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Sub-structural Factors in Evolving Foreign Policy

Rajesh Rajagopalan

By Chris Ogden Series Editors: Sumit Ganguly and E. Sridharan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 257, Rs. 795.00


There is little doubt that domestic politi- cal ideologies, ideas and personalities play an important role in the foreign policies of states. We can hardly talk about Indian foreign policy without considering Jawaharlal Nehru’s personality or his ideological predilections, or for that matter that of others including Indira Gandhi or Morarji Desai. But it is also equally clear that somewhat more impersonal, structural forces are also at work. Though there are many continuities in Indian foreign policy since Independence, only a brave scholar would suggest that the end of the Cold War bipolar structure has had no impact on New Delhi’s international behaviour. Nevertheless, the current fashion in international relations theory, especially outside the United States, is to emphasize national, cultural, ideational and other sub-structural factors in understanding why states do what they do. In keeping with the fashion, Chris Ogden argues energetically in his new book that the Hindu nationalist ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) significantly altered Indian ‘security identity’ when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government ruled the country (1998-2004).   The question of how much impact the BJP had on Indian foreign and security policies while they were in power is an important one. The Vajpayee Government’s decision to conduct a nuclear test within weeks of taking over power, and in great secrecy, was seen by many as an indication of how Hindu nationalist ideology drove the BJP Government. Afterwards there would be much criticism that scholars, analysts and even intelligence agencies did not pay sufficient attention to the role that ideology played in the BJP’s foreign policy because the BJP had stated their objectives in as many words in their election manifesto.   However, was the decision to conduct the 1998 nuclear test a result of ideology or circumstance? The BJP’s ideology definitely appears to have had a role but the context cannot be ruled out either. In the aftermath of the 1995 indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the accelerating talks about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), there was a strong sense amongst the strategic community in New Delhi—including in the Government—that India needed to conduct nuclear tests and become an overt nuclear power. So much so that at least two previous governments in the three years before the 1998 tests considered the question seriously, though they ultimately decided against it. But the circumstances that led ...

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