Understanding the ‘Jaishankar Doctrine’ in India’s Foreign policy

  • Dr Jaishankar is following the approach of decoloniality in confronting the western hegemony.
  • Managing the challenges by facing up to this complex multipolarity is one of the most crucial considerations for India’s foreign policy.
  • Dr Jaishankar believes that in a multi-aligned world, with diversified partnerships based on economy, trade and commerce, security needs to be carried out by each country.
  • The main internal challenge is that of Institutional stability and capacity to grapple with the external issues

Dr Subramanyam Jaishankar, the External affairs minister of India, in recent times has been in the headlines for his bold, decisive and assertive statements and speeches on the rise of India’s stature in the world. Whether it is defying and confronting the west, engaging in transactional diplomacy with the countries in west Asia, central Asia and East Asia or shrewdly navigating the conflicting dilemma of the Russia-Ukraine situation, by strategically balancing the defence and energy alliance on one hand, and providing sustainable humanitarian aid on the other.

Dr Jaishankar’s exemplary scholarship in International Relations and his long-standing experience as a career diplomat have stood the testimony of time, and have blossomed in fruition since he took over as India’s foreign minister. Dr S Jaishankar joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1977. He also perused his MA, M. Phil, and PhD in International Relations at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) in Delhi. His pioneering PhD thesis in Nuclear Diplomacy is one of the finest research works in diplomatic studies in India, where the rare art and craft of geopolitical negotiation tactics and skills are brought out outstandingly. The contemporary narrative setting that Dr Jaishankar is trying to engineer, as a part of the outlook of India’s revived and assertive foreign policy and diplomacy, happens to be an outcome of his robust academic grounding and effulgent intellectual capacity.

To understand his perspective and vision on India’s foreign policy, we need to revisit the momentous and epoch-making speech which he delivered at the 2019 edition of the Ramnath Goenka Memorial speech. In that speech, he shared the astute evolution, understanding and vision of India’s foreign policy.

Dr S Jaishankar’s Classification of  India’s Foreign Policy into six phases;

1) 1947 to 1962: An era of optimistic Non-Alignment in the rise of the cold war era in the world: This age witnessed the dawn of India’s independence and the simultaneous rise of the bi-polar world divided into the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union and the capitalist camp led by the USA. India chose to be ‘non-aligned’ and did not enter into the power rivalries of either camp. India aspired to flower as a nation, with what could be described as the three Ds of nation-building namely Democracy, Development and Diversity.

2) 1962 to 1971: Shift towards realism focusing on national security: With the 1962 fallout with China, the Idealist Nehruvian aspiration of peace, mutual bonhomie in foreign policy ascribed in Panchsheel and non-alignment with great rivalry were almost dissuaded in the policymaking circles in of the South Block of New Delhi. It’s important to note that PM Nehru of all people signed a security agreement with the USA, and their military mission was set up in India headed by one of their two-star generals.

However, this alliance was short-lived as India shifted its foreign policy goals favouring USSR in the later years. In the year 1965, India again had to face challenges from Pakistan rattling a war, where the western alliance turned hostile to India, by exerting their pressure to settle the disputes with Pakistan. This situation more or less compelled India to develop a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union in the late 1960s.    

3) 1971 to 1991: A complex phase as US-China and Pakistan axis came up. With the onset of the East Pakistan genocide, and later with the Liberation War of Bangladesh in which India played a key role in defeating the Pakistani army, India was clearly at loggerheads with the western world, especially with the USA because Pakistan had brokered the onset of a US-China alliance under Nixon-Kissinger administration. In this era, India was almost in the Soviet Camp with a deeply netted strategic alliance.      

4) 1991 to 1999: Challenge to retain India’s strategic autonomy in a unipolar world: The collapse of the USSR made India revisit the first principles of domestic and foreign policy. With a unipolar world spearheaded by the USA, the world order experienced a paradigm shift from the cold war era in which India’s foreign policy gained new dimensions with the look east policy focusing on South East Asia and Gujral doctrine focusing on India’s neighbourhood. This era witnessed the onset of economic reforms, breaking India’s chains from the license quota raj followed by the nuclear test which was aimed at strategic deterrence, and attracted American Sanctions.  

5) 2000 to 2013: India acquired the attribute of balancing power: India recovered swiftly after the fallout with the USA and entered the millennial age with the aspiration to enter the high economic growth trajectory with holistic development in the country. This age came to be known as the Asian age with the rising dominance of China and the power dynamics that emerged with Russia, Japan and France with India. As India signed the ambitious civil nuclear deal with the USA, it had to sustain the challenge of remaining a balancing power in the Asian geopolitics. Overall this age of Mr Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh brought about a sustained continuity in the foreign policy and the strategic manoeuvring of the balance of power.

6) 2014 onwards; Phase of energetic engagement in which India is in an early stage of major transition; India is moving towards a state which is systematically increasing its national security consciousness. India is taking critical domestic political decisions with strategic consequences and geopolitical repercussions. The article 370 Abrogation in Kashmir and CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) have caused some rumblings internationally, but these decisions have brought on a crisis upon India, as the 1998 nuclear tests did, which attracted US sanctions. The reason why no such actions are being initiated against India is, our global strategic stature as a major regional power has risen significantly, to put in the words of Senior Journalist Shekar Gupta “India is too strong, too powerful and too important to mess with”. These systemic changes are indicative of the fact that India is in a stage of transition towards developing into a major global power.  

