Indian Foreign Policy: Determinants, Principles, Objectives of Foreign Policy of India

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Indian Foreign Policy visualizes widening its domain of influence, enhancing its function across countries, and making its existence seem like budding supremacy. Indian foreign policy is responsible for shaping distinct portions of the country, comprising economy, topography, history, and even culture & ethos. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, facilitated the modeling of the foreign policy of India.

Indian Foreign Policy is an important topic for the UPSC Exam under International Relations subject. The article covers all the important aspects of the Foreign Policy of India, such as the primary objectives, basic principles, determinants, etc., along with shedding light on the Panchsheel, NAM, Gujral Doctrine, etc.

What is Indian Foreign Policy?

Like many other nations, Indian foreign policy is a comprehensive set or group of political aspirations defining how the country will network and deal with other nations worldwide. Implementing foreign policy includes expanding political, social, cultural, trade, and defence relations with other countries and participating in multi-tangential discussions encompassing many countries. While executing the Indian foreign policy, the country aspired to preserve a few specific objectives, including world peace, independence for Asian and African countries, and decommissioning because they played a vital role in India’s Independence.
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The opportunities and associates in the International System have put Indian foreign policy in check. Moreover, in the past few decades, India has taken up an additional affluent foreign policy that comprises the SAARC-embodied, neighbourhood-first approach and the Look East strategy to develop a more widespread economic and tactical cooperation with other East-Asian nations.

India respected the sovereignty of all the other countries to attain security by upholding harmony and reconciliation in its conduct of foreign associations. India’s national and international dynamics, such as scarcity of resources and financial dependency on other economically powerful countries, have significantly affected Indian foreign policy.

Determinants of Indian Foreign Policy

There are multiple determinants of Indian Foreign Policy, such as geographical factors, economic development, population, global environment, etc., which can be classified under domestic and international factors.

Domestic Factors:

In the domestic factors, determinants of Indian Foreign Policy, such as population, geographical attributes, economic development, etc., are considered. Countries with strong human and material resources are usually powerful and influence the international community. It has a key influence on Foreign policy.

Similarly, the role of geographical factors must also be considered. The major geographical factors affecting Indian foreign policy are its location, climate, topography, and fertility. Additionally, a country’s social and economic development also impacts its foreign policy.

International Environment:

The changes in the International global environment impact Indian foreign policy. For example, the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) made major changes in the foreign policy of many countries. Apart from this, some global issues by the world organizations like the issue of nuclear proliferation, energy crisis, and elimination of international terrorism, etc.

Objectives of Indian Foreign Policy

Maintaining international harmony and security, opposing colonialism, propagating the peaceful and radical resolution of international disagreements, fostering pacific co-existence, remaining non-associated and non-obligated, and maintaining the unity and harmony of the Third World are some of the objectives of Indian foreign policy.

It includes eliminating colonialism & cultural discrimination and protecting the interests of Indian-origin people in foreign countries. The primary objectives of Indian Foreign Policy are:

To Preserve India’s national integrity and impartiality of foreign policies:

  • This objective is to maintain the nation’s territorial integrity and protect national borders from foreign hostility or violence. This Indian foreign policy objective also includes achieving Afro-Asian harmony and encouraging non-interference principles in any other nation’s domestic or national affairs. And the adoption of a non-alignment policy is also a part of this objective.
  • It is also observed that in recent years, foreign policy has adopted a methodology of combining economic and political international relations. The reason behind this approach is to maintain the nation’s growth curve. And for this, India must network with its foreign associates to bring Foreign Direct Investments, economic aid, and transmission of technology for its several national schemes and programs such as Skill India, Clean India, Smart Cities, Digital India, etc.
  • Moreover, India comprises the most extensive diaspora globally; approximately 20 million people of Indian Origin live in foreign countries and are reached all over the states. Therefore, engaging them and deriving maximum benefits from their existence in foreign countries also becomes the primary objective of Indian Foreign Policy, along with protecting their security to the possible extent.

To protect international peace and security:

  • India has comprehended the relationship between international peace and national development as a recently independent and emerging nation.
  • Its emphasis on demilitarisation and the strategy of retaining military treaties also reflects its intentions to encourage global peace.

To attain India’s economic development:

  • The steadfast development of the nation and the reinforcement of democracy and freedom in the country was the elementary requirements during the independence period.
  • India stood back from the power federation political beliefs, outlining characteristics of Cold War worldwide politics. India did this to acquire financial and technological resources from both blockades and to cluster its energy on the nation’s development.

Principles of Indian Foreign Policy

The basic principles of Indian foreign policy have withstood the torment of time and are deeply rooted in transnational laws and India’s practice in foreign policy.

