Chanakya IAS Academy Blog


Introduction : The article is about the need for India to shift from bilateralism to multilateralism in making strategic partnership with neighbours.

Topics : General Studies, Paper-II

    • India’s record is not-so-impressive when it comes to delivering on strategically important projects in the region and beyond
  • India’s strategic engagements in the region and beyond suffer from several handicaps.
  • India lacks the financial resources to invest in crucial projects in a sustained manner due to budget constraints and compulsions of domestic priorities e.g. declined offer to build Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.
  • There is also a problem of severe attention deficit resulting from an inability to commit diplomatic and political capital to pursue key strategic objectives.
  • Many of India’s strategic initiatives in the region often get portrayed in competitive terms, thereby getting into the cross hairs of adversarial/insecure neighbours.
  • The self-imposed “unilateral bias” in addressing key challenges in the neighbourhood and near abroad.
  • Adopting a grand strategic approach to addressing key strategic challenges. We need to know why we are doing what we are doing: there should be a clear rationale guiding our strategic engagements
  • Moving from a unilateral approach to tackling problems to a multilateral approach, and Creating a regional/global consensus on key challenges.
Let’s examine some of our current strategic engagements in the region and see whether a multilateral approach can help us pursue our objectives better.Co-developing Chabahar
  • At the outset, it is important to be cognisant of four important issues.
  • Much of the Indian commentary has overstated the strategic significance of the recently signed Chabahar deal, with some even positing it as a counter to the Chinese-built Gwadar port in Pakistan.
  • Iran was unambiguous in stating that it is not an “Indian” complex (the Indian presence would be limited to developing a small part of a huge complex).
  • It is delusional to think we can develop the port complex and the land access to Afghanistan onwards to Central Asia all on our own and maintain them.
  • Even if we are able to carry out all these grand plans on our own, we may not be able to sustainthem in the longer run due to financial and security reasons.
  • There is therefore no point in trying to do it all by ourselves. Partnering with Japan or European countries to co-develop the port with India would save us some money, enable us to complete the project on time, and ensure more security and acceptability to the project.
Unilateralism in Afghanistan
  • Engagement with Afghanistan is yet another area where India seems to favour unilateralism instead of multilateral approaches.
  • We have provided reconstruction and development assistance of over $2 billion to Afghanistan.
  • And yet, there is a real danger of Indian interests and assets being the target of adversaries in the days ahead with the Taliban on the rise and NATO and U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The problem is twofold:
  • While there is no guarantee that India’s investments in Afghanistan would be safe from future attacks, New Delhi does not seem to have a contingency plan to deal with it other than perhaps putting an end to the good work there.
  • New Delhi does not seem to have recognised the fact that reconstruction and peace-building should go hand in hand. It is important to calibrate reconstruction efforts with reconciliation and peace-building to sustain the former
  • India has so far shied away from participating in the Afghan peace process since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
  • India needs to do two things: get like-minded countries on board India’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and support and engage in the Afghan reconciliation and peace-building process.
India-China strategic partnership
  • India should also try to engage China more proactively and with a long-term geopolitical imagination.
  • Even though the two sides have a “strategic partnership”, it remains one of India’s most underutilised strategic partnerships.
  • A more meaningful Sino-Indian strategic partnership should therefore be undertaken at three levels.
  • By jointly fighting terror in the region.
  • China today is a major contributor to South Asia’s developmental needs. We should therefore join hands with Beijing to develop the region’s economy, trade and infrastructure.
  • Indian reactions to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project need not be either dismissive or worried, nor should we dismiss it as a “Chinese national project” and look the other way. We should use this transformation to further our own national interests.
  • To deal with key regional challenges and opportunities, unilateralism is not the way.
  • We need to create alliances and coalitions to confront challenges and better utilise opportunities, and in today’s “loose multipolar” world, our alliance behaviour should be guided by clear strategic objectives rather than traditional friendships alone.

Question: India has traditionally displayed a self-imposed ‘unilateral bias’ in addressing key challenges in the neighbourhood and near abroad. The limits of this approach are evident.Elucidate

Suggested Approach:

  1. Explain the statement.
  2. Give examples proving the statement right
  3. Suggest the way forward, from unilateralism to multilateralism.


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Read 437 times Last modified on Friday, 06 January 2017 15:54

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