Although India is gaining increasing prominence on the international stage, its diplomacy has not adapted enough to the changing times. After independence, Indian leaders took an anti-colonial stance at forums such as the United Nations, with positions seemingly oriented towards domestic audiences back home, a signal that India was standing up to world powers.
Even today, Indian multilateral diplomacy is sometimes considered to be stronger at countering and blocking than at problem-solving and results-oriented negotiating.
For far too long, the Indian foreign policy establishment has clung on to what an Australian strategic analyst described to me as the “fierce rhetoric of strategic independence”, which has served as an impediment in building alliances to enhance its influence.
Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, reasons that India’s style of diplomacy is “spectacularly successful in, for instance, the Group of 77, where grand-standing is the name of the game. But when it comes to negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN, India ends up ruffling feathers,” he observes.
China, on the other hand, has gone out of its way to ensure that an FTA with ASEAN was a strategic political initiative rather than a WTO-style bargaining process. India’s economy is only a third or a fourth the size of China’s.
But although ASEAN is a lot smaller than India, it has an outsized political role in Asian regionalism.
Mr. Tay also cites another reason for the limitations of Indian diplomacy: India has very few foreign affairs specialists – “just a few hundred diplomats running around, which is inadequate for a country that has ambitions to engage with Asia and the world".
The full feature, entitled 'NAM and nonsense: The mindlessness of Indian diplomacy' by Venky Vembu, was published on Firstpost.com on 31 August 2012.