Foreign Policy

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  • Atul Rai asked: What will be the impact of climate change on international relations?

    P.K. Gautam replies: A very good question. As scholars in India are taught various streams of IR, I find the following idea very appealing as far as climate change is concerned:

    “The scientific debates, which are crucial for understanding problems of global commons, differ from many of the debates --- in that they do not follow the familiar perspective on international relations (IR). There is no realist or liberal position on whether the earth is warming and why” (Keith L. Shimko, “The Global Commons,” Chapter 13, International Relations: Perspectives, Controversies & Readings, Wadsworth: Cengage Learning; 4th edition, 2012, p. 323)

    Two major variables are in operation here. ‘A’ or behaviour of states for their national interest and power politics, is the first major variable. We may call it geopolitics. This behaviour has not changed much. In the last century, it may have been related to both the World Wars, but now the same attitude can be seen on all international issues like economics, WTO, resource struggle, climate change, etc. International negotiations and politics of climate change can be discerned via the lens ‘A’. Thus we have major developing countries, such as, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), having one position of common but differentiated responsibility and equity, team up against the industrialised countries to demonstrate meaningful mitigation. This does not mean that Sino-Indian boundary issues are forgotten. It only shows the various levels of behaviour by same countries differently on major issues in world politics. Similarly, behaviour of Arctic Five (USA, Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark/Greenland) over snow melt due to climate change is another good example of climate change and IR as it leads to resources and new sea routes which will have far reaching implications in the long term. All five countries have their own national interests, possibly more important than climate change. Study of IR also shows that it is better to cooperate. IR can transfer this wisdom to peace research and conflict resolution as well.

    Second behaviour is ‘B’. This is about how issues of climate change, such as, mitigation and adaptation, are perceived. Regional relations can get strained by politicians blaming everything to climate change. Water treaties by India with its neighbours are good example of it. Changes in water flow data needs to be known across boundaries as a result of climate change. Climate change related intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are on the rise. This will demand regional and international disaster mitigation and response. This will again demand a cooperative discourse in IR.

    Vibin Lakshmanan asked: Can zero-sum game explain the mix of conflict and cooperation in the present dynamics of international relations?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: The zero-sum game essentially means gain for one of the players and loss for the other. It was long believed in the true tradition of realism that international relations are conducted in an environment of anarchy, where each actor is constantly working towards maximisation of its power and realisation of its interests. However, international politics, as it evolved over the years, has become more and more complex. While states' pursuit of their interest remains a constant, their action is often dictated by their own realisation of the constraints on their behaviour— lack of resources, expertise, technological know-how, etc. This has led states to engage with one another with a view to both sharing and accessing resources, learning from each other and improving their condition and status at the global level. Consequently, the states find themselves in a complex web of relationship with one another which makes them networked in a world of '"complex interdependence", a phrase popularised by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. This state of international relations reduces the effects of anarchy which is a state of war of each against all.

    While cooperation is increasingly becoming the norm as far as international relations are concerned, the possibility of conflicts engendered by realist power-play remains especially amongst states who stick to their crass realism in their behaviour, unable to adapt to the changing nature of international politics.

    Vinu asked: Given the strategic importance of the Shangri-La dialogue, why did India not take part in this year’s dialogue process?

    S.D. Muni replies: It was largely because India's defence minister was on an official visit to Singapore, Thailand and Australia. Conference attendance could not be given priority over official visits to these three important regional countries.

    It could have been possible to depute someone else to participate in the conference, but then on the theme of maritime security and US presence in the region, which were the main themes for Shangri-La 2013, India would have only echoed the points made by Vietnamese and the US representatives. This could have given an impression of ganging up against China. India, at this stage, found it prudent to avoid conveying such an impression.

    I am sure, however, that someone from the Indian High Commission in Singapore attended the conference and sent reports to New Delhi. Otherwise also people like Sanjay Baru, former media adviser to the Indian prime minister, were there as part of the IISS network.

