Diplomacy is the art of the possible. If successful and effective diplomacy is about reigniting the spark in old relationships, winning new friends, breaking new grounds, and shaping the outcomes in the international arena to promote the country’s enlightened national interests and development, then the seven-month old Narendra Modi government scores high as it builds on the successes of 2014 and looks ahead to 2015 with “new vision and new vigour.” Breakthrough Diplomacy, as India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj writes in a prologue to the eponymous e-book published by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, is about melding ‘Diplomacy for Development’ as the overarching themes in India’s global engagements.
India Shining: New Vision, New Vigour
“2014 has truly been a Year of Breakthrough Diplomacy. India’s star is today shining ever brighter on the global firmament,” writes Swaraj. Looking ahead, the minister promises another blockbuster year of breakthrough diplomacy with some defining events marked for the 2015 diplomatic calendar. “Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, coinciding with the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India, scheduled visit of President Obama to India for the Republic Day, plans for the largest ever India-Africa Summit and new steps to ‘Link West’; all promise to make 2015 an even more grand affair!”
“With ‘Diplomacy for Development’ as the overarching theme of our global engagements in 2015, we will pursue the vision of a Rising India, with new vigour and even greater resolve.”
This is, by all account, a pithy and eloquent vision statement of India’s diplomatic trajectory in the months to come, and going by the last seven months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, assisted by his low-key, but a proactive foreign minister, is determined to push the envelope. There is, however, a danger lurking in such grand formulations that the substance and achieved results may not match the rhetoric and hype, and such monikers could end up being willed spells of enchantment. On the other hand, there is also a real possibility that the government may surpass even its own expectations, and pull off a string of diplomatic coups that could truly make the India story shine bright and sing louder than before. The year has just begun; so cheerleaders as well as diehard sceptics can bet the way they want, and spin their own narrative.
Breakthrough: How to Make it Happen
Talking of breakthrough diplomacy, it’s time to unscramble the jargon and introduce some balance in diplomatic discourse and the unfolding possibilities in the coming months. For one thing, breakthroughs don’t happen every day or every year in diplomacy; the India-US nuclear deal was a breakthrough, but getting Obama to be the chief guest at the 2015 Republic Day celebrations is a diplomatic triumph, but not a breakthrough. To claim routine diplomatic successes as breakthroughs, therefore, would be misleading, and lowering the bar. For another thing, diplomatic breakthroughs presuppose a perceptible and substantive rise in a country’s comprehensive national power, economic muscle and military strength as well as soft power.
It’s Economics, Stupid!
Objectively, for India breakthrough diplomacy is only possible when the Modi government delivers on its promise of economic reforms, trims the fiscal deficit, stabilizes rupee and restores economic growth to at least 6-7 per cent in the next fiscal year and step it up to 7-9 per cent over the rest of the decade. There is no half-house here; the Modi government has to go the whole hog if it wants India’s star to shine. The strong macroeconomic fundamentals, improving India’s ease of doing business rankings and revving up investors’ confidence with concrete time-bound reforms are the only way to get the India Story back into global circulation over the long term.
Blending Hard Power and Soft Power
In the military sphere, things have already moved up. Policy paralysis that had crippled the procurement process under an overcautious and diffident defence minister has given way to concrete decisions: the government has liberalized FDI in defence and is also looking to regularize middlemen to fast-track procurement. The new defence minister has a proven record of governance, and is keen to back the talk with the walk. In external defence engagements, the new dispensation is looking to deepen the template of co-production and co-development with its key partners, including the US, Russia, France and Israel.
On the soft power front, there is no deficit, but the projection and expansion of the country’s vibrant culture industries needs more focused thinking and planning.
But in the end, the road to diplomatic breakthroughs could only be paved by a radical turnaround of India’s economy. The February 2015 budget will be crucial in sending out the right messages to the domestic businesses as well to the world. For now, with right steps and an unwavering resolve, the economic rejuvenation can indeed boost the government’s capacity to achieve genuine diplomatic triumphs.
Wish-List for 2015
Entente with Pakistan
Looking ahead, the government’s key diplomatic challenge, which would genuinely count as a diplomatic breakthrough, would be to defrost tensions with Pakistan and mint a new template for restoring and sustaining dialogue with Pakistan, without compromising on terror.
Let nuclear energy flow
Another achievement to watch out for in 2015 will be how the Indian government implements the landmark nuclear deal with the US, which was truly transformational and path-breaking, and with other partners like France. Six years after India’s global nuclear rapprochement, even after granting that nuclear plants are long-gestation projects, the process has not even begun in earnest due to festering suspicions over the country’s civil nuclear liability regime. And yes, sealing the nuclear deal with Japan will be a blockbuster diplomatic breakthrough.
Boosting FDI: Cash is King
Getting foreign investment funds flowing and getting all partners, who pledged hefty amounts last year, would also be a much-desired accomplishment. The US, China and Japan alone pledged over $100 billion in FDI in 2014. The success of economic diplomacy will be to ensure that the pledged amount finally flow into the fund-starved country.
Managing the China challenge and keeping the borders free from incursions would also be a major challenge. The big breakthrough would be doing the boundary deal, which lie somewhere in the unforeseeable future, but one should aim for smaller breakthroughs along the way so that the China threat is effectively converted into the China opportunity by entwining closer with China economically, and getting China to set up manufacturing hubs and industrial parks in India. It’s also time for a candid dialogue with China on the latter’s intensified forays into South Asia and the Indian Ocean, that are bound to encourage scenarios of competition and rivalry, rather than mutually empowering win-win collaboration.
Show the Human Face
This would not be counted as a diplomatic breakthrough, but keeping India free from terror attacks by bolstering domestic counter-terror infrastructure and intensifying counter-terror cooperation with its key external partners would be no mean achievement. One can go on adding to the list of possible diplomatic triumphs and breakthroughs that await India in 2015, but as one begins the new year, it’s time to sober up, and not get seduced by florid formulations, but show more empathy and sensitivity to the human stories and real human beings enmeshed in the chessboard of realpolitik. It’s refreshing to see that in the midst of soaking in diplomatic triumphs and listing them eloquently, Sushma Swaraj has not forgotten the fate of 39 Indians languishing in the captivity of the ISI barbarians in Iraq. “As 2014 draws to an end, the uncertainty about the fate of 39 Indians in Iraq continues to weigh deeply on all of us. Our efforts will continue unabated.” Their release, given trying circumstances, will indeed be a breakthrough, and one which no sceptic will quibble about.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.