Non-Aligned Movement- A Farce in Indian Foreign Policy?

Few of DELHI’s bilateral relations get as much attention as its growing engagement with the USA and none of its global groupings generates as much political heat as the so-called QUAD- the quadrilateral security framework. All this buzz finds its origin, reasons and assertion in its most controversial foreign policy, the Non- Aligned movement that India joined during the cold war era.

India joined NAM with Nehru’s idealism and the best of intentions to promote shared interests, multilateralism & cooperation, and against bi-polarization. India’s theory was if we could avoid joining any of these camps (USA and USSR) we can extract maximum benefit out of both two. If we look at our neighbours and semi neighbours with Pakistan being in the west, China being in the east and USSR not so far away. Pakistan wasn’t a big issue but New Delhi could not afford to antagonize two giants like USSR and China at that point of time. Initially, NAM made a lot of sense to counter two demographic forces but it was a lot more about keeping us away from Russo-Chinese orbit as much as it was about anti-colonialism. Having said that it progressed and what happened was we started taking our anti-colonial rhetoric very seriously and soon it became more of anti-America. Even though China was doing things even before the Sino-Indo war which was against our interest but we keep pretending that violations of our sovereignty never happened. So, it was a very well-conceived policy which all major Indian policies got mucked up in its implementation in an enforcement deficit state.

Has India really been Non- Aligned?

Alliances figure prominently in India’s ancient strategic wisdom embodied in the Mahabharata, the Panchatantra, and the Arthshastra. Contemporary Indian domestic politics is always about making and unmaking alliances- between different castes and communities. Yet, when it comes to India’s foreign policy, alliances are seen as taboo.

Contrary to conventional wisdom India has experimented with alliances of different kinds. Let us start with the Indian nationalist movement. During the first world war, some nationalists aligned with Imperial Germany to set up the first Indian government in exile in Kabul. In the second World War, Subhas Chandra Bose joined forces with Imperial Japan to set up a provisional government in Port Blair, Andaman Islands.

During the era of Nehru’s idealism when the three Himalayan Kingdoms- Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim turned to Delhi for protection amidst Maoist China’s advance into Tibet during 1949-50, New Delhi signed security treaties with them. Nehru who actively opposed US alliances in Asia turned to the John F. Kennedy for signing an alliance with the US in order to seek military support when the Chinese aggression broke out. Though it’s still not clear what panic kicked in that New Delhi declined to sign alliance within the next six hours and contrary to that US declined their military support. Even in 1964, New Delhi desperately sought but did not get security guarantees from the US, UK and Soviet Russia after China tested its first nuclear weapon.

Indira Gandhi signed a security cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union in 1971 to cope with the crisis of the then East Pakistan. India also signed a similar treaty of friendship with the newly liberated Bangladesh in 1972.  

Now the heading of this article must be making a lot of sense to you because NAM has been nothing more than sort of a joke and only reminded again & again by people from certain block to deteriorate our relations with the west. Neither New Delhi has followed non- alignment nor NAM would serve its interest in the contemporary world. India does do alliances and it should do alliances but the question is under what terms, under what conditions and on what terms.

NAM meet, Baku, 2018

India Needs Strategic Ambiguity Not Strategic Schizophrenia

One of the prime rationale given behind being non-aligned is that India wants to exercise the strategic autonomy where it won’t be forced to take any decision against its wish and interests. However, this whole concept in an interconnected, inter dependable and multilateral world is itself an oxymoron. What kind of strategic autonomy did we practise when we stopped all our oil imports from Iran under U.S. pressure and this same policy of NAM forces us to vote many times against Israel in United Nations on Palestine issue even after knowing that Israel is our all-weather strategic friend who stands with and for India on each & every forum in the world. This is a peculiar problem in India’s foreign policy that we don’t reward good behaviour and never punish bad one’s.

Strategic schizophrenia kicks in, in India’s foreign policy when the reason behind not aligning with the US becomes the incident of 1971 war when they sent their 7th fleet 50 years back. Remind you the soviet and Americans who kept the whole world tense for decades during the cold war fought the 2nd world war together against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Having said that foreign policy is run on issues and interests of contemporary times and not the emotions where we live in a delusion of some other world.

Strategic autonomy isn’t something which can’t be achieved without being non- aligned neither its impossible to keep relations with all the states warm at the same time. For that India needs to do it in the French way, which practised strategic ambiguity when it left the NATO’s command structure after Suez canal crisis on the issue of not getting American support but did not leave NATO in order to get itself protected against Russia. In strategic ambiguity, you know which side of your bread is buttered but you don’t let others know which side of your bread is buttered.

Way Forward: Issue-based Coalitions

Today, everybody is looking towards India because it has become too big a giant to be ignored. And unlike Communist China, of course, Democratic India can’t be brutally transactional in its external partnership however partnership between two states not being transactional is inevitable. But New Delhi could certainly learn from Beijing in not letting theological debates about alliances cloud its judgements about the extraordinary economic and security challenges that India confronts today. The infructuous obsession with non-alignment diverts Delhi’s policy attention away from the urgent task of rapidly expanding India’s national capabilities in partnership with like-minded partners. An India that puts its interests above the doctrine will find itself a part of coalitions like QUAD without giving heed about offending our hostile neighbour for its International prospects.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Lokesh Jain

Lokesh Jain is a National Team Member, Confederation of Young leaders

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