    N. Kapoor asked: What is the concept of Imagined Community and what is its relevance in 21st century?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: Imagined community is a term used by Benedict Anderson to explain the formation of nations in different parts of the world. His main argument is that identities may not be real; they are often constructed by socio-economic and political processes. He provides an example of print capitalism, census exercise and anti-colonial consciousness as shaping national identities in colonised societies. There is a counter perspective on identities too, which holds that identities are real and based on shared culture, language and historical linkages. In India, leading social scientist Dipankar Gupta has used the term “ethnopreneurs” to argue that certain leaders shape political discourses about ethnic identities and make them politically volatile only to use them for their own selfish interests to acquire power.

    In the post-Cold War period, there has been a surge of movements centred around ethnic identities. The world has witnessed bloody conflicts between ethnic groups in different countries. During this period, many hitherto-dormant ethnic groups have become politically assertive and have claimed their rights to autonomy and sovereign nationhood. This process is likely to continue. Many countries in the world today are multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national. These countries are vulnerable to assertive identity politics. Hence, they will have to demonstrate resilience and wisdom in accommodating growing demands for autonomy by various ethnic and cultural groups and working out a structure of power sharing through various means— federal reconstitution of power, devolution, consociation politics, etc.

    Sandeep asked : Is India’s foreign policy flawed considering the declining relationship with its neighbours?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: India, like any other country, has to adapt to changing realities and refashion its foreign policy. India has adopted the policy of proactive engagement with all its neighbours since the 1990s. During the mid-1990s, the Gujral doctrine laid emphasis on non-reciprocal concessions to neighbours. Even if his doctrine excluded Pakistan for obvious reasons, India still sought to engage Pakistan despite its reluctance to address the issue of cross-border terrorism in a convincing manner. However, there is a perception that India's neighbourhood policy has not been successful.

    A close scrutiny of facts would reveal otherwise. India has managed to develop better economic relations with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, despite concerns about some of the countries using China as a balancer. India realises its limitations in convincing its neighbours about the long-term adverse consequences of such engagement. Therefore, it has, through its quiet diplomacy, sought to ensure that any such relationship between any of its neighbours and an extra-regional power must not be aimed at India. On certain occasions, China has asked leaders in the neighbourhood not to build their relationship with it at the cost of India. While there is a growing anxiety in the Indian strategic community about expanding Chinese footprints in the immediate neighbourhood, the changing pattern of international relations warrant a pragmatic and careful pursuit of national interests through cautious diplomacy. It is also to be noted that India's improved relationship with East Asian and South East Asian countries— especially Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea (and to some extent with Taiwan)— has induced similar concerns in China about Indian intentions.

    Given all this, it is not correct (or rather it is too early) to lament the failure of Indian diplomacy and foreign policy.

    Amit Rathee asked: What are the ethical issues in international relations?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: A basic issue in international politics is how to reconcile one’s interests with values one professes. Most nations claim their commitment to universal values and try their best to conform to them. On many occasions, states find it difficult to conduct their behaviour as per their values. While most countries pledge their commitment to non-interference and peaceful conduct of foreign policy, in reality, their national interests are defined in realist terms that hurtles them in the path of power maximisation and pits them against their co-aspirants. In certain cases, some states are compelled to put aside their values in their quest for survival and dignity. India’s pursuit of nuclear power in spite of its commitment to non-violence and peace could be cited as an example here. The balance-of-power politics around the world, born out of mutual distrust and sense of insecurity, make it often difficult for nations to strictly adhere to values they profess.

    Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenges

    It will be unrealistic to expect any drastic change in the foreign policy orientation of Pakistan, because Pakistan’s geopolitical interests will not allow the new government to bring about radical change

    May 28, 2013

    What India needs to learn from China

    It is important to be conversant with the Chinese thought process in order to deal with them. China respects authoritativeness and it is time that India signals its resolve and intent in dealing with issues of concern.

    May 20, 2013