India: the Ukrainian question
India’s cautious decision to remain a largely silent bystander in the ongoing Ukraine crisis appears to have taken many by surprise, including pundits and supporters of international relations.
Some commentators argue that it could cost India its growing strategic convergence and partnership with the United States, and, perhaps more relevant in this part of the world, raises a question of credibility within the new security architecture. emerging nicknamed the “QUAD”.
Much of such commentary emanates from the global West, which has experienced an unprecedented outpouring of emotion and revulsion at what is happening in Ukraine, rarely seen since the end of the Cold War.
Western commentators have seen India’s reluctance to join the US-led movement in criticizing and punishing Russia entirely through the prism of India’s reliance on arms and military support from this last.
Surprisingly, this commentary largely ignores the mammoth challenge facing the Indian government to ensure the safe evacuation of some 18,000 Indian students caught up in the conflict.
When the lives and safety of so many citizens are at stake, a country’s politics are indeed under intense pressure not to act in an adventurous and irresponsible way that could potentially escalate the risk.
I believe that any nation facing such an evacuation emergency would do everything possible to maintain absolute discretion and ambiguity in its foreign policy.
Unfortunately, this leverage and freedom to act according to fundamental national interests does not seem to be granted to India by commentators and practitioners of international politics, who suggest that there is an overwhelming expectation on the India to enlist in US-led sanctions against Russia, regardless of its immediate concern.
What explains India’s foreign policy dilemma in the Ukraine crisis?
India watchers will know that for many years, particularly after the end of the Cold War, India’s political establishment was often tasked with reconciling the two competing strands of Indian foreign policy thinking – an ambition unashamedly to become a great power with the overt support of the US-led global West – and the long-held traditional worldview of entrenching a multipolar world order.
These two strands of Indian foreign policy thinking have their roots in the complexities and challenges posed during the Cold War era, and subsequently, in the opportunities presented after the end of the Cold War.
During the Cold War era, India’s ruling political elites viewed the United States and the countries of the global West through the lens of “Western imperialism”, understandably, having suffered the weight of imperialism for many centuries.
India has remained a prominent member of the “non-aligned movement”, deeply committed to a multipolar world order.
While Joseph Stalin was suspicious of many Indian leaders, the relationship warmed after his death in 1955 and India developed an “all-weather” friendship with the former Soviet Union (later replaced by Russia).
However, after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, India’s political establishment at the time decided to shed all ideological baggage and pursue India’s core national interests – access to technology, capital, markets and defense capabilities.
This move gradually led to a warming of relations with the US-led global West.
In recent years, India’s foreign policy thinking has been largely dominated by these relationships with Western nations, tempered by episodes of more traditional thinking, seeking to avoid being subsumed by the global West and instead continuing to maintain “strategic autonomy” – seen by many in New Delhi as the holy grail of Indian foreign policy.
It is this holy grail of “strategic autonomy” in Indian foreign policy behavior that has again caught the eye in the current Ukraine crisis.
Like any other budding power, which demands ambiguity and non-engagement on issues beyond its capabilities and immediate strategic interests, India is also keen to get through this crisis without having to be forced out into the open prematurely and put its own national interests at stake without tangible gain.
By unequivocally backing the US-led global West’s call to criticize Russia, India runs the risk of losing a reliable and proven supply of advanced military weaponry and high-end defense technology.
Which I see as a difficult position for a country beleaguered by its own security challenges related to nuclear-capable adversaries and highly militarized unsettled borders.
As the war continues to escalate, the unfortunate situation in Ukraine will rather accentuate the reluctance of Indian thinking on foreign policy, than relax its ambiguity, by adopting open positions on this issue.
The fate of Ukraine is a stark reminder of a grim reality of international politics that ultimately nation states must fight their own wars and cannot rely on others to fight. for them – which requires caution in resuming their battles.
India is a country with two highly nuclear adversaries on its borders, both have a strong determination to keep India locally bound in unresolved border disputes
Despite the level of humanitarian crisis resulting from the ongoing Russian attack on Ukraine, India has little choice but to maintain the ambiguity, but to do what it can to protect its own citizens. in the conflict zone.
For now, India, like all former great power contenders in the international order, must operate under a measured level of ambiguity for the foreseeable future.
The opinions expressed are those of the author.
– Asia Media Center