UPSC MAINS 2019 : Foreign policy challenges five years later

Foreign policy challenges five years later

Topic : Foreign policy challenges five years later

Topic in Syllabus : 

Foreign policy challenges five years later



The new geo-political developments at the global level poses varied challenges for India.In such an unpredictable global environment and with resource constraints, India needs to realign its foreign policy priorities. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his second term, the world looks more disorderly in 2019 than was the case five years ago



What are the new global developments and challenges?

  • U.S President Donald Trump’s election and the new dose of unpredictability in U.S. policy pronouncements
  • The trade war between the U.S. and China which is becoming a technology war
  • Brexit and the European Union’s internal preoccupations
  • Erosion of U.S.-Russia arms control agreements and the likelihood of a new arms race covering nuclear, space and cyber domains
  • The U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are some of the developments that add to the complexity of India’s principal foreign policy challenge of dealing with the rise of China


India’s redefined neighbourhood

  • As in 2014, in 2019 too Mr. Modi began his term with a neighbourhood focus but redefined it.
  • In 2014, all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders had been invited for the swearing-in. However, the SAARC spirit soon evaporated, and after the Uri attack in 2016, India’s stance affected the convening of the SAARC summit in Islamabad.
  • Leaders from the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand) with Kyrgyzstan, added as current Shanghai Cooperation Organisation chair, highlighted a new neighbourhood emphasis.
  • Yet it would be difficult to ignore Pakistan. Despite good planning there is always the risk of unintended escalation as Balakot.
  • In the absence of communication channels between India and Pakistan, it appears that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played a role in ensuring the quick release of the IAF pilot thereby defusing the situation.


Ways to develop prosperous neighbourhood

  • Multi-pronged diplomatic efforts and being generous as the larger economy.
  • It also needs a more confident and coordinated approach in handling neighbourhood organisations — SAARC, BIMSTEC, the Bangladesh, the Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation, the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
  • This should be preferably in tandem with bilateralism because our bilateral relations provide us with significant advantages.
  • With all our neighbours, ties of kinship, culture and language among the people straddle boundaries, making the role of governments in States bordering neighbours vital in fostering closer linkages.
  • This means investing attention in State governments, both at the political and bureaucratic levels.


Managing China and the U.S:

India and China

  • China will remain the most important issue, as in 2014.
  • For Mr. Modi, the Doklam stand-off was a rude reminder of the reality that the tacit assumption behind the policy followed for three decades could no longer be sustained.
  • The informal summit in Wuhan restored a semblance of calm but does not address the long-term implications of the growing gap between the two countries.
  • Meanwhile, there is the growing strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China unfolding on India’s doorstep.
  • India no longer has the luxury of distance to be non-aligned.


India and US

  • Crude oil 
    • S. is a fickle partner and never has it been more unpredictable than at present.
    • Despite this, a number of issues have emerged that need urgent attention. As part of its policy on tightening sanctions pressure on Iran, the U.S. has terminated the sanctions waiver that had enabled India to import limited quantities of Iranian crude till last month.
    • A third looming issue, perhaps the most critical, is the threat of sanctions under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), were India to proceed with the purchase of the S-400 air and missile defence system from Russia.
  • GSP:
    • The Generalised System of Preferences scheme has been withdrawn, adversely impacting about 12% of India’s exports to the U.S., as a sign of growing impatience with India’s inability to address the U.S.’s concerns regarding market access, tariff lines and recent changes in the e-commerce policy.
  • Other potential tricky issues could relate to whether Huawei, which is currently the prime target in the U.S.-China technology war, is allowed to participate in the 5G trials (telecom) in India.
  • Afghanistan –The reconciliation talks between the U.S. and the Taliban as the U.S. negotiates its exit from Afghanistan raise New Delhi’s apprehensions about the Taliban’s return, constituting another potential irritant.


Way forward:

  • In a post-ideology age of promiscuity with rivalries unfolding around us, the harsh reality is that India lacks the ability to shape events around it on account of resource limitations.
  • These require domestic decisions in terms of expanding the foreign policy establishment though having a seasoned professional at the top does help.
  • We need to ensure far more coordination among the different ministries and agencies than has been the case so far.
  • Our record in implementation projects is patchy at best and needs urgent attention.
  • The focus on the neighbourhood is certainly desirable, for only if we can shape events here can we look beyond.



The fact that China too is part of the neighbourhood compounds Mr. Modi’s foreign policy challenges in his second term.Employing external balancing to create a conducive regional environment is a new game that will also require building a new consensus at home.


Sample Question:

In an unpredictable global environment and with resource constraints, India needs to shape a domestic consensus. In light of this statement explain the key challenges for India’s foreign policy in 2020



Foreign policy challenges five years later info graph