Reaping the fruits of neglect

Reaping the fruits of neglect

The coming year has the potential for a blowback for India’s foreign and security policies. There are, perhaps, few other countries in the world that face such complex challenges as this country. There are none that are so casual in their approach.

First, take the external security challenges. On its eastern border, India faces a conventional Great Power, one that is resolute and determined. In the long-run, this poses an existential problem. On the western border, it has a failing state that uses non-state actors to fulfill its foreign policy goals. This is an ongoing security threat. Thus, an entire spectrum of security issues—from conventional to asymmetric—confronts New Delhi. This would be a headache for a first rate power let alone an inchoate and noisy one.

One way to overcome part of this problem, especially at the conventional end, would be to dovetail foreign and security policies. After all, there are other countries in Asia—Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan—that are at the receiving end of Chinese courtesies. “Balancing" China is a real possibility. But apart from sporadic visits of somnolent Indian delegations to these countries, real progress—in terms of meaningful defence cooperation, training, diplomatic coordination at international fora—is missing. All that one hears is vacuous words about a “look east" policy.

If anything, it is China that is busy “balancing" India in South Asia, something that few in New Delhi seem to care about.

This is an issue that cannot be ignored for long. In the opening line, the key word was potential: In any given year there may or may not be disasters—the Mumbai 26/11 attacks being an example—but if the resources are not devoted to meeting these challenges, their costs—whenever such challenges arise—will only grow. For example, as the Indian economy grows so do the potential costs from disruption in its smooth functioning. A terrorist attack promoted by a neighbour could mean forgoing investment from foreign investors who would certainly worry about security, their own and that of their investment.

2011 may see these problems bunching together. As the US begins withdrawing from Afghanistan, Islamabad will indulge in adventures; China will grow more assertive in an era of relative American decline. India needs to think hard.

What will be the foreign and security policy challenges for India in 2011? Tell us at