International Relations

Indian foreign policy: A pole unto itself

Whose side is India really on has become a more frequent and recurrent topic as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the conflict between Russia, the United States, and the West. In this conflict, is India supporting the U.S./West or Russia?

Issue with India taking the either side

  • India opposes both sides: When major powers seek India’s backing in geopolitical conflicts like the one over Ukraine, they run into a recalcitrant India that is unwilling to follow orders.
  • India is not a satellite state: India’s reluctance stems from a sense of self that sees it as a pole in the international system, not a satellite state or a camp follower. This sense of self, rather than being stubborn, is the true cause of India’s reluctance.
  • India has a different position than two poles: India refuses to take sides because it views itself as a side whose interests are not accounted for by other camps or poles.
  • India envisions a multipolar world: New Delhi’s repeated calls for a multipolar society are in line with this idea of itself as a pole in a multipolar society.

India as a different pole in international affairs

  • No dominance in south Asia: India sees itself differently as a pole. Even when it had the ability, it never actively tried to dominate the South Asian regional subsystem.
  • NATO is the only alliance: It has exhibited poor balancing behaviour, refusing to forge traditional coalitions or look for camp followers or allegiances. In fact, even its sporadic behaviour of striking a balance (such as the 1971 India-Soviet Treaty during the Bangladesh War) was dependent on circumstances.
  • It believes it has a strategic periphery in South Asia, where it has a legitimate claim to supremacy, but South Asia is not a strategic peripheral region.
  • It discourages meddling by other nations in that region and forbids interference in south Asia.
  • India frequently tends to speak for “underprivileged collectives,” whether they are actual (South Asia) or abstract (NAM, poor countries, global south, etc.) in varied degrees. India also supports the rule of law and regional stability.

What can the rest of the world learn from India’s status as a pole?

  • India as unique player in international system: India frequently adopts stances that not only serve its interests but are also motivated by its perception of being a unique player on the world stage, as evidenced by its recent or previous statements on matters of international significance, including the conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine, the air campaign in Serbia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and climate change.
  • Treating India as a partner rather than a cheerleader requires Western nations to view India as a partner. India should be included in international organisations like the UNSC, and they should consult India rather than telling it which side to support.


India will work to further establish itself as a significant pole in the international system and resist calls to support one side or the other while it holds the G20 and SCO chairs in 2022. As a result, people who want to collaborate with India on a worldwide scale must understand how to handle the ‘India’s pole’.

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