Classification of India’s Foreign Policy in five baskets based on S Jaishankar’s analysis:

1) Greater realism in the contemporary Foreign policy of India

India’s foreign policy has been taking a realistic turn since 2014 when Mr Modi became the Prime Minister. The approach of the Modi government on national security issues and foreign policy considerations emanates from a nationalist prism where hard-line decision-making to combat and address the external threats and challenges towards India is been aggressively followed. Therefore realpolitik has become synonymous with the foreign policy of India.    

2) Economic drivers will guide diplomacy more than in the past

Perhaps the foremost factor that would contribute to the rise of India’s geopolitical stature is the healthy growth of the Indian Economy. International trade, commerce, indigenous industrialization and economic alliances with key strategic partners are going to set a guided trajectory towards achieving India’s longstanding economic aspirations which in other words is described as Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

3) Multiple global complexities have to be managed

The contemporary world is undergoing a turbulent change where the conventional understanding of international affairs becoming obscure. Multipolarity of the world order has created several mini and micropower structures with several countries though having a limited global impact starting to impact their regions with a far stretched strategic relevance. Managing these challenges by facing up to this complex multipolarity is one of the most crucial considerations for India’s foreign policy.

India’s foreign policy has been taking a realistic turn since 2014 when Mr Modi became the Prime Minister.

4) This is the phase of calculated risk-taking with an optimistic quantum jump in the Global positioning

The contemporary phase of India’s foreign policy is laced with multiple challenges in managing extremely sensitive and even hostile relationships. Bilateral and multilateral relations with India are becoming increasingly transactional by posing glitches even in strategic alliances. By becoming risk-averse and neutral towards simmering international issues, India may lose out on entering the elite club of major powers of the world. Belief and conviction in India’s success story and through the realization of our potential in grappling with the complexities of geopolitics can significantly lead to the upsurge of India’s global positioning.      

5) Need to read the global tea leaves right: i.e. Foreign Policy is based on many global contradictions

An assessment of opportunities and compulsions, risks and rewards makes us realize the contradictions that India has stepped into, in the past and continues to do so in the present in pursuit of its national interest and drives its foreign policy towards several global contradictions. Misreading the intent of the Anglo-American alliance at the dawn of India’s independence and the failure to decode the extent of Sino-Soviet differences can be sighted as a few examples of strategic miscalculations. Presently, the appreciation of world politics must recognize the Sino-US contradictions, growing multipolarity, weaker multilateralism larger economic and political rebalancing, and greater space for regional powers and the world of convergences, to navigate through the contradictions laced in the foreign policy.  

These important features and elements from the speech give us a clear understanding of what constitutes the vision and ideas of Dr Jaishankar. In addition to this, by observing his other speeches, debates and discussions in the past three years we can ascertain the operation of the Jaishankar doctrine, in the working of India’s foreign policy. In international relations, a doctrine refers to a set of ideas, ideologies, principles and policy frameworks which are used as strategies, tactics and practices, which guides one’s actions in the pursuit and realization of the intended objectives. In simple words, doctrine involves a combination of art, science and wisdom in realizing the goals.

Underlying Principles of Jaishankar Doctrine:

1) Structural functional approach with a neo-realist worldview

The structural-functional approach was formulated by an eminent political scientist Gabriel Almond, who states that structures are patterned behaviour of political actors and the functions are the relevant consequences of the behavioural actions. Therefore identification of important structures is necessary to discover their functions.  Dr Jaishankar believes that international institutions must work in a proper structural-functional approach, which would not just become a rational approach towards engaging in complex geopolitical issues, but also would facilitate the frequency and structural variation of multiple political actors in a channelized manner. He believes that this approach would enable the multi-functionality of International state structures, to strategically confront the diverse and complex nature of different nation states in a political and socio-cultural context. His consistent references to the international security dilemma, concerns about the reliability of the traditional international organizations in managing security, and the projection of India as a self-reliant national security state, give us a clear indication of his neo-realist view of the world, where there is a need to develop robust need-based strategic alliances.

2) A paradigm shift from non-alignment to strategic need-based alliances

As explained earlier, India’s non-alignment policy has gone into a dormant state. Though on paper it exists and NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) summits are held every year, it has become so irrelevant that it hardly hits the headlines and makes any significant news. It is quite clear that India has now officially dumped this policy and has moved miles ahead to cater to its geo-strategic needs based on its national interests and national security considerations. Dr Jaishankar, through his cohesive diplomacy strategy, is vigorously surging the bilateral partnerships with the USA, UK, France, Australia, Japan, the EU countries and East Asia, to cater to India’s rising security concerns in its neighbourhood, and fulfil the dream of an atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India), through the larger network of strategic partnerships.

Dr Jaishankar believes that international institutions must work in a proper structural-functional approach and facilitate the frequency and structural variation of multiple political actors in a channelized manner.

