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India's foreign policy must be cautious as its neighbours Russia and China flex muscles

By Sudhanshu Tripathi - posted Thursday, 10 November 2022

Prevailing hostilities on the international scene between prominent global powers are tending towards disturbing situations that may result in a major armed conflict – or even full-scale world war. That obviously offers tough options for peace-loving and law-abiding nations like Britain, France, India, Australia, Japan and South Korea and many more such states. The lone super power, the United States, and the two other major powers, Russia and China, are engaged in bilateral yet multi-cornered conflicts with each other, and are making frantic efforts to outmanoeuvre each other as they fight to secure and protect their respective national interests.

America is at loggerheads with China over Taiwan, Hong Kong and almost the entire Indo-Pacific including the South China Sea and other adjoining regions bordering the Indian Ocean, all of which are being illegally captured by Beijing.

At the same time, the eight-months long and continuing Russia-Ukraine war has emerged as another potential threat for Washington and its NATO alliance partners. Russia is playing a double-edged game by threatening to use nuclear weapons if the US-led western powers continue to "meddle" in this ongoing war against Moscow's interests. The US, despite pursuing loud counter-threat tactics, has yet to reestablish unquestioned global supremacy as it simultaneously faces this challenge from Russia and the China threat. Both these powers individually and together aim to replace the US with their own ascending power profile and global stature.


It is quite obvious that Russia has been trying hard and consistently for the past many years to regain its lost glory from when, as the USSR in the long decades after the second World War until its disintegration in 1989-90, the Russian nation basked in its status as powerful counter-pole to the US.

Despite their common agenda against the prevailing American global hegemony, Russia and China do not agree with each other on most international issues. This is due to rival claims and counter claims over mutual border disputes, ideological sanctity and current efforts to encircle each other's sphere of influence in different regions of the world.

The Belt and Road Grand Initiative, nicknamed the Silk Route Strategy, is China's meticulously planned, power-expanding game across continents that is branded as a greater economic push toward expanded international trade and commerce. While both China and Russia express their consent to the "No Litmus Test" option as regards their mutual relations, that remain far-fetched when it comes to on-the-ground realities such as, for example, Beijing extending its territorial claims over Russia's Vladivostok City only two years ago.

In fact, not only the US and Russia, but almost all leading powers are a bit wary and apprehensive of China's not-so-peaceful upward ascension in the world hidden under the garb of resisting imperialist aggressions. Further, China is not enjoying full Russian support while it continues staging its military presence along the international borders between India and China. Indeed, Russia continues to be the most trusted friend of India, and is the major supplier of military hardware and other essential defence equipment for the Indian Army.

Further, China's clandestine support of North Korea, Iran and other irresponsible Muslim nations – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya etc. – and its open support of terrorists and their enablers in the UN Security Council, is perhaps the worst security challenge for the whole world including both US and Russia, and the hardest to deal with. Western powers, particularly America, France and Britain, continue to be the worst sufferers of Islamist terror in its different shades and forms.

Beyond terror, other grave planetary threats demand immediate collective action and this has failed to materialize due to the mutual antagonism and suspicion among most of the major powers and also between other smaller states. As a consequence, the entire global scenario looks ominous.


In such a precarious and volatile situation, peaceful nations like Australia, Japan and India need to remain cautious and vigilant when pursuing their national interests. The situation is particularly tough for India, because it is not as powerful as China, or the US, or Russia. Australia has greatly advanced in terms of building a national consensus on most issues, in addition to having a solid, broad based infrastructure and consequent booming economy and strong military power. Japan continues to be highly advanced techno-economic super power with an impeccable national character consolidating its unparalleled economic and military power. Both Australia and Japan enjoy an influential position in global affairs, but India is still working hard to arrive at a shared national opinion on most contentious issues – and this is quite apart from its not-so-powerful economy and unimpressive military power. Together these shortcomings thwart India's desired role in international relations.

This is why perhaps, India could not find a place in the recent triumvirate - the AUKUS pact consisting of Australia, UK and the US designed to create a common front against China in the Indo-Pacific region. Yet India is really a much needy stakeholder in this region. In fact, this pact is designed to accomplish the goals of the earlier QUAD initiative, which involved Australia, Japan and the US plus India. While India's undisputed cultural and moral power grants it a unique and unparalleled place in the comity of nations, its ancient philosophies of peace are redundant in this era of hyper realism, when ideals and idealism have been replaced by economic and military values in a brute power-based hierarchy.

Unfortunately, India has not yet overcome the structural constraints that hold back national decision-making and policy formulation. Institutions such as think tanks acting as impartial intellectual powerhouses could prescribe feasible policy options for speedy realization of India's national interests and in the interest of India's poor, illiterate and downtrodden masses. The all-dominant civil service has failed to do so, even after more than seven decades of independence.

India urgently needs to evolve a broad-based fulcrum of national policy-building institutions along with a dedicated service-oriented professional administrative structure in order to to ensure speedy economic and scientific-technological growth and to overcome population explosion, ever-rising corruption, and the impact of narrow sectarian interests like caste, language, separatism, organized crime, mafia power, terrorism and religious fundamentalism. This is India's nation-building task.

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About the Author

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi is Professor at UPTROU, Prayagaraj (UP), Bharat (India).

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