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21st Informal Discussion Group Session by Mr. Shivshankar Menon

                                Topic- What Foreign Policy does India need?

On August 27 , 2019 the Informal Discussion Group of NLU Odisha organised a guest lecture on ‘What Foreign Policy does Indian need?’. The lecture was delivered by Mr. Shivshankar Menon who is a foreign policy expert and a former National security adviser of India. The lecture commenced at 3 pm and continued for 2 hours, with one and a half hours reserved for the lecture and half an hour for the question answer session.

Thee session started with Mr. Shivshankar Menon describing what kind of and why does India need a foreign policy. He asserted that India needed a foreign policy to enable the transformation of India and so a good foreign policy was a means to the end goals India intended to achieve. He stated that for India we need more than just a defensive, passive foreign policy and that was because of its origins. He observed that India has done best in all fronts when it has stayed connected with the rest of the world rather in instances where India has swallowed the manipulated history told by the British and has severed ties with nations, the country has suffered. He further observed that India because of its geographical location, being situated around an open Indian Ocean, and because of its resource endowment, being people rich and resource poor, it becomes very important for India to stay connected with other countries and therefore have a foreign policy.

Mr. Menon talking about India becoming a superpower said that India should be a superpower only if it helps in the development of India and upliftment of its people but not if the goal to become a superpower becomes a hindrance in the same. He also observed that a country in order to ensure prosperity of the nation should thrive for sufficient security and not absolute security. Stressing again on the need for having a good foreign policy, he brought to light the fact that more than half of India’s GDP depends on trading of goods and services and thus, we can never say that we will have a closed affair and we can do without a foreign policy.

Thereafter, talking about the changing dynamics of the world and how India should come up with a foreign policy keeping in mind such dynamics, he asserted, that the centre of gravity of World Economy, since 1981, is moving towards the east and thus Central Asia has become a hotspot. At present, there is no other country like India and we are at the centre of the world economy and world polity. Therefore, it is impossible for us to follow the Non-alignment policy of the olden days, whether India likes it or not, it will be pulled into such alignments. Further, in the present times we are in a world where countries are spending immensely on their ammunitions and defence power but the world at large is politically and theoretically confused because of lack of international order. Furthermore, India’s periphery is Chinese periphery as well, both the nations compete and cooperate on various fronts. Henceforth, because of all of these reasons the kind of foreign policy India needs today must be unique and able to tackle the changing geopolitical situation of the world.

Thereupon, the audience asked questions to the guest on multiple issues concerning the reason behind US’s continued dominance in the world, alignment with the US and about India’s commitments to SAARC. Mr. Menon answered all the questions with utmost wit, sagacity and at times with a pinch of humour as well. Answering the questions Mr. Menon observed that the reason behind US’s dominance in the world is due to the effects of World War II as after the war, unlike other powerful countries, US had the resources to built itself and an economic order, which it capitalised upon and established such organisations and  order which aided in establishing its dominance in the world. On answering about the significance of SAARC he wittingly replied the answer varies according to which Indian you ask and further observed that we cannot do away with the political consequences of separation but can do away with economic consequences of the separation through SAARC and so India should be serious in respect to the commitments to the SAARC.

Further, in order to answer questions related to US-China tussle, Mr. Menon opined that this tussle is unique because of the economic dependence of both the nations on each other. Therefore, a possible war between these nations would lead to decoupling and its implications would be such that India will face its most brutal brunt. In the concluding part of the lecture he talked about how the shrink in the capacity of the nation to deliver, leads to authoritarian leaders gaining popularity and because of which the foreign policy of the nation suffers. According to Mr. Menon, foreign policy runs on diplomacy which requires negotiation and due to authoritarian leaders thriving on hyper nationalism it becomes difficult on their part to give up their interests in order to negotiate. Concluding on an optimistic note, he said that Indian has done well with its strategic autonomy policy in the last 70 years and has developed means to achieve its goals but he looks forward to see what it does ahead when it has the means.

The session culminated with handing over the token of gratitude to the esteemed guest by our Registrar Dr. Yogesh P. Singh.

 

National Law University Odisha

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