Describe briefly the ‘Realist’ view of Indian foreign policy.

 Describe briefly the ‘Realist’ view of Indian foreign policy.

The realm of international relations is a complex interplay of power, interests, and strategic maneuvering among nations. In the case of India, a diverse and rapidly growing nation, its foreign policy approach has been shaped by various schools of thought. One prominent perspective is the realist view, which emphasizes state-centric behavior, power politics, and national interest. India's foreign policy journey began with its commitment to non-alignment during the Cold War era. Led by Jawaharlal Nehru, India emphasized maintaining equidistance from superpower blocs to preserve its sovereignty and independence. This non-alignment policy allowed India to engage with multiple countries, pursuing its interests while avoiding entanglements in global conflicts. Describe briefly the ‘Realist’ view of Indian foreign policy. 

India's immediate neighborhood holds significant importance in its foreign policy priorities. Striving for regional stability, India engages in forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC to promote cooperation, connectivity, and economic growth in South Asia. Addressing cross-border terrorism and managing complex relationships with neighbors like China and Pakistan remain ongoing challenges. India's foreign policy strategy also extends to forging global partnerships and participating in international organizations. Its relationship with the United States has evolved from a historically distant one to a strategic partnership encompassing defense cooperation, trade, and technology collaboration. India's active involvement in forums like G20, United Nations, and BRICS reflects its commitment to multilateralism and addressing global challenges.

Realism in Indian Foreign Policy:

The ‘strategic community’ is intertwined closely and shares state power more than others; for example, the business community—although the influence of the business is on the rise in the wake of the economic liberalisation and is evident in the formation of various government-business consultative mechanisms. Also, sectors in the middle echelons of the afore-mentioned six identifiable groups while do not influences they, at best, legitimise policy at the popular level. This should not be surprising. For, foreign policy and diplomacy invariably remain the handiwork of the elite. India’s ‘strategic community’ operates, more or less, within the parameters of political realism or simply realism. The ‘strategic community’ perceives itself as being pragmatic, responsible and experienced, and is oriented to practical problem-solving. The ‘strategic community’ does not function in an ad hoc fashion nor are its responses ad hoc or “knee-jerk” responses. To the contrary, the ‘strategic community’ is conscious of the fundamental goals and means at its disposal for the realisation of foreign policy objectives. Political realism entails the view of power as the basis of inter-state relations, which are seen normally in conflictual modes, with each state seeking to pursue egoistically its own interests. Neo-realism recognises the primacy of politics but concedes that international order based on the convergence of interests among actors, and not conflict alone, is the basis of international relations. With the above in view, at least, three goals can be identified with paramount importance attached to the goal of external national security and internal national unity. Describe briefly the ‘Realist’ view of Indian foreign policy. 

The two other goals are leadership at least within the region and at a larger Third World level; and a place in the comity of nation-states appropriate to India’s size, stature and capabilities. Two assumptions underlie the approach: one, security of Indian state is paramount and is, best subsumed, as ‘national interest’. All other elements and goals are subordinate to this basic national interest. It is the leitmotif or the guiding factor of all political and strategic thinking and planning. It is to be noted that the term security is defined essentially in political-military terms. The assumption is that a physically and militarily secure nation-state is a Sine qua non of the well-being and unity of the society.

The realist perspective of Indian foreign policy revolves around several key principles:

  • National Interest: Realism posits that states act to maximize their own interests in a self-interested manner. For India, this implies safeguarding its territorial integrity, economic growth, and national security.
  • Power Politics: Realism accentuates the role of power and the quest for it in international relations. India's realist approach involves enhancing its strategic capabilities to strengthen its position in the global arena.
  • Balance of Power: Realists believe in maintaining equilibrium among major powers to prevent any single power from dominating the international system. India has historically pursued a non-alignment policy to avoid alignment with any superpower bloc.
  • Security Dilemma: Realists recognize the security dilemma, where the pursuit of security by one state can lead to insecurity for others. India's focus on strengthening its defense capabilities and nuclear deterrence aligns with this principle.
  • Pragmatism: Realism emphasizes practicality and pragmatism in foreign policy decisions. India has displayed a pragmatic approach by engaging with various nations, even those with differing ideologies.

Historical Context:

India's realist approach to foreign policy can be traced back to its post-independence period, characterized by the principles of non-alignment under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. Despite advocating non-alignment, Nehru's policy was rooted in realist thinking as he aimed to protect India's sovereignty, diversify its international partnerships, and maintain strategic autonomy. The 1962 Sino-Indian War and the 1965 India-Pakistan war further reinforced the need for a realist outlook, as these conflicts highlighted the importance of military strength and national security.

Contemporary Examples of Realist Approach:

India's foreign policy in recent years continues to reflect realist principles, evident in its engagements on the global stage:

Strategic Partnerships: India's strategic partnerships with countries like the United States, Russia, and Israel showcase its realist pursuit of enhancing security and technology capabilities. The defense agreements with the U.S. for advanced military equipment and technology transfer exemplify this pragmatic pursuit of national interest.

Balancing Act with China: India's approach to China reflects a realist perspective. While aiming for economic cooperation, India also invests in its military capabilities along its northern border, especially after the 2017 Doklam standoff. This strategy balances economic interests with the need to secure its territorial integrity.

Regional Hegemony: India's role in South Asia demonstrates a realist inclination. Its engagement in the region is motivated by the desire to prevent any single country from becoming a dominant power. For instance, India's involvement in regional forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC aims to balance regional power dynamics.

Counterterrorism Cooperation: India's collaborations with various countries in counterterrorism efforts align with realist interests. Shared concerns about global terrorism have led India to cooperate with nations like the United States and Israel to enhance its intelligence capabilities and counter extremist threats.

While the realist perspective has guided India's foreign policy effectively in many instances, it is not without challenges and criticisms. Some critics argue that a purely realist approach can undermine ethical considerations and human rights concerns. For instance, India's engagement with certain countries with questionable human rights records may raise concerns about prioritizing strategic interests over values. Striking the right balance between realist calculations and ethical considerations remains a persistent challenge. As the international landscape evolves, so too must India's foreign policy approach. The realist perspective does not dictate a static set of actions but rather a framework that can be adapted to changing circumstances. The rise of non-state actors, transnational challenges like climate change, and technological advancements necessitate a level of flexibility in policy-making. India's engagement in international forums addressing climate change and its participation in cyber diplomacy highlight its willingness to adapt its realist stance to these emerging challenges.


The realist perspective of Indian foreign policy stands as a pragmatic and strategically driven approach. Rooted in the pursuit of national interest, power politics, and maintaining a balance of power, India's foreign policy decisions are underpinned by realist principles. From historic events like the non-alignment policy of Nehru to contemporary engagements with major powers, India's actions on the global stage reflect the essence of realism. As India's stature continues to rise, its realist outlook will likely remain a guiding force in shaping its foreign policy decisions. Describe briefly the ‘Realist’ view of Indian foreign policy. 



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