Changing Contours of India’s Foreign Policy: Imperatives & Implications

Winner Of CSC July 2022 Essay Competition : Deepika Singla

In the globalizing world it is necessary to form vital links with the neighboring countries. Realizing this every country formulates a foreign policy to reap maximum benefits for itself. Demography, availability of resources, ability to meet rising demand, scientific advancement & technological development and economic strength of a country determines the fundamentals of foreign policy of any country and so does of India’s, thereby maintaining dynamism in the foreign policy.

India is the fifth largest economy in the world and third actually by PPP terms. Thus, its foreign policy has turned over a new leaf from independence to current times. As per Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, the foreign policy of India has undergone six evolutionary phases. These phases are:

  • 1946-62: Era of Optimistic Non-Alignment
  • 1962-70: Realism and discovery
  • 1971-1991: Regional assertion
  • 1991- 1999: Quest for strategic autonomy
  • 2000- 2013: Balancing power
  • 2014 to current: Phase of energetic diplomacy

Guiding Principles of India’s Foreign Policy

India stands on the foundational ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ and ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas’. The ‘Panchsheel’ principles and ‘Panchamrit’ form the guiding light of India’s foreign policy. Though the policy has evolved but the basic principles and civilizational ethos of India have still not lost ground to tackle the newly emerging challenges.

  • Panchsheel: The Panchsheel principles include mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity & sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and cooperation for mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence.
  • Panchamrit: It includes Samman (dignity of honor); samvad (greater engagement and dialogue); samriddhi (shared prosperity); suraksha (regional and global security) and sanskriti evam sabhyata (cultural and civilizational linkages).

Contours of Foreign Policy and its Imperatives

Every nation yearns to become politically, economically, militarily as well as culturally strong and so does India. The drive to fulfill economic, social, political and ecological needs and achieve security on each front is responsible in shaping foreign policy of India. The approach of contemporary India is not restricted to economic considerations but gives emphasis to structural factors as well. India aspires to attain major power status sharing regional and global responsibilities in diverse domains such as energy, environment, global trade, human rights, good governance, and international security. All these elements are reflected in India’s diplomatic engagements with the world.

Political Security

On the political front, the foreign policy of India has tried to assure political security, cyber security, balance of power, and external security and ‘Neighborhood First’ principle.

  • Military & Strategic Agreements: For long term military and strategic cooperation India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the General Security of Military Information Agreement with the United States.
  • Retaliatory Approach (Military/Economic): India organized a surgical strike against Pakistan and imposed retaliatory tariffs on US products in response to US decision of terminating India’s status as a beneficiary developing nation under Generalized System of Preference trade program.
  • International Cooperation on Burning Issues: India’s hosting of the Fifth Global Conference on Cyberspace in November 2017 and India-European Union (EU) commitment toward working for “open, free, secure, stable, peaceful, and accessible cyberspace, enabling economic growth and innovation symbolizes India’s recognition of the stakes in effective international cooperation in cyberspace.
  • Initiatives towards Balance of Power:To ensure balance of power, India has adopted Act East Policy, Think West Policy, SAGAR (Security and Growth of All in the Region) and joined BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), etc.
  • Approach towards Regional Influence: To increase regional influence, India has adopted pragmatic approach towards its neighbors helping them to strengthen their economy, for example, India-Maldives Addu Tourism Zone; extending economic assistance to Sri Lanka, etc.
  • Non-Proliferation Credentials: Giving a boost to its non-proliferation credentials, India has become member of Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.

Social Security

Education, health and skills are important determinants to create a vast pool of human resource that can contribute in development of a nation.

  • Education: Realizing this India has signed agreement with Maldives for connectivity between India’s National Knowledge Network and Maldives Higher Education Network; with Australia for higher education, research & student mobility, skill development and vocational training.
  • Health: For ensuring health security, India has adopted ‘Vaccine Maitri’ during Covid-19 and has signed a $40 million project with World Bank to improve the quality of health services in Meghalaya and strengthen the state’s capacity to handle future health emergencies, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Economic Security

Transport network, logistic infrastructure, productivity enhancement & investment and research & development in sunrise opportunities form the backbone of economy of a country. The development of infrastructure is powerhouse of an economy.

Some Examples of India’s Diplomatic engagement on Economic Front

  • Trade Agreements: India has signed Free Trade Agreements with its trading partners, e.g. India-Mauritius Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA), India-UAE Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (IndAus ECTA), etc.
  • Infra Agreements: BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) Agreement, Kaladan multimodal project, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) Gas pipeline, development of Chabahar Port, becoming part of Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and converting 150 villages into ‘village of excellence’ with help of Israel are some of the diplomatic engagements in infra sector development.
  • Ecological Security
  • Climate change, declining reserves of fossil fuel, rising sea level, submerging coastal areas, increasing spread of zoonotic diseases have given room to forge bonds for sustainable ecological security.
  • India’s Engagement with the World: India’s engagement towards ecological security is visible in India’s initiatives such as Coalition for Disaster Risk Reduction; International Solar Alliance; Indo- German Green Hydrogen task force and Green Strategic Partnership with Denmark encompassing Green Hydrogen, Renewable energy and wastewater management.


The foreign policy of India which has evolved with the changing world order from a bipolar world to a multipolar world, has following implications for India on the diplomatic front -

  • 3C & 3D Approach: India's relations with immediate neighbors and the extended neighborhood including Gulf nations, Central Asian Nations and ASEAN has witnessed new alignments based on 3C-Connectivity, Commerce & Culture and 3D-Democracy, Demography & Demand.
  • UNSC & India: India became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2021-22 in which India won 184 votes out of 192 valid votes.
  • G7 Outreach: Despite not being a member of G7 India was invited by Germany for the G7 summit.
  • Changed Foreign Policy Approach: The transforming foreign policy of India has raised possibilities for it to move up higher the global power hierarchy, emerging as a global leader from just a middle power.
  • Growing Diplomatic Power: It can use its growing diplomatic powers to become an important stakeholder in resolving "problems without passports," including, but not limited to, terrorism, climate change, political instabilities, etc. For example, India successfully evacuated Indians under ‘Operation Ganga’ from Russia-Ukraine war zone.
  • Vocal on its Demands: India has become vocal for its demands including reform of UN Security council, rejection of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, abstaining from voting on issues which could hamper Indian interests, opting out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, etc.
  • Export Control Groups: With India being a member of three of the big four export control groups - Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group and Missile Technology Control regime- it can acquire critical technologies which will boost its defence as well as space industry.

A perspective that needs to be given heed to

Indian foreign policy is Indian in thought following middle path; is forward looking; has a multipolar focus and acts as a force for global good. However it fails to address the challenges such as emerging traditional and non-traditional threats; dependence on other countries for technology; strategic confusion between continental v/s maritime strategies; US-China strategic competition; emergence of mini-lateral groupings; prioritization of national interest over international duties and rise of new phase of globalization that is driven by data and culturally threatened by immigration and mobility. The need of the hour is to have a multi-aligned policy with emphasis on self-reliance, defense indigenization; increasing expenditure on research and development and issue based coalitions.