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The relevance of non-alignment re-emerges for India?

While the international system today may look vastly different from what it used to be back in the Cold War era, it is no different in India’s case except for one thing. Back then India was a third world developing nation. Now, India is an emerging power. 

India’s stand to be non-aligned has gotten more bearing during the on-going conflict between Russia and Ukraine where the West wants India to back its stance. India, till date, has, however, abstained from every resolution on the ongoing conflict which was moved by either the West or Russia. While this definitely reflects India’s historic non aligned policy but, this also has its own geographical and economical reasons.

Secondly, although the global community expects India to take strong stands on global issues (often third-party issues), and even choose sides if needed, India should continue to be non-aligned especially when it sees vested interests from both the parties causing that conflict. For example, when both the US and Iran were looking for India’s support during their tussle after the scrapping of the Iran Nuclear deal by the Trump administration, it was tricky for India to be vocal about any of them. India for its part refused to choose sides.

India has always been able to find a middle path (‘madhyam marg’) for itself and has avoided getting into the ‘Us vs Them’ debate. We can see this through many examples, whether it’s choosing between the US and Russia, Israel and Palestine, or Saudi Arabia and Iran. As a rule, India has avoided placing itself in a position where it has to choose sides. The recent past has shown that India has found itself in a catch-22 situation that it wants to avoid.

As a country’s influence and reputation grow internationally, the international community expects differently from it and wants it to assume greater responsibility. As of now, Indian diplomacy has been relatively successful in accomplishing that, but the question is for how long can it continue on this tried and tested path of diplomacy. In terms of India’s foreign policy framework it is a matter of whether non-alignment was a conscious choice or a necessity to balance the bipolarity of Cold War politics with the US on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other.

India can continue to embark upon the non-alignment policy since it gives India the maneuvering capability that allows India to extract the best benefits from both superpowers without antagonizing the two. For instance, the example of India’s space cooperation during the Cold War period is sufficient to show how India managed to collaborate with both the superpowers in a calculated manner. On one hand, India collaborated with the US for the SITE (Satellite Instrument Television Experiment) experiment which revolutionized telecommunications in India, while on the other hand, India collaborated with the Soviet Union to launch its first indigenous satellite, Aryabhatta, in 1975.

Had India not been non-aligned, there would have been very high chances of India’s relations with one of the superpowers deteriorating. Post the Cold War, the situation has become even more interesting as despite the US being a hegemon in the international system, there are many countries which have become regional powerhouses in the last quarter of a century, the most important of them being China.

Today, the question before the Indian foreign policy makers is whether non-alignment is serving India’s self-interests as much as it did during the Cold War because one shouldn’t forget that non-alignment policy was a product of a particular context and time. If the answer is yes, then India should stick to this path which has served it so well in the past; however, if the answer is no, then there lies a tough task for Indian diplomacy in the near future.

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