Indian foreign policy hostage to IFS,says article

India’s foreign policy decisions are highly individualistic,Indian foreign service (IFS) officers wield enormous power while enjoying near-anonymity

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Published: June 14, 2013 3:13:04 am

India’s foreign policy decisions are highly individualistic,Indian foreign service (IFS) officers wield enormous power while enjoying near-anonymity,there is a complete lack of top-down instructions that makes long-term planning impossible and the foreign minister could simply be a figurehead if he doesn’t have the skills to command the respect of IFS officers,a critique in Foreign Policy magazine has said.

The article is largely based on information attributed to unidentified senior officials. But it quotes former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh as saying that “if a [foreign minister has the skills to command the respect of the [foreign ministry’s officers,he will make policy and implement it. Otherwise,it is the civil servants who make the policy and the minister is simply the figurehead”.

Titled “India’s feeble foreign policy”,the article is written by Manjari Chatterjee Miller,an assistant professor of international relations at Boston University,and is published in the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

The article attributes New Delhi’s challenges to broadly three factors.

“New Delhi’s foreign policy decisions are often highly individualistic – the province of senior officials responsible for particular policy areas,not strategic planners at the top. As a result,India rarely engages in long-term thinking about its foreign policy goals,which prevents it from spelling out the role it aims to play in global affairs,” it has said.

Secondly,the article argues Indian foreign-policy makers are insulated from outside influences,such as think-tanks,which in other countries reinforce a government’s sense of its place in the world.

And thirdly,the Indian elite fears that the notion of the country’s rise is a Western construct,which has unrealistically raised expectations for both Indian economic growth and the country’s international commitments.

The article notes that there are few,if any,top-down guidelines for the making of Indian foreign policy.

“The senior official who has dealt with Western countries told me,‘We have a great deal of flexibility and autonomy in shaping policy on a day-to-day basis within the overarching framework of policy’,” the author has said. Pressed to explain that framework,the official said,“It is not written anywhere or formalized…It’s expressed in speeches and parliamentary statements”. After a brief pause,the official admitted with a laugh,“But those damn things are also written by us”,the article says.

“I was completely autonomous as ambassador,” it quotes another diplomat as saying. “There is little to no instruction from the [prime minister’s office,even in cases of major countries. I had to take decisions based on a hunch. I sometimes got very,very broad directives. But I violated virtually all of them. The prime minister was a temperamental man who told me that politically it was suicide and that if it were made public,he would disown me. The fact that I got it right had a lot to do with luck.”

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