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Determinants of Foreign Policy


A country's foreign policy is not created in a vacuum; it is influenced by the country's history, culture, political system, and other elements. Some of them, such as geography and natural boundaries, stay unaltered, but others, such as the internal and external environment, undergo regular and sometimes irreversible change. It is possible to understand elements of continuity and change in a country's foreign policy by referencing the significant effect of these causes and forces. The impact of these elements on the foreign affairs of nations need not be consistent throughout space and time; it varies from country to country and circumstance to circumstance.


The primary objective of India's foreign policy is to preserve and advance national interest in terms of safeguarding the country's political independence and advancing its external security. As a nation that achieved independence from colonial domination, India desires a foreign policy that does not compromise its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Even Morgenthau would agree that the National Interest governs the purpose of Foreign Policy, whether it is India or any other nation. National Interest is dynamic and so is foreign policy.

India has attempted to adhere to the idea of avoiding the use of force in resolving disputes with other nations. Indeed, it favours peaceful approaches such as dialogue, negotiation, and diplomacy for reducing disagreements and lowering tensions between nations. India has always actively supported the development of international law to regulate various problematic aspects of world affairs. India has been a staunch supporter of strengthening the United Nations and other global and regional organisations as instruments for promoting international cooperation and harmony.

Determinants of Foreign Policy


India's geography has shaped its foreign policy. India is the seventh-largest country in the world . On its north lie the Himalayas. It has 15,000 km of land borders with Pakistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh,Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Three sides of India have 7,500 km of Indian Ocean coastline. Most of India's international commerce is conducted across the Indian Ocean, and Indian harbours see extensive traffic from or to Europe, West Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, highlighting the ocean's geopolitical and geostrategic importance to India's external ties. India's foreign policy recognises the necessity to protect its northern borders and territorial seas in the Indian Ocean from foreign military buildup. India's extensive coastline requires a strong navy and close ties with neighbouring Indian Ocean naval forces. Indo- Pacific is coming to play a major part in the 21st century given the emergence of China's authoritarianism and interference.

India, in South Asia, is at Asia's heart. Despite being attacked by China and Pakistan, India wants to keep communication lines open. India wants amicable resolutions with its neighbours. India's security and critical interests are strongly tied to peace and stability in Asia, since it is the gateway to both South-East Asia and West Asia. India has strong ties with regional powers like Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, etc. India is establishing commercial and strategic links with ASEAN( Act East Policy).

"You can change your friends, but not neighbours."~ Atal Bihari Vajpayee

History and Culture

As mentioned above history has played an imperative role, because of Colonial experience India has strongly favoured sovereignty and integrity. India helped Afro-Asian states get independence.

A. Appadorai argues that the British rule in India had a dual effect on India's foreign policy. First, it stimulated the national drive for independence, which led to India's support for the emancipation of dependent peoples; second, the existence of racial disparity under British rule compelled India to eradicate the problems of racial discrimination.

The legacy of an ancient civilisation and culture also helped in foreign policy formulation. The traditional values of Vasudheva Kutumbakam—One World—have come down to the people of India from the ancient scriptures and the spiritual works of great men like Swami Vivekananda. Tolerance, nonviolence, and universal brotherhood shaped India's foreign policy.

A. Appadorai, was “the deliberate acceptance of a method of approach to foreign policy problems which emphasised reconciliation, and the temper of peace, as opposed to a spirit of revenge and hatred.”


Possession of raw materials and natural resources, as well as the imperatives of economic growth, influence the course of a nation's foreign policy. A nation's capacity to play an influence and effective role in international affairs might be hindered by its low economic prominence. India is a storehouse of vast natural resources with great potential for achieving economic heights in development.

Also noteworthy, India's heavy reliance on oil for industrial and economic needs has led to a focus on relations with oil-rich Arab countries in West Asia, in addition to efforts to maintain stable oil supplies and prices on the global market.

On a separate level, the economic circumstances of the nation give inputs for India's foreign policy to advocate for the reduction of economic gaps between developed and less developed countries and for the expansion of economic links among developing countries.


The personal qualities of leaders guiding the destiny of a nation at a given time tend to shape that country’s foreign policy in a particular direction. Who can deny the importance of Woodrow Wilson and Mikhail Gorbachev in shaping the foreign policy of the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively, in the early decades of the 20th century.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was widely regarded as an internationalist with a preference for an enlightened, rather than narrow or self-centered, approach to solving problems. Indeed, he was recognised as one of the greatest visionaries of his day. Consequently, India's foreign policy under his administration was more oriented to the common welfare of the international community in regards to issues such as global peace and disarmament. Panchsheel was a prominent example of the Nehruvian method to dealing with international issues.

The impact of Indira Gandhi, stands in stark contrast. She was a forceful and determined personality by nature. Her preference for pragmatism and sensitivity to the imperatives of important national interests influenced the reorientation of foreign policy towards realism rather than idealism.

Domestic Milieu

No nation's foreign policy is immune to the effect of its internal dynamics. Indeed, it is a significant factor in determining foreign policy. The domestic milieu includes, among other things, the nature of the governing system, the political culture, including the policies of political parties, public opinion, etc. tradition, system of government, and enlightened leadership.

Public opinion conveyed through media and other channels and the activities of interest/pressure groups such as the friendship societies or the business associations have gained importance in determining India's foreign policy.

International Milieu

At every given period, the broad currents of international politics have direct influence on foreign policy. In the post-cold war period, the rising worldwide awareness of terrorism and human rights (combined with the widespread demands of self-determination) necessitated revisions to India's foreign policy. Currently, Climate Change, Data Protection, and Freedom of Expression have acquired significance in the backdrop of social media.


India's foreign policy seeks to promote goodwill, particularly among smaller states; it attempts to play the role of big brother rather than bully. This ethos was envisioned in the Gujral Doctrine, which states that India must provide assistance to its neighbours without seeking reciprocity. Consistent with this, India has assisted Bhutan with hydropower projects and assisted Sri Lanka through its economic crisis. India while ensuring it’s sovereignty acts to further its national interest and avoids bandwagoning. It has successfully balanced bigger powers since the Cold War times and is now growing to establish its social and political stature as an emerging power not only in South Asia but globally.

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