Last week, Hillary Clinton achieved a rare but significant milestone. When her US Air Force C-32A touched down at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, after a 13-day journey through France-Afghanistan-Japan-Mongolia-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia-Egypt-Israel. She, as Secretary of State, has spent 351 days travelling to 102 countries and has flown a whopping 843,839 miles or 1,358,027 kilometers. That's more than 3 times the distance from Earth to the Moon!
That is the importance that the United States gives to its foreign policy. They prefer to hover over and intervene when necessary.
Closer home, China, too, is far too proactive in diplomacy. A clear pattern is emerging. China would diplomatically engage with countries that can give it energy security, right of access to natural resources, shipping lanes and technology. China makes its clout felt by emerging as a "significant" lender to governments across the globe, including the United States. China has been a big force in Africa and the Pacific. While their African gameplan has emerged clearly, I would imagine they are cultivating relationships with tiny Pacific islands to get access to the mineral-rich seabed, obtain shipping rights and develop military bases within the next 20-30 years.
In contrast, Indian foreign policy follows the classic "Bury your head in the sand" ostrich syndrome. Don't acknowledge any problem till it becomes too big to ignore and when it does, look for an easy face-saver. And when the situation is normal, when there is no crisis, engage in armchair diplomacy.
Numbers clearly show the rot that is setting in - India has less than 700 diplomats spread across the headquarters in New Delhi, 119 resident missions and 49 consulates around the world. This compares very poorly with other nations in the G-20. Brazil has 1,197 diplomats. The biggies in the list are United States has 19,667 diplomats. Germany has 3,250 and the UK has 3,600 diplomats. I suspect China too would have at least 2-3 times the number of diplomats we have.
It's sad that India pays lip service to foreign policy. We have a "rehabilitated" gentleman at the helm of foreign affairs who is more concerned about his own genteel looks rather than the way India is perceived abroad. His former deputy has just completed a book "Pax Indica" on his years in the foreign service, but sadly in his stunted term he could do little to give us the stature that we deserve in the minds of foreigners as an upcoming superpower. (I am yet to get my copy of Pax Indica.)
A classic failure of India's foreign policy has been the Iran standoff. India should have and could have maneuvered itself into the position of a mediator, for we have good relations with both Iran and the United States. But our heads were buried in the sand, as always.
Come to think of it, India has immense potential for soft power, something that I had written about in July 2010, that can be capitalised on by our foreign office to the benefit of India. The way to a credible and sustainable foreign policy that straddles the world and serves India's long term geopolitical, security and strategic interests is through the hearts of foreigners. To achieve that, Indian foreign service has to reach out - it should have the budgets to expand its numbers and reach. And the foreign minister has to build bridges - he should drive Indian interests abroad. But with the little focus India's polity has on foreign affairs, it is too much to expect our foreign minister to log even a mere 5 percent of what Hillary does.
Asking for a credible foreign policy from such a political structure that is far too self-serving and concerned about mere survival is just too much. We just lack that vision.
I presume the term Pax Indica is akin to Pax Americana, a term that has come to denote the influence that the United States arising out of its military and economic clout in relation to other nations. A quick reality check would reveal we are nowhere close! Pax Indica is still a distant dream.