  • Gujral Doctrine: Indian foreign policy reached a new milestone with Gujral Doctrine. It was started in 1996 during the Deve Gowda Government by Inder Kumar Gujral, Minister of External Affairs. It is a group of five principles guiding India’s foreign relations with bordering neighbours.
  • Connect Central Asia Policy: This policy was formed to counter china’s domination in central Asia and tap the natural resources of the central Asia region. It covers critical issues like political cooperation, regional connectivity, strategic cooperation, economic cooperation, etc.
  • Look East Policy: Indian Government launched the Look East Policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. This policy aimed to develop security, political, and economic cooperation with nations in Southeastern Asia.

Indian foreign policy has five core principles which are explained below.

Non-Alignment Policy:

  • It is one of the essential principles and features of Indian foreign policy. It defines the core factor of India maintaining impartiality in foreign affairs by not connecting to military alliances that the United States of America and the Soviet Union have made.
  • Moreover, these alliances came out as a foremost standpoint of Cold War politics post-Second World War, and India wanted to avoid this.
  • Non-alignment principle in Indian foreign policy was a constructive and dynamic thought instead of impartiality, non-intervention, or separateness.
  • It states making a self-determining standpoint on international matters as per the distinctions of each case; however, at the same time, it is not devoted to getting influenced by any military alliance.
  • Additionally, the principle of Non-Alignment secured great recognition in many other developing nations. In this way, not joining any military and superpower alliances became essential for many countries to maintain the autonomy of Foreign Policy.
  • Moreover, in 1947, under the guidance and direction of Jawaharlal Nehru, India managed to organize the Asian Relations Conference to shape the vision of Asian solidarity.

Anti-Colonialism, Racism, and Imperialism:

  • India strongly believed in maintaining equality for humankind. Also, the foreign policy of India was shaped during the independence struggle against colonial rule and the ills of colonialism and discrimination.
  • India remained a victim of colonialism and imperialism for an extended period, so it contemplates these as a danger to global peace and security.
  • This principle of Indian foreign policy opposes all racial discrimination and imperialism. In addition to opposing racism and colonialism, India was the first-ever nation to raise the issue of Apartheid in the United Nations in 1946. India also raised its voice and organized an Asian Relations Conference for the independence of Indonesia.
  • Fourteen African countries were released from the encumbrance of colonization in 1964 only because of persistent endeavours through Non-Alignment Mission.
  • India sharply disparate the wicked apartheid policy exercised in South Africa. In 1949, India detached all its political associations with South Africa and used its influence to apply a comprehensive agreement against the white subgroup racialist Government of South Africa.

Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes:

  • India’s persistent belief in peacefully settling international clashes is one of the essential elements in Indian foreign policy. The Indian constitution and the Charter of the UN also comprise this principle.
  • Furthermore, India has played a primary role in resolving the Korean conflicts and encouraged conferred settlement of the Palestine issue, borderline issues with neighboring nations, and other such struggles and issues.
  • India has always been against foreign military interference in solving global problems, and this principle is the foundation of Indian foreign policy.
  • Currently, India has favoured the resolution of Iranian nuclear issues’ democratic upsurge problem in the middle east and many more with the strategy of a peaceful settlement.

Foreign Economic Aid:

  • As a sovereign nation, India also had a profound respect for the international laws and ideologies of self-governing equality of countries and non-intrusion in other countries’ domestic affairs promoted by the United Nations in the Indian Foreign Policy.
  • India played a fundamental role in preserving global peace by adding to the decolonization sovereign and active involvement in United Nations’ pacification activities.
  • India has also sustained the cause of demilitarisation practised by the United Nations. India suggested a very determined program of nuclear demilitarization even before the UN in 1988.
  • Even though the UN members haven’t accepted this suggestion, India’s opinions are still committed to the Origin of universal demilitarisation.

Furthermore, India has suggested and backed the reorganization of the Security Council and UN societies to formulate the configuration of the Security Council as more genuine and independent. Therefore, India is among the applicants for perpetual members of the Security Council.

Panchsheel Principles of Indian Foreign Policy

Panchsheel is a co-relation of five ideologies for international relations, including Non-violence, Non-interference, Peaceful co-existence, Equivalence & mutual benefits, and Mutual respect’s regional integrity and dominion.

  • Policymakers in India understood the connection between the country’s development, peace, and endurance of humanity. They knew that socio-economic development would be pushed to the backdrop in the absence of global peace.
  • They understood the importance of resilient world peace for a nation. Jawahar Lal Nehru, the initiator of Indian foreign policy, prioritized global peace while designing foreign policy.
  • Panchsheel is referred to as the 5 Ethics of Peaceful Co-existence. It was employed in 1954 and has become a supervisory principle of India’s mutual relations with other nations.

