Indian foreign policy jazz is parting ways
On two consecutive Fridays this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met both the “dog” and the “hare” of international politics.
Last Friday, Modi hosted a virtual summit with the eight members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by China and Russia. Last Friday, he joined the leaders of the Quad in Washington – the coalition made up of India, Japan, Australia and the United States.
The two groups are obviously rivals. Whatever India may say, the very purpose of the Quad is to contain and hinder China. And the SCO is the response of China and Russia to American hegemony.
The two groups also defend very different things: unlike the Quad, many SCO countries are partners of the Taliban, including China, Pakistan and Iran (which is an observer to the SCO). In addition, the Quad talks about promoting the values of democracy, international law and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Russia and China are allergic to democracy and, for all intents and purposes, promote a “power is good” approach to international politics.
So what exactly is India doing, having lunch with one group and dinner with the other?
Being part of competing and contradictory multilateral coalitions is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. The problem arises when you sit down with all of them without a coherent political goal – or, at the very least, a clear idea of why you’re even there in the first place.
If India believes its values and interests are better aligned with those of China and Russia, for example, it can use its Quad membership to promote those values - and negotiate for those interests – among its rivals. there (or vice versa).
But whether India has such clarity is highly questionable. For the most part, as I argued in my last book, India appears to be ‘flying blind’. He called for action against Pakistan on terrorism while conducting military counterterrorism exercises at the SCO (of which Pakistan is a member). He has publicly worried about the “threat from China” while being shy about any military alliance that could help correct his huge power differential with China.
The greatest risk of being part of rival groups without a clearly articulated policy is that India risks losing confidence and influence on both sides. Influence is acquired by a rising power when it credibly represents – and fulfills – the fundamental interests of various nations, communities or peoples. Without such credibility, a rising power will fail to establish strategic influence in other countries or secure their cooperation on matters of national concern.
With that in mind, think about what happens if a country participates in military exercises with both sides involved in a dispute: neither side can trust that country anymore. At best, this country is no more influential than a spectator in a street fight; at worst, he is seen by both parties as an unreliable partner – a risk of sabotage.
With the Asia-Pacific region warming year by year, India must prepare for a longer-term strategy, which secures India’s interests in a possible military conflict between the major world powers.
Time will tell if New Delhi already has a great secret plan for world peace, of which its strategy of “non-alignment” (or “multi-alignment”, according to the new lexicon) is a crucial element. But if you step foot in two different boats – each trying to move in the opposite direction at the same time – you risk being thrown overboard by both boats at some point. Pack a life jacket, just in case.