Enhancing India’s Defence Diplomacy –the Need of the Hour

 By Alakh Ranjan

“You can do a lot with diplomacy but of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up with firmness and force.” — Kofi Annan

Power is an abstract term; it is like love which is easy to experience but difficult to measure precisely. Joseph Nye defines power ‘as the capacity and in social situations to affect others to get the outcomes we want’.[1] The two major power are hard power and soft power. There is the third dimension of power i.e. smart power which is a combination of hard and soft power. As per the traditionalist realist worldviews of international affairs, the war was the ultimate game in which cards of international politics were played. This made hard power crucial in global affairs and a lot of the resources were directed towards strengthening military powers across the globe.

With globalisation setting off, the evolution of technologies and decline in the inter-state conflict hard power ceded some space to soft power.  The term soft power was coined by Joseph Nye Jr.  He defines it, “as an attractive power which produces a cooptive behavior”. Soft Power is the ability to get others to do what you want through attraction, not coercion. Hard power resources such as military and economics tools can also produce soft power behaviour.  In the realm of international relations, defence diplomacy has gained significance. The Indian military on several occasion has won hearts and minds by giving assistance to the people across the globe during various crisis situation.

Assistance by the military has been termed as defence diplomacy. There is no standard definition for this term but in a broad sense, military diplomacy is a form of diplomacy where the acts of a military leads to promotion of goodwill for the nation. The main aims of defence diplomacy are to build interoperability and capacity among allies, to have better understanding strategic culture of other states, to build the capacity of other states and their militaries and establish a strong bilateral relationship. The defence diplomacy can be exercised through training armed forces from friendly foreign countries, engaging in international military education, through joint military exercises, providing humanitarian assistance for disaster relief and contributing to peacekeeping forces.

Joint military exercises are a significant component of our defence diplomacy. The joint military exercises not only help the forces to understand each other, but it also builds trust among the member nations. One of the important aims of Joint Exercises is strategic signalling.  In the year 2018-19, two new multilateral military exercise were instituted. These were the multilateral exercise between the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) nations and African nations.[5]

BIMSTEC has gained importance in our present foreign policy. India has increased its grants and loan assistance to African nations has been increasing under this regime. China’s influence has been rising in these regions and the joint exercises with BIMSTEC and African nations were part of India’s strategic signaling. These Joint Exercises were instituted as India served two purposes. Firstly, it will help India to expand its influence in these two regions. Secondly, to contain the rising Chinese clout in these regions as these two regions are important under India’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Indian armed forces have a wide experience of HADR operations within and outside its borders. The major instance when India provided for external HADR was during the 2004 Tsunami relief work.[6] After 2004, Indian armed forces on various instances have provided HADR in the neighbourhood and across the globe. In the neighbourhood, Indian Armed forces have emerged as the first responder[7] to any natural disasters, whether it was the first to Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007[8], Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008[9] or Nepal Earthquake in 2015[10].  HADR will be is an essential cog under Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) doctrine which in turn will boost Indian soft power in the neighbourhood and the IOR.

Indian armed forces are the largest in the region with better capabilities and resources which enables it to be the first and efficient responder in any crisis situation in this region. India also claims to be the net security provider in the region and wants to be the regional leader. In this regard India held first bilateral military exercises were held with Japan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.[11] For a free, open and peaceful Indo-Pacific region, it also held a 2+2 dialogue with the USA[12] to review security, defence and strategic partnership between both the nations. All these steps will aid India boosting its image in the region.

There is still plenty of room of improvement for India in this area. The defence diplomacy of India is still not in complete sync with its foreign policy. It has not been used as a tool to fulfil our foreign policy objectives. India needs to understand as once said by John F. Kennedy, “Diplomacy and defence are not substitutes for one another, either alone would fail”. India needs to understand this philosophy as the present age of smart power. To be the major player in the world India will have to combine its hard power and soft power into effective strategies to achieve the best results.


[1] Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Future of Power, United States, Public Affairs, 2011, Page No. 6

[2] Ministry of Defence, Annual Report 2018-19, Page No.  159, Available on the Internet at https://mod.gov.in/documents/annual-report, Accessed on 25th March 2020

[3] Ibid, Page No.  145, Accessed on 26th March 2020

[4] Ibid, Accessed on 26th March 2020

[5] Ibid, Page No.  23, Accessed on 25th March 2020

[6] C Raja Mohan “Indian Military Diplomacy: Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief” ISAS Working Paper No. 184- 26 March 2014, Available on the Internet at: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/178456/ISAS_Working_Paper__184_-_Indian_Military_Diplomacy__Humanitarian_Assistance_26032014162545.pdf, Accessed on 25th March 2020

[7]Responding First as a Leading Power, Ministry of External Affairs, India, Available on the Internet at: https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/IndiaArticleAll/636548962666860480_Responding_First_Leading_Power.pdf,  Accessed on 25th March 2020

[8]Press Information Bureau, “Indian Air Force IL-76 Carries Aid to Dhaka for cyclone (Sidr) Affected People, New Delhi, November 22, 2007;  Available on the Internet at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=33025; Accessed on 25th March 2020

[9] Press Information Bureau, “Indian Armed Forces Launch Operation Sahayata: IAF, Navy Rush Relief to Myanmar”, New Delhi, May 7, 2008; Available on the Internet at: https://pib.gov.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=38604, Accessed on 25th March 2020

[10] Responding First as a Leading Power, Ministry of External Affairs, India, Available on the Internet at https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/IndiaArticleAll/636548962666860480_Responding_First_Leading_Power.pdf, Accessed on 25th March 2020

[11] Ibid, Page No.  23, Accessed on 30th March 2020

[12] Press Information Bureau, “India-US 2+2 Dialogue provides positive and forward-looking vision for strategic partnership between the two countries”; Available on the Internet at: https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1596986; Accessed on 30th March 2020