By Alex Manzoor
On Tuesday 17th of January, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Professor Ian Hall from the Griffith Asia Institute to discuss Indian foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its adherence to the ‘rules-based order’. He began by describing how, in the aftermath of the BJP’s 2014 election victory, analysts predicted that Modi would be too naïve and preoccupied with domestic concerns to take an interest in foreign policy. However Modi has in fact been energetic in the realm of foreign policy, visiting 37 nations and spending time with a wide variety of international figures from technology CEOs to Hollywood actors. This energetic approach is all part of Modi’s desire to transform India’s position in the world from a balancing to a leading power.
Hall then discussed India’s observance of key aspects of the “rules-based order” from security to environmental concerns. Although in theory India is supportive of the idea of state sovereignty, in many cases India has frequently interfered in the internal affairs of its neighbours most notably in Bangladesh in 1971 but also in Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India has generally been angry with the UN for what they see as a betrayal over Kashmir but Modi’s diplomats have been less aggressive on the subject of an Indian seat at the Security Council.
Modi has pursued no change in India’s only partial acceptance of the non-proliferation feature of the ‘rules-based order’. India rejects the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty but does have a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. Ultimately India wants exemption from non-proliferation and an acceptance of their parity with the great powers in this respect. India has broadly been a spectator and less integrated into the global economy primarily to protect its agriculture industry which employs a vast amount of India’s population despite making up far less of India’s GDP. India under Modi, however, has upheld and strengthened its maritime commitments especially in navigation in the South China Sea as half of India’s trade is in the South China Sea. This has also been done through strategic partnerships with South East Asian nations in order to manage China’s rise and its imperialist actions in the South China Sea.
India has always been critical of humanitarian intervention and has, in the past, tried to derail the Responsibility to Protect commitment and opposed the creation of the International Criminal Court. This criticism is largely driven by internal concerns and a sensitivity to criticism of the actions of Indian Government agencies and how humanitarian intervention could be used against India. Although Modi has done little to change this, he has accepted and sponsored non-violent democratic promotion, for instance of democratic institutions in Afghanistan. Modi has attempted to reconcile environmental concerns with the rapid internal development of India and as part of this has conceived suggestions for tackling issues surrounding the environment. These suggestions have included practical ideas such as the promotion of solar power and water conservation and less realistic ideas like the adoption of vegetarianism in the West or the Hindu lifestyle.
Hall then argued that India was a key swing state in either aiding a ‘rules-based order’ under strain from Russia and China or returning to a great power politics that those nations pursue. As a key coalition building player in economic and military terms, the future could lie with India. With this in mind, Hall posited suggestions about how India can be encouraged to be an ally of the ‘rules-based order’.
Firstly, if the other international powers recognise and accept an Indian desire for exemptions from international rules, an idea which is very popular in Indian society in general. The desire for parity with other major nations is again a driving factor in this and although China is unlikely to acquiesce to an Indian seat on the Security Council, framing deals that acknowledge Indian sensibilities would be helpful. Additionally, supporting India in following the ‘rules-based order’ such as on maritime security and climate change because India can move beyond obstruction when it is brought in to the tent. Finally, he urged that having a conversation about human rights, whilst listening to Indian concerns and without hectoring or bullying Indian leaders, could help improve Indian human rights.
Hall concluded by stating that, if the right steps are taken, India could hedge less and be more aligned to the ‘rules-based order’.
For a transcript of this event click here