New Delhi: Greater investment in South Asia. Alliances driven by issues and not dogma. A foreign policy not averse to risks in a multipolar world order.
Former Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer S. Jaishankar, only the second career diplomat to ever take charge of India’s External Affairs Ministry, has outlined his vision for the country’s foreign policy in several speeches over the past few years.
ThePrint looks at some of the speeches delivered by Jaishankar during his three-year tenure as foreign secretary — the longest ever — to present his world-view and what India’s external affairs might look like under him.
An entirely new world order
At the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture in August 2018, Jaishankar argued that a series of developments over the past decade had transformed the global order.
He said we have reached a time when the “old world order has run its course”.
According to him, “the rise of China and the emergence of new terms of engagement by the US will have profound consequences” for the world.
There is a gradual breakdown of global architecture, he said, where “rules of international conduct are being constantly breached”, especially in trade and technology. This was a reference to the challenges US President Donald Trump constantly throws at international institutions like the World Trade Organization.
Speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based thinktank, earlier this year, Jaishankar argued that the current global order has become “very complex” as it has much “greater power dispersal” than the past. In such a world, determining where risk and opportunity lie is an intricate exercise, he said.
According to Jaishankar, “playing safe might end up as an opportunity-denial exercise” in this more multipolar world.
Indian foreign policy in a ‘Hobbesian world’
English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes said in the 17th century that humans “naturally compete and fight for their own interests”. Jaishankar invoked this theory, which envisages a self-help world order that lacks international cooperation, at the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture in August 2018 to lay out his vision for the years ahead.
“Prepare for a more Hobbesian world,” he said. “The name of the game is less of balancing more positioning.”
In such a world, Jaishankar said, it is fundamentally unsustainable to be a part of permanent “balancing alliances”, and India should “position” itself on several “issue-based alignments”.
Speaking at the ORF event earlier this year, he added, “In a multipolar order, with much greater play, the objective for each country like us, should be to nimbly expand the space to pursue its interests and not be caught flatfooted by dogma.”
India’s foreign policy over the past few years has been centred on “multi-alignment”, which is marked by an attempt to develop strong ties with all major powers, regardless of their own rivalries.
Jaishankar’s statements seem to suggest he wants India to institutionalise this policy.
‘Leveraging’ America and ‘managing’ China
Jaishankar’s speeches reflect that his strategic thinking tends to evolve with major shifts in the geopolitical landscape. And this is evident in his views on the US.
Delivering the IISS-Fullerton Lecture in Singapore in 2015, he said the Indo-US relationship, “which has unfolded unevenly in the last two decades, has definitely acquired new energy in the last year”.
This was a time when the US was still under the Barack Obama administration — a year before Donald Trump took over on the back of a deeply polarising campaign. Jaishankar’s more recent speeches suggest the US is developing new terms of engagement with the world, including with India.
At the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture last year, he talked about how the rise of American nationalism was “breaking the long-standing western unity” and how “powers take a narrow view of their interests”, destroying global regimes and norms.
Even so, he suggested that India should continue to “cultivate” a strong relationship with the US.
As for China, he argued that managing the neighbour, the second-largest economy with a “different political model”, and a “potential superpower” that has declared its global ambitions, remains one of India’s core foreign policy objectives.
Jaishankar said the entire world will feel the “ripples of China’s rise” but especially a “country [India] so close to it”. And as India and China share “the same periphery… our interests would intersect”.
But going beyond conventional thinking, Jaishankar argued that the Indian and Chinese “footprint will overlap across the neighbourhood” and “we [India] will be judged by the quality of our delivery”.
He suggested that, over the medium term, India might have to learn to live with Chinese presence in its neighbourhood, while, over the long term, India’s influence in the region will be determined by the quality of its delivery in terms of connectivity projects.
At the global level, Jaishankar said, “history has lessons for an aspiring power: Leverage the dominant, collaborate with the convergent, and manage the competition”.
Asymmetric investments in the neighbourhood
Dwelling on India’s neighbourhood policy at the Carnegie Global Technology Summit 2017, Jaishankar (his part in the video begins at 1 hour 23 minutes) said, “In diplomacy, challenges are often in inverse proportion to distance.”
Speaking at the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture last year, Jaishankar said India has gone from being perceived as “too overbearing” to “doing too little”. His suggestion was that India needs to contribute “generously and non-reciprocally” in its neighbourhood.
According to Jaishankar, investing in “South Asian connectivity” is the “smartest” thing India can do.