Diplomacy is the art of carrying out business with other nations and entities while ensuring that they adequately address all issues related to our national interests. Governments decide national interest and diplomats strive to achieve the goals dictated to them by governments. The interaction between diplomats (bureaucrats) and governments (political entities) plays a key role in determining the success of any diplomatic venture.
Indian diplomacy also strives to function in line with the above parameters. However, multiple hindrances prevent the Indian Foreign Policy from functioning like a well-oiled machine. These often result from the mismanagement of foreign policy goals by the government. Over the recent past, successive governments have attempted not to deviate from the path set out by the previous government. However, considering the way Prime Minister Modi’s government has gone ahead addressing foreign policy goals, we can well expect that a reboot is in the offing.
Indian foreign policy has often been characterised as being ‘principle based’, which has often resulted in national interest being lost in the maze of diplomacy. India’s principle based foreign policy has alienated other countries and lost it many friends. Iran, an important Indian ally that has always worked to secure India’s interest in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, was unequivocally ignored when India decided to pursue a policy of universal nuclear disarmament. India’s international stand on Iran’s nuclear program even got the then head of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali Larijani, to comment, “India was our friend” in 2005.
However, India has lately attempted to shed the principle based foreign policy approach. This argument is backed by multiple incidences and statements made by the current government. Prime Minister Modi’s manifesto clearly indicated a national interest based foreign policy perspective for the government. The Sri Lankan President was invited for the swearing in ceremony of the new government despite opposition from some segments of the Indian society and polity. This may just be the result of a single party securing an overwhelming parliamentary majority and not needing support from other parties. Yet, the move marks a distinct shift in India’s diplomatic processes.
India has also maintained a humanitarian based diplomacy on the Gaza conflict while not directly singling out Israel. Thus, a principle-based foreign policy continues to be active but with riders as, unlike previous times, ‘supposed perpetrators’ haven’t been handed out any mention of condemnation. Hence, a boundary has been established in the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) offices as to what can be considered a principle based approach and what is an acceptable principle based national interest approach to foreign policy. The new government, with its majority, is willing to deal effectively with Indian perceptions which may be contrary to national interest, while conducting its foreign policy.
Indian diplomacy’s reboot does not involve only modifying the basic framework of foreign policy formulation but also establishing an efficient workforce of diplomacy to suit India’s growing clout and importance in the international sphere. The continuance of reforms in the recruitment process to the bureaucracy, initiated by the previous Indian government, assumes significance here.
Currently, according to the MEA website, the Indian Foreign Service maintains a cadre strength of around 600 officers. Some other sites mention it as 930. Either way, this number is small when compared to countries like China and USA which eclipse the Indian cadre by 4 times and 20 times respectively. The changes introduced and the ones in the pipeline might just be able to provide Mr. Modi a few hundred more officers by the end of his tenure. We can expect to have an officer cadre of a few thousands by the end of 2020. However, any such expectation would be unrealistic without sustained administrative and recruitment process reforms to attract talented individuals into the Foreign Service as well as get outside talent to join the service in key advisory roles, thereby providing an additional perspective to the Indian Foreign Office.
Currently, Indian diplomacy is not reflective of a confident emerging power. Frequent U-turns in policy matters and a lack of long-term vision and planning continue to plague it. However, it enjoys the advantage of having a robust English speaking population capable of increasing people-to-people contact in other countries and can prove to be an effective catalyst in getting foreign governments to undertake a constructivist revision of position on Indian issues. Prime Minister Modi’s stated attempt to conduct India’s foreign affairs in an improved manner will get a boost if he is able to reboot the Indian diplomatic setup. Until then, lack of long-term planning, strategic errors, principle based diplomacy and the lack of definition of national interest will continue to negatively impact India’s global clout.
About the Author
Dhruva is a 20 year old fresh graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai with Majors in Economics and Political Science. He blogs at An Indian Youngster and tweets at @Dhruva_Mathur and is followed by Kevin Rudd, Foreign Affairs and European Council on Foreign Relations among others. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and debating. He is a Social Liberal with a Right tilt for economics oriented towards development.