A file photo of PM Modi at a BRICS summit

The Asian region’s steady rise to economic, political and military dominance in the current world order is bound to have substantial foreign policy implications for the global South in particular. For the more prominent of the region’s powers these foreign policy dilemmas could prove to be considerably challenging.

This is particularly so in the case of India, which is, of course, one of Asia’s predominant powers. Brought down to its basics, one of the principal foreign policy dilemmas for India consists in its having to maintain productive and cordial ties with the West while simultaneously conducting unruffled relations with the East, which is today mainly synonymous with China and Russia. At a time when the West is keen on alienating Russia in particular over issues resulting from its invasion of Ukraine, such tight rope walking in the conduct of a state’s foreign policy is unlikely to prove entirely trouble-free.

Of particular significance in this connection is the fact that India is currently the chairman of the G20, which grouping encompasses the most notable powers of both East and West. It will be up to India to ensure that the best interests of these states are served on an equitable basis. Neither the East nor the West could be seen as being favoured by India when it steers the G20 grouping forwards.

On the other hand, India is a member of the Western-oriented QUAD grouping, for instance, whose principal policy aim is to blunt the influence and power of China in the Southern hemisphere. The international politics watcher cannot be faulted for wondering how India would be aiming to reconcile the contradictory foreign policy aims that emanate from its simultaneous membership of the G20 and Quad, to consider two such international actors of note.

For example, how successfully could India ignore calls by the West that it condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and that it alerts itself to China’s perceived aggression in the South China Sea in connection with the Taiwan question? The latter issue in particular is central to the West’s mounting tensions with China and could prove the tipping point in an East-West military confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region.

On the other hand, the West could be expected to keep intact and smooth its ties with India. It cannot afford to fall out of favour with democratic India, considering that the latter is a chief ally of the West in the South and South-east Asian theatres in particular. Put simply, India’s steady rise to predominance as an economic, political and military power renders her invaluable to both East and West.

Neither East nor West would be doing themselves any good by ignoring India’s presence or by working against her vital interests. Ironically, India is seen as a chief ally by both East and West.

This unique position would enable India to leverage her influence with both hemispheres in the protection and perpetuation of her national interest in the present international political order. As some have suggested, India could be a vital bridge between East and West. Moreover, it follows from this premise that India could use her good offices to ease off tensions between these competing regions of the world.

However, crucially, she could be an authentic voice for the global South and ensure that the latter’s best interests are secured. Hopefully, the latter aim would be receiving the fullest attention of India in the days ahead.

A feature of the prevailing international political and economic order that ought to be of engrossing interest to the South in particular is the steadily mounting and intensifying economic and military strength, in competitive fashion, of both East and West or of North and South. These characteristics make it necessary for the developing world to follow a Non-aligned foreign policy, regardless of whether the South prefers it that way or not.

The following data ought to be of interest in this connection: By 2019, the GDP of China, India, Japan and Indonesia, for example, were as follows: $21.42T, $8.70T, $5.27T and $3.03T. In contrast, the corresponding figures for the US, Germany, the United Kingdom and France were: $18.57T, $4.03T, $2.80T and $2.77T. (See ‘The Future is Asian’ by Parag Khanna, p10, a Weidenfeld & Nicolson publication, 2019). It is clear that from the viewpoint of economic strength, the East excels the West.

However, it would be naïve on the part of the global South to dismiss the West as being on the wane, in terms of economic growth and dynamism. The West’s economic fortunes are by no means on a dramatic decline and policy and decision-makers the world over would need to focus on this fact, as the international system evolves.

Since the majority of Southern countries do not enjoy the influence and power of, for instance, India or Japan they would need to craft their foreign policies in the short and medium terms, bearing in mind that both the East and West are of equal importance to them from the stand point of economic growth. Non-alignment, thus, continues to be of importance to the South.

However, it would smack of policy shortsightedness on the part of the South in particular not to be cognizant of the fact that the future belongs considerably to the more growth-oriented countries of its region, particularly those that are currently grouped under the BRICS category. As this is being written the news is that more and more countries of the South are opting to join the BRICS grouping. Some of these are: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Accordingly, the longer term interests of the poorer countries of the South would lie in their seeking to tie-up with the BRICS countries’economies, since the latter grouping has emerged as an economic power house of the South. Likewise, the BRICS’ willingness to work towards the legitimate needs of the poor of the South shapes-up as an acid test of its credentials as a group of states that is driven by a progressive vision.

Current complex developments in the international sphere, some of which have been above outlined, ought to drive home the point to the poor countries of the South in particular that simplistic thinking in the formulation of foreign policy is a luxury they could ill-afford. Policy thinking would need to be based on substantive research that factors in the short, medium and long term interests of poor countries.