A studied approach to policymaking

| | in Oped

Like in the US, where think-tanks and universities inform the Government on foreign policy issues, in India, South Block too needs critical inputs from external sources

Foreign policy is a complex business in an increasingly multi-polar world marked by an interplay of multiple economic and geo-political factors. While alliances can help, the key factor in the case of a country is its power to have its way globally. In his overview to the publication, Foundations of National Power in the Asia-Pacific, published by the United States' The National Bureau of Asian Research, the volumes' editor (along with Ms Alison Szalwinski and Mr Michael Wills), makes a very important point when he states, “The rise of the modern state signalled the intensification of power accumulation in ways previously unknown in history; social mobilisation, technological innovation, bureaucratic organisation, institutional design and ideological promotion came together on a grand scale to simulate the production of material capabilities for diverse ends as national consolidation, internal development, and external security.” Power, he adds, “has remained fundamental to success in every political system”.

While the accumulation and use of power depends on a country's strategic culture, its structure rests on a number of factors that are not easy to measure. Mr Richard J Elling, president of the NBAR, states in his preface to the volume, “How states strive to accumulate power is shaped by their particular values, domestic affairs, and legacies of past events, both real and mythologised.” In India, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru's aversion to war and emphasis on global peace contributed to his failure to read the aggressive policies of the country's neighbours, Pakistan and China. This, in turn, led to neglect of the country's defence requirements which, compounded by Krishna Menon's disastrous stewardship of the Defence Ministry, was responsible for the country's humiliating defeat at China's hands in the 1962 border conflict.

One reason why this happened was that Nehru himself laid down not only the broad contours but even the details of India's foreign policy. Suggestions contrary to his views were rarely entertained. Doubtless, it is the Minster in charge of the department concerned and the Prime Minister or their counterparts in presidential system, who take the final policy decisions in any area in any country. Wisdom, however, suggests that these be based on informed advice. Foundations of National Power in the Asia-Pacific seeks to ensure this in the framing of American foreign policy. Mr Elling writes that the function of the NBAR's “Strategic Asia Programne [of which the publication of this volume is a part] is to provide US leaders with the very best and most useful data analysis”. He adds with reference to the book, “It is our intention that the valuable insights provided in each of the chapters, and in the forthcoming volumes, will make decision-makers to better understand the complexities of the rapidly-changing geo-political context in which we currently operate, thus equipping them with the knowledge necessary to guide US policy during the turbulent time.”

With this objective in view, the book examines the conditions in China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, India and the United States, to gauge the respective strengths of the foundations of their power to assess their future potential and role in the global game in future, with specific reference to the Asia-Pacific region. Given that purpose it is not surprising that its views often reflect those of the US policy establishment. One needs to bear this in mind particularly in respect of America's global aims and successes which often ignore the warts. The views of many will differ sharply from those stated in the volume.


Having said this, one must put on record that the contributions uniformly reflect a high order of research and scholarly articulation, which in turn leads to an important point — the need for such interaction between India's foreign policy establishment on the one hand and universities and research institutions on the other. This is not to say that there is none today. But the scope and intensity has be increased significantly to ensure that a wide range of useful inputs are available in South Block.

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