Melanie Hanif is a research fellow at the GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies) and a doctoral student at the University of Hamburg. In her dissertation, she discusses theories of regional powers and evaluates to which extent they help to understand India’s position in South Asia.
Ms Hanif studied political science with a focus on international relations at the universities of Regensburg and Barcelona. In 2010, she spent several months as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi and at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.
In this interview, Ms Hanif focuses on the global position of India. She elaborates on issues such as international negotiations, the IBSA forum, the BRIC summit, the Indo-US nuclear agreement and the profile of the European Union in India.
India’s global position, international cooperation and energy security
Which factors indicate that India’s global position is getting stronger?
“At the global level, India is building new structures of cooperation with other emerging powers such as the IBSA forum (with Brazil and South Africa) or the BRIC summit (with Brazil, Russia and China).”
Starting with the reforms of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, India has been experiencing unprecedented economic growth. These developments in the economic realm have been translating more and more into security affairs, both at the regional and at the global level. Thus, India has strengthened its regional profile, especially through its commitment to the reconstructions efforts in Afghanistan.
At the global level, India is building new structures of cooperation with other emerging powers such as the IBSA forum (with Brazil and South Africa) or the BRIC summit (with Brazil, Russia and China). India’s enhanced position in global affairs is becoming visible in international negotiations, e.g. on trade or climate change.
Last but not least, the shift of US policy towards India has been interpreted as a sign of India’s growing importance in world affairs. In this regard, the Indo-US nuclear agreement (concluded in 2008) is the most obvious manifestation of a new US foreign policy approach which aims to foster friendly and cooperative ties with India.
What is the impact of India’s energy demand on its foreign policy?
“India’s attempt to enhance its energy security through foreign policy initiatives meets clear limits, such as the unstable security situation in and India’s tense relationship with neighbouring countries.”
The Indian economy has been growing at rates between 6 and 9 per cent for a decade now. This growth is increasingly overstraining India’s energy production and transmission capacities. Internally, the lack of indigenous energy resources, an insufficient infrastructure, energy theft and high subsidies contribute to a situation of energy shortage. Externally, the growing dependence on very few supplier countries causes concern.
Against that backdrop, energy security has been discovered as one of the most serious threats to India’s future development. Therefore, it has become an import factor of India’s foreign policy. Strategists in New Delhi are integrating the goal of energy security into India’s foreign policy – they, for example, seek to build partnerships with oil exporting countries, plan new pipelines from Central Asia and the Caucasus to India and negotiate agreements on nuclear cooperation. Furthermore, they aim to diversify not only India’s energy mix but also the list of supplying countries.
India’s attempt to enhance its energy security through foreign policy initiatives, however, meets clear limits. In this respect, the unstable security situation in and India’s tense relationship with neighbouring countries – which would become transit countries – particularly constrain India’s energy strategy. At the international level, most of the claims at attractive sites are already distributed.
In its pursuit of remaining opportunities, India often faces disadvantageous competition with China. Moreover, India’s energy cooperation with countries such as Iran complicates its relationship with Western governments, especially with the US.
India’s relationship with United States and European Union
What are the main characteristics of the relationship between India and the US and has their 2006 nuclear deal changed anything in this respect?
“To understand the significance of the nuclear deal, it is important to bear in mind that the Indo-US relationship had been characterized by estrangement for decades.”
To understand the significance of the nuclear deal, it is important to bear in mind that the Indo-US relationship had been characterized by estrangement for decades. This estrangement took root already in 1947, when India emerged as a sovereign country while US strategists where preoccupied with the unfolding Cold War dynamics. In Washington there was little understanding for India’s unwillingness to join one of the opposing blocks.
From an Indian perspective, societal and economic pressures motivated its non-allied foreign policy orientation just as much as traditional values did – values which have continued to impact Indian strategic thought since the independence struggle. At the same time, Pakistan was eager to join US-dominated alliances in order to balance its bigger neighbour India.
It was only after the end of the Cold War – and especially after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan – that the US reviewed its South Asia policy and proclaimed India its new “natural ally”.
The nuclear deal – which was pursued against various legal and political obstacles in the US, in India and at the international stage – is considered the most tangible result of Indo-US rapprochement. Nevertheless, fierce resistance against that deal, especially in India, also indicates how much scepticism still exists between the two countries.
How important is the European Union in India’s foreign policy?
“The fundamental question is which areas of mutual interest exist between the post-industrial, highly regulated EU and India, a developing economy with a fixation on growth?”
In general, the EU’s profile in South Asia is underdeveloped. From an India point of view, the EU is hardly perceived as an actor at the international level. Most of the Indo-European ties are still handled in a country-to-country manner.
In this respect, some European countries such as Great Britain or France traditionally have stronger relationships with India. Germany’s India policy, in turn, is dominated by development cooperation – a field which is still of importance to India, of course.
Nevertheless, in order to raise its profile in India, the EU would need a more coherent approach. A strategic partnership – as announced in 2004 – was as a good starting point but has not been filled with much meaning yet. The fundamental question is, however, which areas of mutual interest exist between the post-industrial, highly regulated EU and India, a developing economy with a fixation on growth?