Panel: India's Foreign Policy Under Modi, One Year In


During ASPI’s June 16, 2015, panel discussion on India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon explains how the new government’s desire for India to gain recognition as a global power has generated a new focus on improving relationships with other major powers. Menon also notes that the government lacks an overarching foreign policy strategy. (3 min., 23 sec.)

More from the discussion

Shivshankar Menon

Shivshankar Menon, Former Indian National Security Advisor

One of the biggest differences in substance, I think, is the doubling down on the relationship with the U.S. I would go so far as to actually say it’s a strong pro-Western tip. If you look at the things this government has announced, like that the prime minister will visit Israel, no Indian prime minister has done that before. You look at the substance in the relationship with the U.S., which has been revived. The Defense Technology Initiative might be something we started in 2012 with Ash Carter, but today it has real substance. You look at the joint vision statement for the Asia-Pacific, which was issued after President Obama’s January visit on Republic Day. So there is, I think, certainly a substantive shift there, which is important.

There are other things as well. We have always, at least since the beginning of reform in 1991, spoken of the economic thrust behind diplomacy. But I think we see it much more clearly today with the manner in which foreign policy is being carried out. The other example of course is the willingness to raise the level of the trilateral with Australia and Japan — something that’s been on and off the agenda for the past eight years or so.

Ashley Tellis

Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Something that is very new for India is [Modi’s] emphasis that the United States and India must jointly do things together for the world. Previous governments had implicitly adopted the premise that the United States is far more powerful than India, and therefore the kind of collaboration that one can imagine would always be asymmetrical collaboration. Even though I believe that India still is obviously still not on par with the United States when it comes to economic power capacity and political power capacity, Modi certainly has not let his inhibitions about the relative lack of capacity come in the way of very boldly proposing things that the United States and India should do in third countries. ... This is something obviously very welcome in the United States and represents a new beginning.

The one unfinished business in my mind is deeper bilateral engagement on the economy, because no matter how much our strategic interests happen to converge, our ability to carry the kind of partnership that both countries want will be weakened considerably if the material foundations that tie the two economies together do not become as mature as they ought to be.

Indrani Bagchi

Indrani Bagchi, Senior Diplomatic Editor with the Times of India

The aspect of Modi which has been a bit of surprise has been, after the first couple of times we heard him, we thought that suddenly we’d elected a missionary. The first thing he did was sort of ram everybody with a broom and said, “Clean out your offices.” The UPA government used to have their social agenda, they had the rural employment guarantee programs, and the unique identification system, but Modi has a different level — sometimes you feel he’s doing a project of national renewal between the Clean India-Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Digital India, the cleanup Ganga projects — all of these. He even used his August 15 speech at the Red Fort to tell parents to control their sons and not daughters. He said it’s the sons who are responsible for the violence on women, which is something very few Indian leaders have taken the trouble to address. There is that missionary zeal that he has about transforming society.

Complete Video

As part of ASPI’s June 16, 2015, event on India’s first year under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Ashley Tellis, and Times of India Senior Diplomatic Editor Indrani Bagchi discuss India’s foreign policy priorities and achievements under Prime Minister Modi. ASPI President Kevin Rudd introduces and moderates the conversation. (1 hr., 19 min.)