Even As India Levels Up Foreign Policy, Exogenous Shocks Cannot Be Sidelined

Delhi in its own interest cannot afford – nor will the world accept – a 21st-century redux of the Chinese model.

5 min read
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The criticality of factoring in exogenous shocks to India’s aspiration of being a USD 9-12 Trillion economy by 2035 with at least bottom half OECD-comparable Human Development Indicators (HDIs), is a necessary condition for Delhi to be in a position to shape the country’s external environment by leveraging the international situation over the next decade.

The sufficient condition is for the strategic foreign policy establishment to invest intellectual capital in delineating the alternative scenarios that could emerge in our hierarchy of regional and global interests, and design strategies to match them.

This is the unmistakable lesson from the bloody conflagration in West Asia sparked by the Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel and, earlier, the war in Ukraine which Russia’s invasion brought to pass.

India’s Geopolitical Strategy Should Be Forward-Looking

Which regional and global scenarios will emerge over the next decade out of the ongoing geopolitical churn cannot be predicted. But which are the most likely, and the most consequential for India, can be posited.

Suffice it to say that the fragmented trajectory of post-globalisation geoeconomics and the unpredictability of geostrategic assessments as the Sino-US rivalry intensifies will, for the first time since the advent of Pax Americana at the end of World War II, necessitate an innovative, diagnostic, and forward-looking foreign policy framework for India to secure its economic and security interests.

To illustrate the point, the announcement of the US-backed India-West Asia-European Union trade and connectivity corridor at the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in New Delhi last month will definitely be delayed, and may even be in jeopardy, depending on how far the hostilities in West Asia spread and the number of players that get pulled into the vortex.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the Ukraine War, while Delhi’s premium on strategic autonomy has helped it balance its cordial if transactional relationship with Moscow and an ever-closer strategic embrace of Washington in light of Beijing’s ambition to challenge the global hegemony, the extant situation is by no means susceptible to categorisation as a geopolitical verity for any length of time.

How Can India’s Foreign Policy Be Steered

Against this backdrop, it is heartening to note Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar’s familiarity with the Net Assessment analytic framework pioneered by the legendary American strategic thinker Andrew Marshall, and the methodological nomenclature utilised by his proteges – the so-called 'Graduates of St Andrew’s Prep’.

In recent comments on how Washington is dealing with the emergence of a multipolar world, the minister said: “The United States is actively looking to shape what would be the (global) poles and what would be the weights of the poles in a manner in which it would benefit the US and there is nothing wrong with that… US policymakers (should be credited with) that imagination and forward planning.”

Following from this perceptive commentary, the next logical step for an intermediate albeit rising power such as India would be to conduct a net assessment exercise of its own vis-à-vis the shaping actors and shaping themes in our external environment likely to have critical policy implications for India.

It would contribute substantially to defining an Indian Grand Strategy for foreign policy over the next decade.

India’s Opportunity in the G20

The emergence of the G20 as an effective instrumentality in international relations that presents arguably the most significant opportunity for India since its Independence to begin shaping the exogenous ecosystem to its benefit, therefore, cannot be understated.

The grouping comprises the most important actors – and can be the arena for serious conversations on major transnational themes including the digital revolution, world economy, climate change, energy transition, and the evolution of the international system – whose trajectories will be consequential for India in the next 10-12 years.

Doubling down on the G20 as the primary global forum for the world’s existing and emerging powers, to which the African Union has been an excellent addition, is an eminently sensible way forward for Delhi to negotiate a turbulent geopolitical and geo-economic environment wherein international institutions, including the financial, are unreformed and increasingly unreformable. This must be pursued beyond India’s presidency of the G20.

Such an approach would go some way in mitigating the recent unfavourable-to-Indian-interests BRICS expansion as well as China’s domination of blocs such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) by drawing many of the new and putative members of these groupings into a tighter G20 embrace.

Secondly, the G20 allows India to design innovative, custom-made engagement models with both developing and developed countries.


Towards Multipolarity..

The initiative to export India’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) model to G20 member-states and adapt it to suit local conditions has elicited widespread interest. Additionally, the Global Biofuels Alliance launched at the G20 summit has the potential to incentivise green growth and achieve net zero targets without forgoing economic development for many nations.

A genuinely multipolar world, as opposed to a Sino-US duopoly, is in the offing as new countries rise and traditional powers struggle to retain their global influence. India has a pivotal role to play – and augment its Comprehensive National Power – if it gets its strategy right in responding to the exogenous factors which could impact its equitable and sustainable development journey.

Delhi in its own interest cannot afford – nor will the world accept – a 21st-century redux of the Chinese model of development which was accompanied by a simultaneous ravishing of natural resources and the widespread suppression of citizens’ rights.

Instead, effective management of the quadruple transition covering social, economic, environmental, and political spheres to drive well-rounded growth which puts a premium on HDIs must be our priority. This would be the true meaning of the shift from a “GDP-centric view of the world to a human-centric one”. 


The horses-for-courses policy of the Ministry of External Affairs, while it has proven quite useful in recent times, isn’t unproblematic given the alternate scenarios that need to be evolved from a deep, multidisciplinary study of the actors and themes likely to have significant policy implications for India.

For, it is axiomatic that strategic autonomy is notional till it is exercised but the flip side to the proposition is that exercising it excessively and thereby, sub-optimally could lead to a depletion of our capital in all spheres. India, it needs underlining, is not the only game in town.

This is not to argue against the flexible approach which Indian policymakers have adopted – it is their domain and they may have access to information others perhaps do not. It is to flag the perils of an approach where immediacy, complete with recency effect, may end up trumping the 'Long View from Delhi'.

(Ishan Joshi is a Senior Fellow at the Pahle India Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  S Jaishankar   India-China   G20 summit 

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