3) Flagging the arrogance of American Hegemony and Neo-colonialism of the west

Dr Jaishankar has never shied away from publicly demonstrating his discontent, with the American sinister geopolitical games of oppressing and changing regimes across the world which cater to its self-interests at the best. He openly called out their freedom, liberty and democracy trilogy to be self-serving hypocrisy, which is imposed on the whole world on their terms. According to him, the American state and their economic powerhouse, fuelled by its military-industrial complex, is just an attempt re-colonize the world with its hegemonistic tendencies to make the other countries subservient in the vicious cycles of dependency, as it is a part of their strategic game-plan.

4) Response through Decoloniality and drift from Post Colonialism

Decoloniality is a rational, psyche, ontology and matrix of the power structure, generated by the systemic processes in the aftermath of colonization and settler colonialism. It aims to do away with the colonial interpretations of native societies and cultures, and free the native community from the colonial lens and gaze, from both the psychological and intellectual angles, which is referred to as the decolonization of the mind. Unlike post-colonialism which just provides a critique of the colonial structures and institutions, decoloniality aids in breaking away from the collective colonial consciousness. It appears that Dr Jaishankar is following the approach of decoloniality in confronting the western hegemony. He has stressed upon the historical, cultural and civilizational significance of India, by reinvigorating the civilizational consciousness of India and its cultural pride. The example of India’s vaccine diplomacy was cited by him as a benevolent gesture of promoting human values and thereby indicating the eternal Indic values of integral humanism. By doing so, he has directly challenged the predominance of western universalism on the cultural, economic and political front.

The intellectual brain behind the forging of these minilateral partnerships happens to be Dr Jaishankar.

5) Evolving from strategic ambiguity to strategic autonomy

A major evolution in India’s foreign policy and diplomacy strategy has been the drifting away from the idea of strategic ambiguity where no clear stand was taken on important international issues including major security concerns, which sometimes had a direct correlation with Indian interests this principle, was a lame intellectual excuse given to international neutrality and non-alignment policy. However, in the scheme of things that Dr Jaishankar is trying to bring about in the foreign policy strategy, the idea of being strategically ambiguous is a relic of the past. Instead, India will follow the strategic autonomy approach, wherein it would remain independent from the security alignments of the global power blocks. India will engage in issue-based diplomacy and cooperation with the western world, and also follow the same principle in Asia, Africa and East Asia. In managing national security and geopolitical affairs, the nation-first principle will always apply. The biggest vantage point of the strategic autonomy approach is the fact that shared interests between the countries will always trump shared values.

6) Encouraging  the growth of  minilateral groupings

The minilateral groupings which involve three to four or a maximum of five countries are becoming very popular and gaining geopolitical traction in the present times. The Quad grouping is a classical example of this. The other emerging grouping of partnerships between India, UAE, Israel and the USA which is popularly described as called as the Middle Eastern quad is yet another example of the growing minilateralism in the world. The intellectual brain behind the forging of these minilateral partnerships happens to be Dr Jaishankar. As per his calculation and strategy, the failures and shortcomings of large traditional international organizations and west-driven multilateral forums like the G20 can be overcome by small, issue-based and channelized goal-oriented minilaterals.

7) Envisioning a multi-aligned and multipolar world order

Dr Jaishankar believes that a multi-aligned world, with diversified partnerships based on economy, trade and commerce, security, geo-strategic necessity, and counterbalancing the adversaries with different countries based on the cost-benefit analysis, needs to be carried out by each country. This in a way justifies the Chanakyan principle of, “there are no permanent friends or enemies in the world”. Dr Jaishankar has indicated in several instances that, “there are permanent interests, neither friends nor enemies”, this is the real-politick of multi-alignment, in Jaishankar’s lens. He has envisaged the need for a multipolar world where the geopolitical power dynamics are not operated by one country, a set of countries or by ideological power blocks as happened in the cold war. Although a new cold war has begun, with the rise of Chinese hegemony, Dr Jaishankar’s advocacy of multipolarity has become more assertive. In his view, a diverse, plural and collective participation in global affairs would churn out more just and favourable conditions for every country in satisfying their individual goals and objectives. Though this approach might not solve all longstanding strategic issues, it would certainly facilitate a smoother functioning of international affairs.  

Dr S Jaishankar, through his vision and his approach, is trying to bring about a paradigm shift in India’s foreign and strategic policy. His framework in policy making is fairly a new approach and it needs sufficient time to deliver the desired results, as it requires a proper seasoning and the resistance to bear with the diverse and complex geopolitical challenges. However, the main internal challenge is that of Institutional stability and capacity to grapple with the external issues, wherein our professional diplomatic network needs to be strengthened both in terms of quantity and quality to deal with the new world order, which runs on volatility, uncertainty and multifold disruptions.

(The author has an MA in International Relations)

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One thought on “Understanding the ‘Jaishankar Doctrine’ in India’s Foreign policy”
  1. Though a reading of the full article is a little bit confusing, the fact is that for the first time we have started calling a spade a spade in foreign office. This is a paradigm shift. Both modi and jaishankar have made it natural for the country’s interest. We are proud of the status created bye the PM and FM.

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