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Panel Report – India’s Foreign Policy and the Changing Landscape of International Relations

By Emraan Ansari


In this year’s Indian elections, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi won re-election to a new five-year term. Consequently, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was appointed to his cabinet as India’s new Foreign Minister. Dr. Jaishankar previously held the positions of Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador to China, and Indian Foreign Secretary, among others. Foreign Minister Jaishankar was invited to speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on October 1, 2019 and gave a speech on foreign policy in India, and preparing for a new era of international relations.

Dr. Jaishankar began the discussion by giving an overview of the rebalancing of international relations. Due to the diffusion of power worldwide, and the subsequent disintegration of a system of bipolarity, international relations have become more volatile. Foreign Minister Jaishankar is of the opinion that the old system of international relations, which has been in effect since 1945, is coming to a conclusion, and a new age will be beginning soon. The system of international relations since the conclusion of World War II has been characterized by multilateral cooperation and interdependence. The erosion of trust in a globalist system, and the subsequent rise of isolationism is ending the current structure, with its replacement not yet visible to all. However, the return to a typical bipolar system is unlikely, due to the rapid growth shown by many G20 nations. The vast distribution of power worldwide dictates that there will not be just a few powerful countries as in the past. Nations such as Brazil and India are stepping into leadership roles and projecting their power and interests internationally.

The countries who have traditionally held strong alliances regardless of small differences will likely be hit hard by a world moving toward multipolarity, as the common ground between countries will shrink. It will be important for large powers to be opportunistic, and seek relationships with countries that are long-lasting, and prosperous for both. With the diffusion of power worldwide, predatory relationships between nations will become scarce, as countries who feel as though they are being taken advantage of will shift their allegiances elsewhere. Furthermore, there will likely be a rise in nations who are aligned with multiple “traditional” powers. One contemporary example of this is Turkey, which enjoys military and economic relationships with both the United States and Russia. Another example is found in the way that India balances its relationships with the United States and Iran. India has economic and security interests in the Gulf, and coordinates with Iran on these issues. Conversely, India and the United States share a vested interest in keeping Chinese influence in check, and the two work together in that endeavor.

The new system of international relations, as predicted by Dr. Jaishankar, will be exemplified by “frenemies” and “coalitions of convenience.” These coalitions will be characterized by alliances based on issues, with countries who have been historically wary of each other coming together to work collaboratively on particular concerns. These alliances will be pragmatic and results-oriented, which opens the potential for partnerships between countries who have historically not been aligned. In a broad sense, the countries who are able to reconcile their economic concerns with security concerns while picking alliances will prosper in the coming years. It is the view of Dr. Jaishankar that these forms of cooperation will exemplify the new age of international relations.

To conclude the event, Dr. Jaishankar took a variety of questions from the audience. One of these questions dealt with his opinion on the future of international organizations with the deterioration of multilateral partnerships. His response was to point to the efficacy of ad-hoc solutions negotiated bilaterally, because international organizations can sometimes exacerbate problems between countries. Jaishankar also advocated for nations who are traditional rivals to find common ground on issues that unite them, even if the common ground was over a singular issue. The final question posed to Dr. Jaishankar dealt with the future of Indian policy toward Kashmir. His response was that India is looking to preserve life in Kashmir and persevere through the issues that have been plaguing it. He also noted that economic development by India in the region had been successful, and that a majority of people were able to attain meaningful work.


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