India’s foreign affairs strategy

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Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.


India finds itself in an increasingly dangerous world, one that is fragmenting and slowing down economically. It is a world in transition, one in which India’s adversaries — state or non-state, or both as in Pakistan’s case — are becoming increasingly powerful. If the external world is becoming more unpredictable and uncertain, so are internal politics and security in most of the powers. These are challenges that traditional institutions and state structures are not well-equipped to handle, mitigate, or solve. In this changing world, what are some of the basic and long-term drivers of India’s foreign policy which determine the overarching goal? What is India’s strategy to achieve those goals? What should India be doing?

Simply put, the task of India’s foreign policy is to protect and secure India’s integrity, citizens, values and assets, and to enable the development and transformation of India into a modern nation in which every Indian can achieve his or her full potential. The task of foreign policy professionals is to enable the transformation of India and to create an environment for that transformation.

At present, India should concentrate its efforts on strengthening itself, consolidating its periphery and external balancing.

India risks missing the bus to becoming a developed country if it continues business and politics as usual, or tries to imitate China’s experience in the last forty years, does not adapt, and does not manage its internal social and political churn better. Avoiding war and attaining one’s goals is the highest form of strategy by any tradition or book — whether Kautilya, Sun Tzu or Machiavelli. And if India’s record over seventy years of independence is to be examined, it has not done badly in moving towards its main goal of transforming India.

Ultimately what should guide India is the quest to make itself a great power with a difference, namely, in a way which enables it to achieve Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of ‘wiping the tear from the eye of every Indian.’ That would be in keeping with India’s core values and national interest. That is the right objective for a great country like India.


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*This Impact Paper is adapted from a lecture, “Thinking in the Long-Term about India’s Foreign Affairs Strategy,” delivered at IIT Madras on February 26, 2019.