Book review: by Prateep K. Lahiri

The book edited by SRINIVASAN, MAYALL & PULIPAKA is a collection of essays that seek to examine the co-relation of moral values or ethical principles with foreign policies pursued by countries across Continents. The brilliantly written Introduction describes the value systems that have evolved in different Continents and regions and the sets the stage for examining the extent to which the same impact the foreign policies pursued by the countries. Thus, the Western value system emphasizes individual rights to free speech and association, property, safeguards against tyranny of the states and these have been exported as standards in international law biosafety, labour, environment, etc.

Unlike the West, Asia has greater political, religious, economic, cultural and ethnic diversity and different countries of the Continent do not share the same evolutionary path that led to absorption of these values in their ethos. The one common thread running through the Asian countries is their shared antipathy to colonialism. Religion had greater impact in shaping Asian value systems than in the West. Thus, religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and other spiritual traditions emphasize social obligations, such as hard work, thrift, respect for ancestors, elders and so on. Societal values have only tenuous relationship with foreign policy and traditional Asian cultures and have not prevented democratic transformations in cases of South Asian countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, though the same cannot be said of Myanmar and Thailand. Asians are not comfortable with the West’s belief in freedom over discipline and individual over the community.

It is noteworthy that though European states acknowledge the importance of religious faiths, foreign policies pursued by them are secular. In the context of the turmoil that India is currently passing through, it is noteworthy that the European countries such as Belgium, France, Britain and Spain find that the secular dimensions of the policies they have followed is under challenge because of attacks by Extremists.

The chapter on values in US foreign policy by William J. Antholis is especially interesting because it analyses the remarkable shift we are witnessing today in American foreign policy. The country grew to global pre-eminence while embracing universal values and ignoring the ideology of America First, but now under Trump, with his declaration ‘From the moment on, it’s going to be America First’, the country is attempting to make a clean break from the evolutionary path its foreign policy followed hitherto.
Of considerable interest to us is the chapter on the foreign policy of China, our formidable neighbour, which officially takes inspiration from Marxian ideology and at the same time, is attached to Chinese traditional culture, values and methods of thinking. In pursuing its foreign policy while it generally acts peacefully and respects the United Nations, it sedulously pursues the objective of extending its influence through initiatives such as its ‘One Belt One Road’.

The chapter on values in Indian Foreign Policy by Krishnan Srinivasan has topical relevance for us. He traces its evolution from the time of our independence, when it was crafted by Prime Minister Nehru, to be firmly anchored to values-based principles derived from religious traditions, struggle against Imperialism and Racialism and the legacy of Gandhi’s non-violent freedom movement, to this day when, under Narendra Modi, a new assertiveness is in evidence, with emphasis on symbols of patriotism and respect for the Military.

Nehru’s contribution to India’s adoption of its values-based foreign policy was of seminal nature. It was based on the countries long standing religious tradition and the legacy of the non-violent struggle for Independence. Nehru did not like the description of the foreign policy as being ‘neutral’. He preferred to describe it as ‘independent’. At a time when the countries of the World were divided into two blocs, headed by USA and USSR respectively, India under Nehru’s leadership virtually became the progenitor of the policy of Non-alignment with either of the two inimical blocs. At that time India pulled its weight in international affairs, well beyond what was warranted by its Economic or Military strength.

In his Conclusion, Srinivasan points out, perceptively, that ‘Modi is a modern man heading the BJP, a party that looks to a putative Vedic past before the Muslim invasions when there was within safe and extended borders of an Akhand Bharat a coherent cultural Hindutva connect of peace and harmony’. In the days to come it would be interesting to observe how in implementing our foreign policies these rather dichotomous imperatives are reconciled. Foreign Minister Jaishankar has the task certainly cut out for him.

Through the Introduction and the following 14 chapters, authored by scholars and experts, the subject of values and their co-relation with foreign policies pursued by countries, across the globe, has indeed been comprehensively treated. However, the lay reader would have benefited if, in an overall Conclusion, an analysis had been provided as to the extent to which the inherited and accepted values of the countries and regions have been adopted, modified or circumvented altogether, in the formulation and implementation of their foreign policies.

Book : Values in Foreign Polic Investigating Ideals and Interests

Edited by
Krishnan Srinivasan
James Mayall
Sanjay Pulipaka

Published by : Rowman & Littlefield