In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indian Foreign Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • India’s Cold War Foreign Policy
  • India’s Post–Cold War Foreign Policy
  • Narendra Modi and Indian Foreign Policy
  • Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy
  • Ideology and Foreign Policy
  • National Security and Strategic Culture
  • Foreign Economic Policy
  • Soft Power and the Diaspora
  • India and Global Governance
  • India and Pakistan
  • India, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean
  • India and the Indo-Pacific
  • India and the United States
  • India and China

International Relations Indian Foreign Policy
Ian Hall
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0312


After India gained independence in 1947, New Delhi pursued an active foreign policy, seeking status and respect, trying to reform aspects of a Western-dominated international order, and aiming to safeguard its interests. Over time, the means used to achieve these ends have changed, as both the context with which India’s leaders have had to contend and its relative power and influence have shifted. In parallel, the actors involved in foreign policy inside and outside government and the policymaking processes have also changed. Today, New Delhi has four priorities: ensuring that India’s status as a major emerging power is respected by others; supporting the country’s economic and social development; enhancing national security, especially concerning China, Pakistan, and India’s immediate neighborhood; and acquiring the instruments of influence, including “soft power,” necessary to defend its interests and realize its aspirations. To pursue them, successive Indian leaders have engaged in extensive bilateral, mini-lateral, and multilateral summitry, pressing for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, and a greater say in global governance, from trade to climate change. Seeking to boost growth but protect key sectors of the economy and avoid dependence, successive governments have implemented various trade and investment policies, ranging from the restrictive to the more open. At the same time, they have tried to forge close relationships with states rich in the capital or resources India requires. Indian governments have tried to manage security challenges in similar ways: by pushing for action in multilateral settings, especially in the United Nations, to address terrorism, in particular; and by forging strategic partnerships with powerful states capable of supplying diplomatic support and defense technology. Finally, New Delhi has shown particular concern for leveraging India’s extraordinary cultural and religious inheritance, as well as past and present links with communities across the Indo-Pacific and beyond. The literature on all these topics is large. Much of it concentrates on the management of key bilateral relationships, especially with China, Pakistan, and the United States; tends to be historical in approach; focuses on the ideas and actions of leaders; and draws on the recollections of former politicians and officials. A growing body of work explores Indian foreign policy from different perspectives, using new theories and approaches; looks a broader range of policy areas and actors; and draws on new data from various sources.

General Overviews

There are many general overviews of aspects of India’s foreign policy. Some are more comprehensive than others, and they use a range of different perspectives to explain how foreign policy is made; to explore what shapes India’s approaches to different states, institutions, and issues; and to understand the evolution of key bilateral relationships. The most substantial and broad ranging recent general overview is Malone, et al. 2015. That volume includes sections on relevant theory, the history of India’s foreign policy, actors and institutions, important bilateral and regional relations, and India’s engagement with multilateral institutions. Beyond it, there are several other useful texts, including classic studies such as Bandyopadhyaya 2003, a sharp analysis by an Indian diplomat-turned-scholar first published in 1970, and Cohen 2001, a tour de force by a preeminent American analyst of South Asia’s international relations. Those two books, as well as Chacko 2013, look in depth at the worldviews of India’s elite and the ways in which ideas have shaped the ends and means of Indian foreign policy. Others, including Basrur and Sullivan de Estrada 2017 and Schaffer and Schaffer 2016, concentrate especially on India’s distinctive and long-standing preoccupation with status, as well as persistent insecurities, especially concerning the various threats to security and prosperity that lurk in India’s immediate region. Several edited collections provide helpful discussions of India’s dealings with the major powers, other South Asian states, and other parts of the world, including East Asia and the Middle East, with which it has increasingly important relationships. These include Bajpai and Pant 2013; Ganguly 2016; and Malone, et al. 2015—among many others. Finally, there are some general overviews of Indian foreign policy that focus especially on the ways in which established and new theories in international relations are opening up new ways of explaining New Delhi’s behavior. The edited volume Hansel, et al. 2017 is a landmark in this area, alongside Pant 2019. Both books also explore the emergence of new agendas in the practice of Indian foreign policy, including the growing concerns with development assistance and support for democratic governance, and with India’s widely spread and notably diverse diaspora.

  • Bajpai, Kanti, and Harsh V. Pant, eds. India’s Foreign Policy: A Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

    An invaluable collection of essays on Indian thinking about international relations, foreign policymaking, and a series of key relationships and issues.

  • Bandyopadhyaya, Jayantanuja. The Making of India’s Foreign Policy: Determinants, Institutions, Processes and Personalities. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 2003.

    A pioneering and still helpful study of how India’s foreign policy is made that explores both the ideological and institutional dimensions of policymaking.

  • Basrur, Rajesh, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada. Rising India: Status and Power. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315227825

    A short and sharp look at India’s rise to major power status in contemporary international relations, looking at New Delhi’s concerns and aspirations.

  • Chacko, Priya. Indian Foreign Policy: The Politics of Postcolonial Identity from 1947 to 2004. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203147733

    A rich and theoretically informed study of the ways in which India’s postcolonial identity has shaped its foreign policy since independence.

  • Cohen, Stephen P. India: Emerging Power. Washington, DC: Brookings, 2001.

    An accessible and authoritative guide to the domestic contexts in which foreign policy is made, India’s economic and military power, and its relationships with key states.

  • Ganguly, Šumit, ed. Engaging the World: Indian Foreign Policy since 1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    A useful set of essays looking in turn at a series of bilateral relationships, as well as India’s nuclear, economic, and energy policies.

  • Hansel, Mischa, Raphaëlle Khan, and Melissa Levaillant, eds. Theorizing Indian Foreign Policy. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

    A pathbreaking collection of essays applying a range of theories drawn from foreign policy analysis to the Indian case.

  • Malone, David M., C. Raja Mohan, and Srinath Raghavan, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Indian Foreign Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    A comprehensive collection of fifty essays written by leading experts covering every aspect of India’s foreign policy.

  • Pant, Harsh V., ed. New Directions in India’s Foreign Policy: Theory and Praxis. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    An innovative edited volume that explores new theoretical approaches to India’s foreign policy as well as emerging themes in its practice.

  • Schaffer, Teresita C., and Howard B. Schaffer. India at the Global High Table: The Quest for Regional Primacy and Strategic Autonomy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016.

    A perceptive study of India’s aims and aspirations in its region and the world, written by former United States diplomats with extensive experience of South Asia.

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