Foreign policy of a country refers to the guidelines & principles which a country follows in developing & maintaining relations with other countries. Post Cold War, the two poles of power that emerged were the USA & USSR. It was a time when India was taking baby steps towards being a developing country. Hence, the ideology of an agnostic attitude was adopted which later matured into a policy of Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). India preferred to hold an equidistant stance from both the poles of power.
Now that the New Cold War era is slowly emerging, India’s foreign policy trajectory is also shifting. The protagonists of the New Cold War are the USA and China. Although India doesn’t intend to side with any of the two, but over the years, China has taken several steps that go against the interest of India – be it altering the status quo at LAC or befriending India’s neighbours for its larger interests. In both the cases, India’s foremost priority is to protect its interests by countering China. For the same purpose, it can be well said that the Indo-USA proximity is largely China-centric.
In the recent and third 2+2 ministerial dialogue between India & USA was signed the BECA (Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement). With BECA, India became the signatory of all the foundational military agreements of the USA. Not Just BECA, the 2+2 ministerial dialogue also witnessed the promise of taking the close cooperation in the folds of defence, communication systems, trade & industrial issues to next level. Prior to BECA, two other agreements between India and the USA were signed, strengthening the Indo-USA ties from time to time! And especially with BECA , India is now entitled to receive the geospatial intelligence information which previously only USA could have access to. While this can be seen as a progressive approach but India, which has been proud of its strategic autonomy till now has willingly put the same at stake through this exchange of information.
Although, India’s approach to strengthen ties with the USA has China-centric overtones, yet, seen in the light of inclining towards a pole of power, it seems India’s policy of NAM is being slowly altered. If India continues to favour the USA to counter China and for other larger interests, it may put itself in an awkward position vis-a-vis a number of factors. Certain stands of India in favour of the USA have already distanced it from its neighbours e.g., finding itself in the middle of a muddle with respect to USA-Iran standoff not so long ago. Moreover, other pivotal neighbours of India which are generally perceived to be within its influence (like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal) currently seem to be out of step with India’s approach on many issues. This is a clear indication that too close an identification with one of the poles of power, that is the USA at this critical juncture may not be in India’s interest. It may rather evoke such political conundrums which will be too difficult to rectify at a later stage if not addressed at the proper time.
There is no doubt in the fact that strategic interest is to be considered while framing a foreign policy. But what should ‘not’ be given a back stage is that the foreign policy should also be kept in line with the current scenario. Congruence is the key to any foreign policy. Seen through this prism, India’s NAM policy is in complete consonance with the current times of changing world order. It is an antidote to falling into a multilateral quagmire. Therefore, modifications in it may be done with skill and dexterity, but a complete shift in the same may not go well with the interests of the country in the light of the prevailing circumstances of today. Period!