February 18, 2012

INDIA’S FOREIGN POLICY CONUNDRUM ON ISRAEL AND IRAN

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations

India’s foreign policy establishment so far has revelled in the luxury of not having to make hard foreign policy decisions. In early 2012 what is increasingly coming to the fore is that this sort of luxury may not be all that forthcoming henceforth.

This phenomenon that dominates the Indian foreign policy establishment has plagued Indian policy formulations more notably on our main military adversaries, namely China and Pakistan now has become an all pervasive reality.

Instantly at issue is as to how the Indian foreign policy establishment faces the challenging conundrum of managing its relations with Israel and Iran. In the last two days this predicament has contextually hit India in two ways.

The first development was the attack on an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi. The second development today has been the unveiling in full global glare of Iran’s advanced centrifuges at the Natanz facility which may be a precursor to acquisition of or being on the threshold of production of Iranian nuclear weapons.

Both these developments have resulted in calls by the United States and Israel to isolate Iran and pre-empt it acquiring nuclear weapons.

Both these developments are testy for Indian foreign policy formulations because what is at issue is not strictly confined to India’s policy formulations on Israel and Iran but also encompasses the wider issue of the US-India Strategic Partnership which is still resting on shifting sands.

The central feature of India’s foreign policy planning in the last seven years is seen to be the outsourcing of India’s foreign policy formulations to Washington and permitting Indian foreign policy perspectives to be coloured and determined largely by US strategic sensitivities on strategic issues.

This picture has now to change and the first challenge has emerged today posed by contextual developments centring on Israel and Iran.

India’s Foreign Policy Postures on Israel and Iran; A Brief Reality Check

Israel and Iran were late entrants into India’s foreign policy planning and national security calculus arising from a complex mix of Cold War external straitjacketing and India’s own fixations on the unrealistic Non-Alignment.

Despite late entrants, both Israel and Iran acquired a significant salience in India’s policy calculations. India’s relations with Israel blossomed more prominently in the defence collaboration field and Israel has stood by in assisting India in high technology defence acquisitions.

India’s improvements in relations with the United States, Japan and other US Allies were co-terminus with India’s improved ties with Israel. India therefore has substantial stakes in its relationship with Israel.

The Iran-India relationship took concrete shape both in the strategic context and more importantly in terms of India’s energy security. In the strategic context, India’s relationship with Iran cantered on establishing meaningful relations with the Gulf Region’s naturally predominant power. More substantially, Iran in the strategic context has a specific significance in relation to India’s security interests in Afghanistan where Iran provides logistics access to India as Pakistan does not provide the same.

The crucial question is whether India is in a position to jettison either of its relationship with Israel or Iran? The answer is ‘NO’ for a number of reasons which are not political, ideological or religious affinity, but sheer India’s national security interests.

What does India do, firstly strictly confining it to Israel and Iran?

India Need Not Make Choices on Israel and Iran but Force Israel and Iran to Make Choices on India

Indian TV channels this evening are alive with prognostications by eminent former Indian diplomats, strategic analysts and academics that India can no longer sit on the fence when it comes to relations with Israel and Iran and that India should make its strategic choices either or.

The above line of foreign policy analysis is largely reactive and is oblivious to India’s rise in the global power structure. I do not see any official responses from Washington or Israel calling on India to make its strategic preferences clear. Then why the call being made in Indian TV debates that India must make a strategic choice?

I would strongly recommend that the Indian foreign policy establishment should diplomatically and forcefully also, let both Israel and Iran know that India would not be making any choices as it values its relationships with Israel and Iran with different texts. India should impress on Israel and Iran that it is they and they alone who have to decide and cast their choices on their relations with India.

While doing the above, India should also firmly advise both Israel and Iran that India will not allow these two countries to fight their asymmetric attacks by proxy on Indian soil.

India Cannot ‘Join the Posse’ Against Iran to Preserve the US-India Strategic Partnership

In my opinion, the question bigger than India’s choices on Israel and Iran is India’s choices in preserving the US-India Strategic Partnership. Should India ‘Join the Posse’ against Iran alongside the United States and Israel to preserve the US-India Strategic Partnership?

A strong US-India Strategic Partnership cannot be reduced to submitting unreservedly to all US strategic interests without censoring them through the prism of India’s own national security interests.

Nor should India submit to the strategic fig-leaves of ‘going against international opinion’ which in actuality mean ‘Join the Posse’ to be led by the United States.

Here again the onus of preserving the US-India Strategic Partnership lies squarely with the United States and not India.

It is the United States which should decide whether it wishes to co-opt a ‘strategically autonomous’ India as a strategic partner. The United States should realistically not expect India to submit itself to being a US strategic satellite of the United States when despite many political infirmities India is well on the way towards emerging as a substantial global player.

Concluding Observations

India’s foreign policy formulation processes can no longer be determined by soft options or soft power. Power by its very connotation cannot be ‘soft’. Similarly, if India has to ascend the global power trajectory it cannot do so by evading hard decisions in its foreign policy and national security formulations.

India’s foreign policy can no longer be reactive but what I wrote years back in my Book “India’s Defence Policies and Strategic Thought: A Comparative Analysis” that India must in terms of foreign policies and national security interests, India must come out with ‘Declaratory Policies’ and enunciation of ‘Red Lines’ that others must not cross when they concern India’s strategic sensitivities

It seems that India cornered by the Israel and Iran developments would now finally come out of its shell and do the needful as stated above.

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