Phases of Indian Foreign Policy

India’s foreign policy has undergone several phases since its independence in 1947. These phases can be broadly categorised as follows:

First Phase: Non-Alignment (1947-1962)

This phase was characterised by India’s policy of non-alignment during the Cold War, where it maintained equal distance from the US and the Soviet Union. India positioned itself as a leader of the non-aligned movement, seeking to promote peace and stability globally. This was an important factor in Indian Foreign policy.

Second Phase: Decade of Realism and Recovery (1962-71)

This phase saw India adopt a more pragmatic and assertive foreign policy, seeking to enhance its global influence and protect its national interests. India engaged in efforts to expand its influence, deepen its partnerships, and address regional and global challenges, which were reflected in the Indian Foreign Policy.

Third Phase: Greater Indian Regional Assertion (1971-91)

India liberated East Pakistan and assisted in the creation of a new state called Bangladesh. This was achieved with the remarkable use of military power. Further, India performed its first Nuclear explosion test in Pokhran. These events and the collapse of the USSR affected India’s foreign policy.

Fourth Phase: Safeguarding Strategic Autonomy (1991-98)

With the rise of a unipolar world dominated by the United States, India shifted its approach to international affairs. Naturally, this brought changes to Indian foreign policy as the country aimed to attain greater strategic independence.

Fifth Phase: India, a Balancing Power (1998-2013)

During this phase, India tried to become a balancing power, which showed in the India-US nuclear deal. India also made a common cause with China on trade and climate change and helped consolidate ties with Russia.

Sixth Phase: Energetic Engagement (2013-Till now)

In this phase, the biggest change in the Indian Foreign policy is that the older policy of Non-Alignment is turning into Multi-alignment. India has sought to deepen its strategic partnerships, expand its regional engagement, and promote its domestic development goals through its foreign policy.

Features of Indian Foreign Policy

There are three basic features of Indian foreign policy, comprising a few of its fundamental principles.

  • Panchsheel: It is one of the basic features of Indian foreign policy that defines five concepts, including mutual non-aggression, non-interference, and peaceful co-existence of international relationships. Also, it defines Equivalence & mutual benefits, and Mutual respect’s regional integrity and dominion. Typically, these elements of panchsheel aim for mutual and peaceful diplomatic relations between nations.
  • Non-Aligned: It is the essential feature of Indian foreign policy that aims to keep federal interference in foreign affairs by not opting to join military alliances created by the USA and the Soviet Union. Instead, it proposes making an independent standpoint on foreign matters based on the evidence of the circumstances.
  • Strengthening of UN: India has deemed the UN the most dependable source for achieving global peace and diplomatic revolution. Along with this, India has anticipated the UN to dynamically retain nations in discussions or conferences to aid them in settling their issues.

Current Challenges to India’s Foreign Policy

Due to the growing chaos in the world, India has been facing various challenges regarding its foreign policy. The biggest challenge lies in balancing the moral values of the country with the national interest. So, let’s look at the most important challenges to Indian Foreign Policy.

  • Russia Ukraine Issue: Cases like these make it difficult to choose between morals and politics. Russia is a trade partner for India and going against it, India can jeopardise its relationship with the country. Hence, Indian Foreign policy faces a challenge from the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
  • Internal Challenges: India is going through an economic crisis with growing unemployment and disputes. And being a young nation, it is highly critical that we become stronger internally before becoming a strong external force.
  • Border Disputes: India continues to face territorial disputes with its neighbours, particularly China and Pakistan, which challenge the foreign policy of India.
  • Terrorism: The threat of terrorism from across the border, especially from Pakistan, continues to challenge India’s security and foreign policy objectives.
  • Climate Change: Climate change is a major challenge to the foreign policy of India as it requires international cooperation to address the issue effectively.

Indian Foreign Policy UPSC

Since it is only 75 years old, India is considered a young state but an older nation. Hence, it stands at a significant point in history where its relationships with the rest of the world are extremely crucial. And this is where the Indian Foreign Policy comes in. From the perspective of competitive exams like UPSC, it is a significant topic that must be studied at length. Aspirants must prepare notes on Indian Foreign Policy for UPSC Prelims and Mains.

Here are a few key points to aid in your preparation for this topic.

  • India has traditionally followed a policy of non-alignment, seeking to maintain equal distance from major powers.
  • India follows the Panchsheel principles that are a significant part of the foreign policy of India. These principles are – Non-violence, Peaceful co-existence, Non-interference, Equivalence and mutual benefits, and mutual respect for territorial integrity and dominion.
  • India seeks to maintain its independence and sovereignty, which reflects in Indian foreign policy decisions and national interests.
  • India is a strong advocate of peace and stability in the international system and seeks to play a constructive role in promoting these values globally.
  • India is increasingly focused on promoting its economic interests globally, seeking to expand its trade and investment relationships with other countries.
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