India’s Relations With the United States and Russia: Moving Towards Multi-alignment

T
he Indian decision to move from non-alignment policy to the multi-alignment policy in the 21st Century, where it plans to maintain a series of relationships, in different configurations, with a variety of countries for different purposes, has come handy for India’s economic and political growth.

As the world settles into the permanent fluidity of the Post-Cold war era, questions have always been raised about the relevance and the direction of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that emerged from it. Almost a half-century ago, the world was riven by the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and the alliances they led, NAM had been the vehicle to for developing countries to assert their independence from the competing claims of the two superpowers. After the end of the Cold War, there was no longer two rival blocs to be non-aligned with, and many questioned the future of a movement whose very name signifies the negation of a choice that was no longer on the world’s geopolitical table. However, with the recent resurgence of Russia under Vladimir Putin in terms of its strong military capabilities, Eurasian geographic location, capable leadership, conservative nationalism, resuscitation of old Cold War relationships, and re-acquirement of some of Crimea, Southern Ossetia, Abkhazia and part of Left Bank Ukraine in the last decade, have again raised debates over the relevance and practicality of NAM in the second decade of the 21st century.

The recent visits of India’s Finance and Defense Minister, Arun Jaitley to the United States on 19th April, 2017 to attend the 2017 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF from April 21 to 23 and from there head straight to Moscow for a two-day visit to attend the Sixth Moscow Security Conference held on April 26-27 depicts the reemerged quandary among the developing states where they do not want to be aligned with any of the superpowers.

Also, with Mr. Jaitley visit to the United States and then to Russia, debates have been raised on India’s playing the United States against Russia or India revering its non-alignment in foreign policy. But my taking on the recent Mr. Jaitley’s visits to the United States and Russia is same as that of Mr. Shashi Tharoor, India’s former diplomat and current member of Parliament. Mr. Tharoor describes in his book “Pax Indica: India and the World in the Twenty-first Century” the definition of India’s multi-alignment as “ maintaining a series of relationships, in different configurations, some overlapping, some not, with a variety of countries for different purposes”. If we examine the report card of India of the last two decades, we will see that India’s two decades of economic growth have made it an important player on the global stage. Therefore, it needs to ‘maintain a series of relationships, in different configurations’ with the variety of superpowers and other developed and developing countries for different purposes. Hence it cannot limit its dynamic international ambition just to foster or endorsed its non-alignment movement that is no more feasible in the 21st century. This is precisely the reason that India is simultaneously the member of the NAM and of the Community of Democracies, where it serves alongside the same imperial powers that NAM decries. An illustration of what multi-alignment means for India lies in India’s membership of Ibsa (the South-South cooperation mechanism that unite it with Brazil and South Africa), of RIC (the trilateral forum with Russia and China), of BRICS (which brings all four of these partners together) and of Basic (the environmental-negotiation group which adds China to Ibsa but not Russia). Also, India is currently playing a key role in both the G-77 and G-20 as well. This shows India has pursued its multi-alignment approach in the different stages of the world, and the non-alignment movement is largely secondary in it.

The good news for India is that Mr. Jaitley, who had been appointed by the Modi’s government to tackle the foreign policy issues, has grasped the nettle well. Jaitley has decided to balance the relationships between the United States and Russia independent of each other. The very reason that Jaitley has been wanting strong bilateral ties with Russia is that Russians have been far more willing to providing the in-depth strategic capabilities and strategic technologies to Indians, which the United States would not be able to either for reasons of policy or law. For example, Russia, having a substantial military hardware, is India’s primary arms supplier and whereas the United States emphasize the restrictions on the use of such force. However, Jaitley does realize that Russia up till now do not have the kind of cutting-edge capabilities that it did during the days of the Soviet Union. So, while he wants to keep the relationship with Russia in good repair, he wants to diversify the accumulation arsenals in terms of advanced conventional technologies and the United States is number one on that diversification plan. That is why India’s multi-alignment policy, rather than non-alignment policy, had come handy for India’s economic and political growth in the recent times.

Maria Amjad

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.com

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