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A self-reliant foreign policy

  • 13 August, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

A self-reliant foreign policy


  • ‘Asthma nirbhartha’ or Self-reliance in the domain of foreign policy would mean the ideal of strategic autonomy.
  • Strategic autonomy denotes the ability of a state to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by other states.
  • India has historically emphasized on maintaining strategic autonomy. The policy of Non-alignment has served as the major pillar of India’s quest for strategic autonomy.
  • The Non-Aligned Movement was formed during the Cold War, as an organization of States that did not seek to formally align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union, but sought to remain independent or neutral.
  • Despite the changing power equations in the global affairs, India’s quest for autonomy in making foreign policy choices has remained constant.
  • From 1947 to 1991, the world order was mostly bipolar with the erstwhile Soviet Union and The U.S. forming the two power blocs.
  • With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world order remained mostly unipolar with the U.S. being the sole superpower. However, off late with China having caught up with the U.S. both economically and militarily and with the advent of middle powers like India the current scenario remains mostly multipolar.

Flexibilities in policy:

  • Despite the overwhelming emphasis on strategic autonomy throughout its history, during moments of crisis, India has reinterpreted Strategic freedom and shown flexibility for survival.
  • Compelling geopolitical circumstances led India to enter into de facto alliance-like cooperation with major powers.
  • During the 1962 war with China, India did appeal to the U.S. for emergency military aid.
  • In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, India entered a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward-off the threat posed by China and the U.S.
  • During the 1999 Kargil war, India was welcoming of a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down.
  • In the above cases, India’s decision to seek co-operation with major powers did not in any way mean that India became any less autonomous, rather this flexibility allowed India to secure its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity. India adopted the tactic of realpolitik.



Realpolitik signifies a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.


Policy for the current situation:

  • The current situation with tense India-China relations might mark another inflection point with regard to strategic autonomy.
  • With China and the U.S. sliding into a new Cold War like situation and with China challenging India’s security and sovereignty, the article argues that India’s adherence to the Non-alignment policy makes little sense.
  • The article argues the case for India’s alignment with the U.S. to meet the Chinese threat.
  • The article states that the fears that proximity to the U.S. will lead to loss of India’s strategic autonomy are unfounded given that India has never been subordinated to a superpower despite India aligning with such powers in the past.

Way forward

American support:

  • Given the increasing assertiveness of China vis-a-vis India and with the U.S. confronting China frontally, India should aim to make use of American support to counterbalance China where ever possible.

Remaining non-aligned:

  • Even while aligning with the U.S, India should make all efforts to stay as an independent power.
  • India should not remain overly reliant on the U.S. as this could constrict India’s options in some domains serving national interest such as India’s ties with Iran and Russia and efforts to speed up indigenous defence modernisation.
  • The focus of India’s alignment with the U.S. should be on constraining China.

Diversifying relations:

  • The article argues against isolation or alliance with one great power and argues for diversification of relations with like-minded countries to achieve common goals.
  • Diversification of relations should become the essence of self-reliance for India in foreign relations. India should continue to retain good ties with a range of strategic partners, including the U.S.
  • India could focus on intensifying cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world.

Source: TH


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