Gist of Editorials: Alliances and Strategic Autonomy (Indian Express )|GS – II

India, which had refused to join the West in isolating communist China and sought to befriend it, ended up in a conflict with Beijing.

Relevance : GS Paper II 

   (International Relations and Internal Security)


Is “non-alignment” a special attribute of Indian foreign policy? Given Delhi’s continuing preoccupation with the idea of non-alignment, most visible recently at last week’s Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, it seems it is.

The present situation of NAM

  • More than a hundred countries are members of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
  • They swear, at least formally, by the idea of non-alignment and show up at the triennial NAM summits.
  • But few of them think of non-alignment as the defining idea of their foreign policies.
  • Even fewer believe it is worth debating on a perennial basis.
  • India has certainly moved away from the straitjacket of non-alignment — in practice if not in theory.

Non-alignment belongs to the past, is “strategic autonomy” something unique to India?

  • All countries, big and small, try to maximise their freedom of action.
  • And the autonomy that a nation can exercise depends on its specific circumstances such as size, location, comprehensive national power, and the nature of the threats among many other things.

India’s trouble with alliances

  • Indian foreign policy community continues to be troubled by the question of alliances and autonomy when it comes to dealing with China and the US.
  • Delhi’s traditional fear of alliances is based on a profound misreading of what they might mean.

What do alliances actually mean?

  • Alliances are not a “permanent wedlock” or some kind of a “bondage”.
  • They are a political/military arrangement to cope with a common threat.
  • When the shared understanding of the threat breaks down, so does the alliance.
  • For example, to cope with the American threat Mao Zedong aligned with Soviet Russia in 1950. Two decades later, he moved closer to America to counter Russia. Now China is once again buddies with Russia in trying to limit American influence in Eurasia.

Present situation of international alliances

  • Not many countries in the world today are members of alliances.
  • The few alliances that have survived since the Second World War are undergoing stress on the supply as well as demand side.
  • In America, President Donald Trump is questioning the costs and benefits of these alliances.
  • Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Moon Jae-in of South Korea, both treaty allies of the US, hardly share American perceptions on the regional threat in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula respectively.


India is a large and globalised economy with big stakes in all parts of the world.  It should  focus on a pragmatic assessment of India’s interests and the best means to secure them — including partnerships and coalitions — against current and potential threats.