Indian Diplomacy in complex and uncertain Environment

Following excerpts adapted from the remarks  by Harsh V Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India on “India’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Covid World: New Vulnerabilities, New Opportunities”, Public Affairs Forum of India

We meet in the shadow of the pandemic that has changed the course of contemporary history. It has been a period of extraordinary stresses and shocks. We have been affected by an exceptionally severe second wave. It has abated but not yet gone.

We have dealt with unprecedented economic stress; experienced severe social disruptions and distress; and have been dealing with the unknown and the uncertain in this period.

We have had to deal with the disruption caused by the pandemic in different sectors. However, as the Prime Minister said earlier this week, “disruption does not have to mean despair. Instead, we must keep the focus on the twin foundations of repair and prepare.” In the last one year, we have seen a great collective effort to overcome the challenges that we are facing. Our scientists have produced vaccines and know more about the virus and the dangers that it poses. Businesses have adapted; economic and logistical systems have withstood extreme stress; and technology has enabled creation of new paradigms in education, social equations and commerce.

At a broader diplomatic level we have a keener awareness of the uncertainty that pervades the entire global system. The uncertainty has altered geopolitical and geoeconomic conduct. Speaking recently, External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar spoke of the dimensions along which perceptions and calculations of nations have changed. These include: trust and transparency; heightened risk aversion; the awareness that global scale capacities are needed to deal with pandemic scale challenges; and decentralization and de-risking of globalization.

Confidence in globalization has taken a hit. What is often termed as the “global system” for lack of a better word is seen as inadequate to the challenges posed by the pandemic. In fact, to some, globalization has become a part of the problem. It is seen as a vulnerability.

One particular element of the globalized world, global value chains and supply chains, has acquired prominence not just in business circles but also at the political level. There is a general belief that these chains may have caused dependencies.

These new vulnerabilities and challenges have altered the diplomatic environment. We often hear that the pandemic has accelerated already visible trends. Even before the pandemic struck, we were a part of an increasingly more complex and globalized international system with many moving parts.

It is also a system that is in rapid transition.

Diplomacy has traditionally been about control over territory, populations and resources. These were the determinants of national power. Science and technology and the industrial revolution introduced economic factors such as markets and finance into foreign policy calculations. Geoeconomics intersected with Geopolitics. This combination, and the Cold War divide, drove much of diplomacy after World War II. The fall of the Berlin War settled the Cold War.

The digital revolution and new technologies have added a new axis of geotechnology to the intersection of geopolitics and geoeconomics. National power today is more about technology and about systems and processes rather than territory.

We also inhabit a world in which centers of diplomatic gravity are in very rapid transition. For the first time in centuries, Asia is beginning to drive the global economy. Politically, the bipolar order that prevailed during the Cold War gave way to a unipolar system following collapse of the USSR. A further transition is underway as this unipolar world order moves to a multipolar system. Our Missions abroad, where required, also reached out to original suppliers in various countries to expedite shipments of critical items.Vaccines have complex supply chains. We have worked to ease regulatory disruptions to these supply chains by diplomatic interventions with some of our key partners.

We have adapted rapidly to virtual diplomacy. Our high level engagements at the bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral levels have continued in the virtual mode. In recent months, the Prime Minister has participated in the G7 Summit; India-EU Leaders’ meeting; first Quad Summit; and Leaders’ Summit on Climate. These engagements have been accompanied by regular virtual and telephonic conversations with leaders of partner countries, including the US, Russia, UK and Japan.

Indian diplomacy as you can see is adjusting to this complex and uncertain environment. It is doing so with agility and flexibility. We have to think and act innovatively and to adapt at the conceptual and operational levels.

The challenge before us is to create capacities to deal with unexpected and catastrophic events. We have to be able to repurpose organizations at very short notice to deal with unexpected challenges. Existing hierarchies and structures are often unable to cope with such challenges and may require re-engineering.The larger diplomatic operating environment has become immeasurably more complex. Diplomatic calculations earlier were made on the basis of ideological binaries or fairly straightforward balance of power equations.

Today’s environment is highly complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Binaries and simple equations have been, to use an analogy, replaced by complicated algorithms.

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