[lg policy] Reforming India’s foreign policy apparatus

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Aug 15 11:04:06 EDT 2016


Reforming India’s foreign policy apparatus

The numbers and skill sets of India’s foreign service are woefully out of
sync with the global role that the political leadership envisages for the
country
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*W.P.S. Sidhu <http://www.livemint.com/Search/Link/Author/W.P.S.%20Sidhu>*
[image: India, particularly under the Narendra Modi government, has sought
to influence global developments through a series of initiatives. Photo:
Reuters]
India, particularly under the Narendra Modi government, has sought to
influence global developments through a series of initiatives. Photo:
Reuters

As India moves towards its seventh decade of Independence, it faces a
defining period and its future is increasingly intertwined with
developments in the international arena. As the world’s biggest democracy
and the world’s seventh largest economy, membership of the G-20 and BRICS,
increasing clout in international financial institutions, growing
acceptance as a nuclear-armed state, and impressive UN peacekeeping
credentials, India’s status as a global power is not just recognized but
increasingly institutionalized.

Additionally, geopolitical and geo-economic shifts have created
simultaneous opportunities and challenges: the opening with the US; the
rise of China and Beijing’s efforts to block India’s global accommodation;
the so-called Arab Spring and its aftermath; and the growing international
tussles over climate, cyber, energy, food, the oceans and outer space.

India, particularly under the Narendra Modi government, has sought to
influence global developments through a series of initiatives, such as
Neighbourhood First, Act East, Think West, SAGAR and the India-Africa
Forum. India’s foreign policy apparatus, particularly the Indian Foreign
Service (IFS), has so far done a valiant job to follow up these
initiatives. But is the IFS fit to serve India’s interests for the next
decade and beyond?

The short answer, according to the latest report of the parliamentary
standing committee on external affairs chaired by Shashi Tharoor, is:
probably not.

Consider the following: First, India’s foreign service has the smallest
number of diplomats among the G-20 and BRICS countries. While the foreign
ministry argues that its “pool of about 2,700 diplomatic rank officers”
(which includes attachés, diplomatic secretarial staff, officers from other
ministries and interpreters) is comparable to the 4,500 diplomats of China,
2,000 of Brazil, and 1,300 of New Zealand, this is a clever fudge. Were
attachés, secretarial staff and other officials included in the figures of
China and Brazil, their numbers would be much higher.

In reality, according to the report, the total number of IFS officers is
772—140 short of the sanctioned strength of 912 officers, making it one of
the smallest.

Second, there is a serious disconnect between the foreign policy
requirements of the country and the language skills of India’s diplomatic
corps. For instance, of the 772 IFS officers, only 569 have proficiency in
any non-Indian language, leaving 203 diplomats with no foreign language
ability whatsoever.

The report cites “anecdotal evidence of Indian Ambassadors in
Arabic-speaking countries being handicapped by their lack of knowledge of
Arabic, and similar examples in a variety of countries”.

Worse, there is an even greater disconnect between the foreign policy
priorities and language skills. While the government has prioritized its
Neighbourhood First policy, there is not a single diplomat with proficiency
in either Bhutanese, Dari or Nepalese and a mere two with knowledge of
Pushtu and only three diplomats with ability in Sinhalese.

Similarly, both the Act East and Think West initiatives are poorly served
by the lack of local language proficiency. This will, doubtless, adversely
impact India’s ability to advance its interests.

China is the only priority country that is adequately served by
language-proficient diplomats. As many as 75 Indian diplomats have
proficiency in Chinese, but even this is the result of a bias within the
IFS towards five UN languages—French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.
Here too, Chinese is the least-known language among the five UN languages.

The lack of numbers and inadequate language is most evident in Africa (a
continent of increasing import for India), where over two dozen embassies
remain headless for want of diplomats and most of the diplomats serving
there have no knowledge of the local language.

Clearly, the numbers and skill sets of India’s foreign service are woefully
out of sync with the global role that the political leadership envisages
for the country.

The committee’s report offers a series of practical and evolutionary steps
to remedy the existing situation.

Until the recommendations are implemented and the situation is rectified,
India—and the foreign service—will keep punching well below its weight.

*W.P.S. Sidhu is a senior fellow at the New York University’s Center on
International Cooperation*


*http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/WqHd7trJl2oWXBwv0QAe8N/Reforming-Indias-foreign-policy-apparatus.html
<http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/WqHd7trJl2oWXBwv0QAe8N/Reforming-Indias-foreign-policy-apparatus.html>*


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