasing the possibility of conflicts within its neighborhood. As a dedicated member of the Quad, India seeks to maintain a calculated balance between cooperating on matters that further its foreign policy goals and causing a conflict with China. Therefore, whilst regarding China as a strategic rival, India is careful to prevent the Quad from becoming an anti-Chinese alliance.
Complemented by the rivalry with China, as the strategic relations between Pakistan (one of India’s foreign policy priorities) and China are strengthening, for example through the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, India is seeking to forge strategic partnerships of its own. Cooperating within the Quad enables to counter the relationship between Pakistan and China. The Quad ensures the strengthening of relations with the United States, Japan, and Australia on both a bilateral level with each of the respective countries and a multilateral level. These strategic relationships are, therefore, important for checking the strategic partnership of Pakistan.
Overall, whilst India considers China a strategic rival due to its war in 1962, unsolved border disputes, and Chinese assistance for Pakistan, India maintains a special relationship with China. A relationship that is rooted in the multi-alignment policy and aims to strike a balance in foreign affairs. India, therefore, participates in the Quad to cooperate and check the rising power of China, whilst making sure to prevent antagonizing this country. India’s participation in the Quad showcases the country’s balanced and calculated foreign and security policy.
Indian Relations with Russia and China
As the foreign policy of multi-alignment indicates India is seeking to balance the complexity and number of its partnerships. India is a member of the BRICS formation (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the G20. These partnerships, however, especially those with Russia or China at times generate tensions within Quad, mainly between India and the United States. In the case of both countries, India has refrained from condemning the countries. For example, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s response to protests in Hong Kong, or the handling of the information regarding the outbreak of COVID-19. These tensions within the Quad prevent the enhancement of cooperation, and, at times, raise questions about the actual objectives of India regarding Russia and China.
The relations of India with Russia are both historic, with elements of cooperation stemming from the Cold War, and contemporary. Today, their cooperation encompasses a number of issues, especially in defense and trade. However, the relationship is not without its flaws, which challenges Indian diplomacy to balance it appropriately.
The defense cooperation between India and Russia goes back many years. During the Cold War, in a move that advanced the transition of Indian foreign policy to a more practical one, the two countries signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation. This cooperation has been maintained throughout and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the years, Russia has sold some sophisticated military equipment and technology to India, making it the most significant arms supplier of India. The continuous delivery of arms to India has created a path of dependency for both states. A positive experience from deliveries and trust developed over time and encouraged India to continue importing, and the availability of a reliable buyer prompted Russia to increase sales. At present, the Indian armed forces are predominantly equipped with technology or weapons imported from Russia, with Russian technology constituting a crucial part of many of its divisions. This huge dependence on Russian-imported weapons and technology prompted India to diversify the importers of weapons and defense technology. Since its efforts to diversify suppliers, the percentage of Russian imports has decreased, with India now also importing French and American technology. As Craig Hooper writes in Forbes, it is estimated that the tendency will continue. The war in Ukraine revealed that Russian-made weapons are not as effective as they were thought to be, signaling to India to need to revise its strategy in arming its military and decrease dependence on Russian technology.
The relations also extend into the realm of trade, especially in energy. The trade between the two countries is on a growing slope, with the two countries announcing in December 2021 the goal of reaching 30 billion USD traded annually. Energy constitutes a large portion of trade between the two nations. For example, Russia plays an active role in India’s nuclear energy supply, and as European states are aiming to decrease the import of Russian oil, India is buying more discounted Russian oil.
The complex relationship between the two states, however, is not without challenges to India. First of all, as highlighted above, the overreliance and fear of operational difficulties prompted India to diversify its defensive imports. Furthermore, as the relationship between Russia and China is becoming stronger, as well as the one between Russia, China, and Pakistan, Indian diplomacy has to maneuver appropriately in its relationship with Russia. Whilst following the policy of multi-alignment and continuing to work closely with Russia on a range of issues such as defense and energy, India may see no choice but to enhance its relationship and cooperation with the Quad.
Relations between India and China
The relationship between India and China fits perfectly within India’s multi-alignment policy. On one hand, India’s cautious and calculated foreign policy seeks to check the rising power of China in the Indo-Pacific region, while working together with this country. Whilst the unresolved border dispute between the countries overshadows the relationship, India and China have good trade relations and cooperate in space and security. Overall, the relationship is marked by caution and cooperation.
The bilateral trade between China and India is growing. Each year, China and the United States, India’s two biggest trading partners compete for the top position of the biggest trading partner. Last year, it was China. Besides the excellent trade relations, China and India cooperate within BRICS and as part of bilateral relations as well. For example, in a move that best showcases the policy of multi-alignment, days after the Quad summit in Japan, the BRICS announced India would become a part of the BRICS’ remote sensing constellation program in space.
The relationship between China and India is, therefore, very pragmatic. Whilst the two countries continue to increase trade relations and cooperation within the BRICS, the relationship is overshadowed by the border disputes and China’s support for Pakistan. For India, this means making the most out of the good trade relations and cooperation from BRICS, whilst being a committed member of Quad.
For India, staying out of the rivalry of blocks has become an integral part of its foreign policy. It has been reflected in the non-alignment policy during the Cold War and the multi-alignment policy afterward. Both policies keep an independent approach and foreign policy for the relations between great rising power. However, as the rise of China continues, complemented by evolving relationships between China, Pakistan, and Russia, India will seek to enhance cooperation within the Quad, whilst maintaining the policy of multi-alignment. The geographical proximity of India to China means its policy towards China will differ from that of other Quad members. Whilst India will increase its commitment to the enchantment of the Quad’s cooperation, Indian diplomacy will have a challenge not to antagonize its neighbor. At times, this maneuvering creates tension within the Quad, as the policy of other members towards China, is becoming tougher. The challenge for India, therefore, is to prevent its multi-alignment policy from backfiring and generating conflict between both sides.
The lessons drawn about the Russian-made military systems, the strengthening relationship between Pakistan, Russia, and China, and unresolved border disputes will propel India to strengthen relations and enhance cooperation with the Quad. This does not mean, however, that India will discard the policy of multi-alignment, but will rather continue developing closer relations with the United States and the Quad.
Benedek Sipocz – He is an undergraduate student of International Relations and Organisations at Leiden University, in The Hague. He is interested in transatlantic relations, European politics, and the foreign and security policies of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently he is an Associated Fellow Intern at the Warsaw Institute, contributing to the creation of articles and analyses on geopolitical matters in Central and Eastern Europe, and the implications of European and Transatlantic politics on the region.
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