On May 26, 2014, Narendra Modi invited the heads of all the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries to his swearing-in ceremony. While this important gesture could have marked a new beginning for regional cooperation, such cooperation in South Asia still takes place mainly in the bilateral sphere. Since 1985, India has been a key founding member of four regional initiatives, none of which have achieved any tangible results.
Foreign Policy & Security
Russia’s interests in India have been growing since Stalin’s death in 1953. Khrushchev and Bulganin inaugurated a Third World policy that brought the leaders to India and took Nehru to Moscow, all in 1955. In the same year, when Asian and African nations met at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, Russian newspapers celebrated the event as a “sign of our age.” The Indian establishment was enthusiastic that Stalin’s successors had discarded his “dim view of India.” During the Cold War, the relationship had more flow than ebb.
Addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin and the media last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “the character of global politics and international relations is changing. However, the importance of this relationship and its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change.” Expressed on the sidelines of the 15th Annual India-Russia Summit in New Delhi, Modi’s statement conveyed his intention to enhance cooperation with Russia. Concurrently, it also implied India will not support western sanctions against Russia.
The drastic increase in trade volumes over the last few years is an impressive testament to the new Indian pivot to Sub-Saharan Africa; trade between India and Sub-Saharan Africa stood at $60 billion in 2012. Still, trade volumes in the same year were markedly eclipsed by those of the EU ($567.2 billion), the U.S. ($446.7 billion), and China ($220 billion). Nevertheless, India’s engagement shows a successful new focus on the region where it has implemented specific programs in the economic, political, and, especially, pan-African sphere.
The astounding mandate secured by Narendra Modi has led scholars and commentators alike to focus on what more the U.S. can do to win India’s favor. Whilst some argue that the Obama administration ought to “modi-fy” its advance, others recommend changing the playing field and developing “a new relationship with India.” In most instances, punditry appears focused on the immediate future, and perhaps for good reasons.
In February 2014, India managed a rare diplomatic coup de force when it hosted, in the same week, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif. The timing of these visits is hardly fortuitous; over the past two decades, India has adroitly managed to develop relations with diverse Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Palestine, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Some see this balancing act as indicative of a broader new approach to the region, defined as India’s “Look Middle East” Policy.
The outbreak of conflict in South Sudan last December led to the shut down of India’s multi-billion dollar oil project in the young country. The instability sent Indian diplomats scrambling to play damage control as ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), the international arm of India’s national oil company, was forced to evacuate its personnel from the region. Competition from China is often regarded as the biggest challenge for India in acquiring global oil resources.
The Indian Army has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons. General VK Singh’s controversy-laden tenure, reports of officer-men clashes, corruption allegations and stories of soldiers sleeping while on operations along the Line of Control have all led to unwelcome media attention. Interestingly, out of all these issues, the Prime Minister chose to highlight the issue of officer-men relations and while addressing his senior most military commanders, put it with uncharacteristic bluntness: “You are responsible for the lives and welfare of your men and women in uniform.
Three months ago, India’s former foreign secretary and current coordinator of the National Security Council Advisory Board, Shyam Saran took the unusual step of publicly taking on critics of India’s operational nuclear capabilities. These critics have long cited the inability of successive governments to address the many technical and organizational lacunae in India’s operational capabilities as a reason why they believe that India’s nuclear foray is a prestige-driven enterprise. Contra such claims, Saran maintained that Delhi’s operational nuclear capabilities are robust.
Despite its best attempts and some very creative thinking, the Indian government’s efforts to chart an independent course in cyberspace have met with consistent failures and frustrations. Its Cybersecurity Policy, published last month, is a case in point. Released amidst the growing controversy over revelations regarding the American electronic eavesdropping program, this policy document is the culmination of deliberations that the Indian security establishment has been carrying out with various stakeholders for the past three years.