Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] A self-reliant foreign policy

Self-reliance is the theme of India’s 74th Independence Day. Along with a self-sufficient economy, India needs a self-reliant foreign policy.
By IASToppers
August 17, 2020


  • Introduction
  • India- independent developing country
  • Flexibility in Foreign policy
  • Current Scenario
  • Way Forward
  • Conclusion

A self-reliant foreign policy

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This concept of Self-reliance is commonly associated with the economy and production of key goods and services within a country. But it has a parallel dimension in the domain of foreign policy. The goal of the self-reliant foreign policy is to recalibrate the time-tested axiom of strategic autonomy.

India- independent developing country:

  • India has historically prided itself as an independent developing country which did not submit to pressure from great powers.

This is inked in the different phases of world order:

  1. Bipolar world order (1947 to 1991): In the time of Cold War and geopolitical tensions punctuated by proxy wars, India adhered to the principle of Non-Alignment and resisted taking sides (U.S. or USSR) and fought for its sovereignty.
  2. Unipolar world order (1991 to 2008): At the time when the U.S. entered a long cycle of economic crises and China caught up with it in overall power, India opened its economy for reforms and expanded relations with U.S., ASEAN, Israel etc.
  3. Multipolar (present times): In the present multipolar world order, India has maintained an image of soft power, reliable partner and strong nation to defend its borders and sovereignty, with multilateral alliances.

Flexibility in Foreign policy:

  • In moments of crisis, India has reinterpreted freedom and shown flexibility for survival.
  1. Sino-India War (1962): During the 1962 war with China, India had appealed to the U.S. for emergency military aid to stave off the Chinese from taking over the whole of Eastern India.
  2. Indo-Pakistan War (1971): In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, India entered a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward off both China and the U.S.
  3. Kargil War (1999): India welcomed a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down.
  • Even in the geopolitical circumstances that compelled India to enter into alliance-like cooperation with major powers, it did not become any less autonomous or allied with any great power.
  • India has secured its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity by balancing the great power equations with diplomacy.

Current Scenario:

  • In the context of the expansionist policies of China and present standoff in eastern Ladakh sector, India is at an inflection point concerning strategic autonomy.
  • Although there is no prospect of outright war with China, India needs to stand tall to defend its border and its sovereignty.
  • As China and U.S slide into a new Cold War, the earlier policy of Non-alignment (not taking sides) makes little sense when India’s security and sovereignty are being challenged by China.
  • There are fears in some quarters that proximity to the U.S. will lead to the loss of India’s strategic autonomy.
  • However, they seem overblown because independent India has never been subordinated to foreign hegemony.

Way Forward:

  • In the threat environment marked by China, India should ally with the U.S. but maintain its space and autonomy.
  • Placing all its eggs in the U.S. basket to counterbalance China would be an error, as it can hamper India’s ties with Iran and Russia and efforts to speed up indigenous defence modernisation.
  • India should stay as an independent power centre through intensified cooperation with middle powers in Asia and around the world.
  • Diversification is the essence of self-reliance. India requires a wide basket of strategic partners, including the U.S., with a sharper focus on constraining China.
  • India should not limit its engagements with Russia, U.S. and China but further expand its relationship and alliances with EU, ASEAN etc.


In the present geo-political scenario and the looming pandemic, along with a self-sufficient economy, what India needs, is a self-reliant foreign policy. Indian foreign policy demands flexibility and recalibration that demands neither complete isolation nor alliance with one great power but a variable combination with several like-minded partners.

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