The numerous wars fought by India with its neighbours Pakistan and China speak for itself. India has actively defended its territorial integrity while maintaining a regional order. The 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan is a testament to this fact. India’s continous intervention in Maldives’ and Nepal’s polity to check the autocratic and monarchic elements is another testament. It has strived to secure and safeguard the rights of minorities in Sri Lanka through political and military intervention, But, simultaneously, its passivity in the Afghanistan war in the late 1970s may well be noted.
It is clear that India has a regional strategy and it is well placed in South Asia. But, its position has not been solely established based on political and military clout; economic clout also had a major role to play. Its softness or toughness in the geo-politics has little relevance today. For, its relations with neighbours has often suffered and soured. In fact, economic engagements are guiding and shaping the power relationships.
Globally, however, the Indian strategy was different and so has been the outcome.
India’s leadership amid cold war owing to its policy of Non- Alignment (NAM) has been commendable and is respected globally.But, non-alignment did not mean neutrality or isolation. India has intervened to safeguard peace and stop wars between cold war rival factions belonging to U.S. and U.S.S.R.. The intensive engagements with then newly de-colonized nations was conceived to promote an equitable world order. The idea of the New International Economic Order(NIEO) was one such endeavour. Though, it did not succeed but left a powerful impression on the global strategic discourse.
Interestingly, India also tested Nuclear weapons in the 1970s and faced the wrath of the West by way of economic sanctions.. It did not sign, among very few nations, the Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT) owing to its biases. These placed it as strategically independent and respected for its principled stand on issues.
But, on many occasions India remained soft or passive. The military interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, the Iran wars and the growing U.S. hegemony were not opposed or challenged by India. In fact, it is often alleged that India subdued its NAM policy and sided with the U.S. on occasions. Reasonably, neither was India then capable enough nor was it beneficial to oppose the U.S.
International politics has changed considerably since then and economic clout often defines the share in global power- not softness or toughness.
Even though India has not been very active or persuasive on major contemporary issues relating to Syria, Iran and Egypt – it has taken a categorical stand on each of them. Its growing influence in international politics is discernible by the following. It has emerged as a major destination for global investment. Its rise has saved the world from plunging into a deep economic crisis by spectacular economic growth- as evident in Europe and the West. Its membership of BRICS, housing 40% of world’s GDP and 60% of world’s population, gives it immense political voice. The global South( economic rise of southern nations and their growing cooperation) is one of the defining partnerships giving much-needed leverage to India.
Thus, major global powers have supported India’s permanent membership in key insitutions as UNSC, Missile Technology Control Regime(MTCR), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) and Asia-Pacific Economic Council(APEC). Moreover, India’s resolve to make the global economic and internet governance more democratic is backed by all developing nations. This cover reforms in economic bodies like IMF, World Bank, UNCTAD and WTO. Indeed, India fulfills major criteria such as demography(population), geo-strategic location and economic strength to undertake or lead such reform processes.
Overall Strategic Analysis
Thus, there can be little doubt that presently India is well placed in the global political and economic landscape. Its non-intervention in major contemporary issues or softness should be seen in the light of domestic imperatives and its foreign policy.
India is grappling with several internal socio-economic challenges. Resolving them is its first priority, even though they are linked in some way to its international position. The diplomatic energy of India is often channelized to resolve these issues and thus little attention can be devoted to other global phenomena. Indian leadership at best attempts to shield India from such phenomena. For instance, the deposing of the democratically elected former President of Egypt Mr. Morsy, was not opposed vociferously by India, only condemned. But, the issues emanating there from such as political instability leading to potential oil price hikes has been taken care of by making alternative arrangements.
Moreover, the leadership is well aware of non-softness in jeopardizing health relations with nations, e.g. Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is also well informed of the high-handedness of the U.S. in resolving global issues and its consequences. The U.S. often bears the reactive brunt of its actions without solving the problems it acted for. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and the recent potential strike in Syria exemplify this. These exacerbated the reputation and credibility of and trust in the U.S., especially in the case of Syria and Iraq. On the other hand, the balanced Russian diplomacy led the way for potentially resolving the conflict. It marks the win of sensible diplomacy.
It is well understood today in international circles that diplomatic and economic influence matter the most and not high-handedness or toughness. Experience shows that soft and tough/hard diplomacy are very subjective words with a temporal connotation. What is soft in the short-run may become the most robust stand in the long-run. Its opposite is also true that what is tough may not augur well. India’s foreign policy has thus been calibrated well with changing times, both regionally and globally.
It must not be forgotten that not much time has elapsed since India’s independence. And, India’s position in just 66 years is satisfactory. It only needs to focus, as it has been doing, on domestic socio-economic imperatives and balancing them wittingly with global challenges and opportunities – just as China also did. This strategy has the potential to put India in the global circles of power- where soft in not always weak.