Emerging Trends in Indian Foreign Policy: Perspectives for the West

Summary Report

This webinar explored emerging trends, socio-political contexts and key drivers shaping India's foreign policy in the coming years.

Emerging Trend in Indian Foreign Policy

In the past decade, India's foreign policy has evolved significantly, blending new partnerships with traditional alliances. India's increasing assertiveness on the global stage reflects its ambition to be a pole in a multipolar world while navigating geopolitical shifts. This webinar explored emerging trends, socio-political contexts and key drivers shaping India's foreign policy in the coming years.

  • One of the biggest changes in India's foreign policy today is its growing engagement with the West. In the past, India had followed a policy of non-alignment and strategic independence, keeping a distance from Western alliances. Now, we are witnessing a readjustment within these traditional ideas towards a more cooperative relationship with the West.
  • India’s approach to multilateral governance systems is witnessing tensions between competing objectives – ambition to be a global power and its legacy leadership claim in the Global South (driven by competition with China). The former is likely to win out over the latter. This could add to its convergence with the West, which coupled with India’s rise, would demand some form of accommodation of India at the higher levels of international governance architecture.
  • India’s neighbourhood policy is evolving from bilateral communication to engaging with regional platforms, even as groupings like SAARC have struggled. Consequently, India is now dealing with emerging regional frameworks, possibly including Western partners, to reassure its neighbours and create mutually beneficial forums. This task is complicated by China’s growing influence in the region.
  • In technology, the AI-driven revolution has primarily been led by private corporations in the US. However, there is increasing convergence of interest between India, a fledgling industry and the EU, a regulatory power, for the development of the technology sector, as evidenced by the launch of EU-India Trade and Technology Council (TTC) as a significant first step towards comprehensive cooperation. 
  • In defence, India’s diversification mission for military suppliers beyond Russia is set to continue. With partnerships now extending to France and beyond, India is even positioning itself to meet the increasing demand for military supplies in Europe, particularly in the context of the war in Ukraine.
  • In trade, India has focused on bilateral and mega free trade agreements but was initially hesitant to engage with developed countries due to the stalemate in the WTO Doha Development Round in 2008. However, more recently India has advanced free trade negotiations with entities like the EU, UK, and Australia, aiming to attract Western trade displaced from China to its sectors.
  • Potential obstacles for India-EU relations from India’s perspective include:
    • Concerns around democratic standards, with India feeling that global rankings often misrepresent its democratic status due to its unique political context. India also perceives a degree of hypocrisy in Europe, which has deeply engaged with undemocratic regimes like China while scrutinizing India, adding that a similarly pragmatic relationship with India is warranted. However, while China pragmatically engages with Europe to reach agreements despite criticism, India has been sensitive about Western judgments of its democratic record.
    • Differing approaches to climate change. India insists on defending its energy policies due to its vast energy needs, yet the growing connection between energy and economy can help bridge these differences.
    • Significant divergences regarding economic systems and regulatory frameworks (also regarding sustainability, natural resources, labour, and gender issues), with protectionism and market access being major sticking points. Additionally, India's concerns about key sectors like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and e-commerce complicate trade relations.
    • India's positions in multilateral organisations like the WTO often lead to friction. India has taken a leading role in the Global South, often clashing with Western nations within these forums.
  • Historically, India-EU differences seemed irreconcilable, but heightened diplomacy and the current geopolitical landscape now make them more manageable.
The Indian Foreign Policy Series