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Non Alignment As a Foreign Policy

Relevance of Non Alignment for India.

Please note that Non-Alignment as a foreign policy and Non Alignment Movement (NAM) are different concept. Please do not confuse them.

Non alignment is often termed as ‘Indian exceptionalism’. It has been India’s ‘grand strategy’ to protect its national interest.

According to Martand Jha, in his article DECODED: INDIA’S ROLE IN A MULTIPOLAR WORLD. Non alignment remained a highly ambiguous term as the Indian elites never attempted to explain the substance of the policy of non alignment. India never formally abandoned non alignment but there has always been a question mark on the status of India as a non aligned country. During cold war, India was in quasi-alliance with USSR, after cold war India has strengthened strategic partnership with USA to an extent that there is a huge inter operability between their armed forces.

During the time of cold war, the assertion of non alignment as a choice by India was termed by John Foster Dulles, the then US secretary of State as immoral, an example of Indian opportunism. It was also an example of Indian utopianism. India was trying to gain the best of the both worlds, without offering anything in return. India was soon to realize that there is no free lunch. Non alignment was India’s arrogance to challenge US hegemony. India was successful to some extent as it could build the coalition of non aligned nations also. US policymakers have always been allergic to the idea of non alignment. They never recognize the integrity of India’s status as a non aligned country. They viewed India as team B of USSR.
Stalin was more critical of non alignment in a very categorical manner. He held that ‘those who are not with us are against us’.

Non alignment was a new concept and at times the scholars of international politics compare non alignment with  1) USA’s policy of isolationism or  2) The policy of neutrality or equidistance adopted by some countries.
It is to be noted that non alignment should not be seen as an isolation or equidistance rather principled distance. The concept of non alignment of Nehru comes near to India’s concept of secularism. India declared that it will stay away from blocks. India will be strengthening international law and united nations.
Pandit Nehru clarified to Indian parliament that no government can sacrifice the national interest, not for the sake of ideology at all. According to him, non alignment was the policy most conducive for India’s national interest.

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Views of scholars

Aparna Pandey CHANAKYA TO MODI (Book)

Nehru aspired to play leadership role. India was weak militarily and economically. Non alignment was an option which allowed India 1) Maintain its independence yet be a part of world politics.  2) Maintain relationship with both the superpowers without coercion.

Michael Edwards.

He describes Nehru’s non alignment as ‘defence by friendship’. India had no option. Politically India was democracy so India could not join the communist block. Geopolitically India was in the periphery of communist block, so India could not invite aggression by communist block joining democratic countries

K Natwar Singh

Non alignment was a doctrine. It was never a dogma. There was enough flexibility in the idea which allowed India to maintain its independence rather than becoming camp follower. It would not have been wise if India had put ‘all eggs in one basket’.

Paul Power.

He gives the domestic reason for adopting non alignment. Domestic consensus in itself is a basis of sound foreign policy. Considering internal divisions e.g. Rightist favoured west, leftist favoured east, non alignment gave Nehru a free hand in handling divisive domestic approach on foreign policy.


Non alignment made good sense for India and it would have worked for India had Indian neighbours not joined with outside power.

Henry Kissinger THE WORLD ORDER (Book)

Though non alignment was irritating for USA, yet it was the best course of action which India could have followed.

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Present Status of Non Alignment

Throughout its history, except the phase of Pandit Nehru, India has never been genuinely non aligned. (C Rajamohan). Non alignment during cold war becamse synonymous with ‘reflexive anti Amricanism of south block’.
After cold war, the growing strategic partnership with USA again puts the questionmark on India’s itegrity towards non alignment. Among the political parties 1) Congress was favouring non alignment till cold war. Both right and left were against. 2) After cold war, both congress and right left non alignment, and the chief advocate of non alignment became left.  3) Congress maintained the rhetoric without substance. 4) BJP never had illusions with non alignment. Vajapeyi had no hesitation in openly calling USA and Israel as India’s natural allies. Similarly while describing the state of Indo-US relations, prime minister Modi had mentioned that the relationship has gone beyond ‘hesitations of history’. Similarly Modi and Israeli Prime Minister describe the relationship as a marriage conceived in heaven.

Modi’s Speech at Shangri La Dialogue 2018.

We see a shift from being too close to USA, India reasserting ‘strategic autonomy’. The speech also reflected India’s balancing act. On one side, he emphasized on the importance of cooperation with Russia and China, on the other hand he expressed India’s support to work with USA to maintain peace and rule based order in Indo-pacific. The more significant was Prime Minister praising Singapore for being ‘fair.’ ‘Singapore has taught the world that when nations do not take side, stand on principles, they earn respect.’ Modi is trying to rebalance. E.g. Modi’s informal summits with Russia and China at the time of trade war is an attempt to be seen as India’s strategic posturing. One of the most respected Indian daily (The Hindu) in its editorial titled FAMILIAR MOORINGS, it has held that India is striving for a  more balanced approach in an increasingly uncertain world. Modi appeared to rechannelize the Bandung spirit of 1955 which led to the emergence of NAM. Modi’s current posture reflect India returning to familiar moorings necessitated by ‘Shifting Plates’ of global politics and faultlines of history.
Accordign to South African experts, India is playing a delicate geo political game with US, Russia and China as their influence is waxing and waning across the continent.
According to the civil society experts, non alignement of cold war era, should be changed into a multiple alignment known as non alignment 2.0.
Martand Jha suggests that India should come up with the clearer idea about the essence of its policy of non alignment.
The essence of the policy is protecting India’s own national interest. If India joins any alliance which protects its core national interest, it does not contradict its status as non aligned. Since non alignment is a Nehruvian legacy, the rightist party, its officials prefer using the term strategic autonomy.

Test Your Knowledge!

1] Who is the author of the book ‘Chanakya to Modi’?
a) C. Rajamohan
b) Rajiv Sikri
c) Aparna Pandey
d) S.Jaishankar

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Ans: c) Aparna Pandey

2] Who termed Non Alignment Policy as ‘Defence by Friendship’?
a) Michael Edwards
b) Michael Sandel
c) Christope Jaffrelot
d) Alfred Mahan

Show Answer

Ans: a) Michael Edwards

3] Who is the author of the book ‘India on High Table of Diplomacy’
a) Christope Jaffrelot
b) Teresita Schaffer
c) C.Rajamohan
d) Rajiv Sikri

Show Answer

Ans: b) Teresita Schaffer

4] The term ‘Indian Exceptionalism’ is often used to refer
a) Non Alignment
b) Tilt towards USSR
c) Tilt towards US
d) Indian Secularism

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Ans: a) Non Alignment

5] Who is the author of the book ‘The World Order’?
a) Robert D. Kaplan
b) Michael Sandel
c) Christope Jaffrelot
d) Henry Kissinger

Show Answer

Ans: d) Henry Kissinger

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Posted in PSIR 2A, PSIR 2B

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