India International Relationships

India International Relationships

In India, foreign policy issues usually only play a subordinate role. Rather, the focus is on regional and national issues. This focus on regional or national topics is clearly evident in the reporting in the country’s regional and English-language newspapers.

Basic motifs

After independence in 1947, India began to pursue its own foreign policy. India was one of the spokesmen for the non-aligned movement until the 1980’s, but at the same time it had very good relations with the Soviet Union. After the end of the East-West conflict and the collapse of the Soviet Union, India sought rapprochement with the West, with the states in Southeast Asia (look-east policy) and tried to build relationships with other regions such as Africa. India worked more multilaterally in forums such as the G-20, the BRICS and IBSA. India sees itself as a bridging power between east and west, north and south, and therefore endeavors to maintain its foreign and security policy autonomy and to avoid solid alliances.

Under Prime Minister Modi, efforts have intensified to create favorable framework conditions for India’s economic development at regional and global level. A permanent seat on the UN Security Council remains a strategic goal. A major problem for India’s foreign policy is currently the Indian Foreign Service with only around 900 diplomats. This is far too small a number to cope with the growing tasks. Within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) there has been a department for public diplomacy since 2006, which aims to convey a new image of India as a rising world power. Furthermore, there has been since 2012 a Development Partnership Administration, which is entrusted with the coordination of Indian development cooperation, a ministry that looks after the Indian diaspora and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), which has been promoting and exchanging culture since 1950.

India and the USA

According to, India’s relationship with the US has not always been free of tensions, but has improved significantly over the past fifteen years. India achieved a breakthrough in bilateral relations with the nuclear agreement with the USA in 2007. Although India has not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to date, this agreement has enabled India to gain access to nuclear technologies. At the same time, India pledged to separate the civil and military nuclear industries. In April 2010 an important so-called “Atomic Summit” took place in Washington. Former US President Obama first made high-profile state visits to India in November 2010 and again in January 2015.

Recently, the protectionist measures taken by the Trump administration led to counter-reactions from the Indian government.

India, Israel and Iran

India has also turned to Israel and signed a cooperation agreement and agreed arms deals. This and the intensified relations with Iran are an expression of the efforts to counter the growing Chinese influence – for example through the Silk Road Initiative.

India and China

Relations with China have been tense since the 1960’s and have seen ups and downs. The central point of contention is the unresolved demarcation of boundaries along the Himalayas. Dangerous tensions arose between June and August of 2017 between China and India over disputes over the construction of a road in Doklam by the Chinese army, with some analysts even fearing the outbreak of war. The Doklam area borders the northeastern state of Sikkim and is claimed by both Bhutan and China. After India and China sent troops to the region and a verbal exchange of blows developed, both sides were able to reach an agreement at the end of August. In September 2017, on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping met for a personal conversation and agreed to avoid such incidents in the future.

On the positive side, China did not oppose the nuclear agreement between India and the USA. Bilateral trade is also to be expanded, which has increased more than tenfold within a decade. However, India sees China’s aggressive economic expansion (One Belt One Road initiative, String of Pearls campaign) in South Asia as a direct threat, but has not yet developed adequate counter- strategies.

In May and June 2020, there were military clashes between Indian and Chinese troops on disputed sections along the Indian-Chinese border (so-called Line of Actual Control, LAC). According to Indian press reports, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan region in the Himalayas. Political analysts characterize the situation between India and China as very tense.

India and South Asia

The special relationship between India and Pakistan plays a central role in the region. Three wars were waged around Kashmir, and serious incidents at the Line of Control regularly occur. Another point of contention is Pakistan’s handling of the Taliban and other Islamist groups that have carried out terrorist attacks in India. India accuses Pakistan of indirectly condoning or even supporting the actions of these groups.

India’s neighboring countries fear India’s dominance in economic terms. There is only limited economic cooperation among the South Asian countries. The best example is the “South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation” (SAARC). Even more than 30 years after it was founded, SAARC is only partially functional. South Asia is therefore still the economically least economically integrated region in the world. Regional trade only accounts for around 5% of total trade in the region. Analysts suspect that increasing regional trade in all South Asian countries could generate up to 2% more economic growth per year. A functioning South Asian free trade area (SAFTA) could be a milestone in the regional integration efforts. The first SAARC summit with Narendra Modi’s participation was largely unsuccessful in November 2014 due to the rivalry between India and Pakistan – with the exception of an agreement to expand road, rail and energy networks.

Relations with Bangladesh are of a special nature, as both share a border that is over 4,000 km long. India also controls the upper reaches of Bangladesh’s most important rivers and was instrumental in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Difficult issues such as transit, unregulated border crossings and migration, water distribution and smuggling are discussed in regular government talks. The conclusion of a treaty for the sharing of the Ganges water in December 1996 settled a matter of vital importance to Bangladesh. In May 2015, the last disputes over the border were settled by a contract.

India has a long and friendly relationship with Nepal. As early as 1950, the two states signed a peace and friendship treaty that is still in place today and includes, among other things, an open border between Nepal and India. Nepal is of particular security policy importance for India.

Sri Lanka and India maintain a rather ambivalent relationship, which was strongly influenced by the civil war in Sri Lanka between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority, which has now ended. The Tamil population in India comprises approximately 65 million people, which results in a certain influence on Indian foreign policy.

India and the EU

The country’s relations with the EU are particularly important in economic terms. With the strategic partnership between India and the EU that has existed since 2004, further important questions and topics are included in the partnership dialogue. The EU is India’s largest trade and investment partner. The trade in goods in both directions has in fact steadily expanded. Nonetheless, the foreign policy similarities India and the USA have so far are greater than those with the EU.

India and Germany

On March 7, 1951, Germany and India established diplomatic relations. In 2011, on the occasion of this anniversary, the German year “Germany and India 2011-12” was celebrated, which had the motto: Germany and India: Infinite Opportunities.

In February 2014, Federal President Gauck visited India and, despite all the recognition, did not spare criticism, particularly because of the ongoing discrimination against women. Prime Minister Modi visited Germany in April 2015 on the occasion of the Hanover Fair; India was the partner country.

The first Indo-German government consultations took place in May 2011, the second in 2013, the third in New Delhi in October 2015, the fourth government consultations in May 2017 and the fifth government consultations in November 2019.

India traditionally maintains very friendly relations with Germany, which are underlined by the bilateral consultations. Both states are still looking for their place in the global architecture of the 21st century and are coordinating the question of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Of course, economic relations with Germany are also of great importance for both countries.


(Inland) – migration, emigration and immigration are of great importance for India. Many Indian labor migrants can be found in the North American and European regions, but also in the Middle East and East Asia. Meanwhile, the immigration of Indians to Germany has increased. Conversely, many people – for different reasons – find their way to India.

Tagged with: