Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

The Role of India in Regionalism: SAARC, ASEAN, EU, BIMSTEC, IOR-ARC, and MGC: Lessons for Nigeria in the ECOWAS [Dagger]

Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

The Role of India in Regionalism: SAARC, ASEAN, EU, BIMSTEC, IOR-ARC, and MGC: Lessons for Nigeria in the ECOWAS [Dagger]

Article excerpt


India has always considered regional cooperation as an important aspect of its foreign policy. The search for a larger Asian identity and role was integral to India's freedom struggle from the start.1 Even before India achieved formal independence, it had hosted an Asian Relations Conference in 1947. India later held a conference on Indonesia in 1949. Its earlier efforts were expanded further to produce the Afro-Asian Nation's Conference at Bandung in 1955 and the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. The policies of Non-Alignment and Principles of Peaceful Coexistence or Panchsheel associated with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru have had a major influence on India's relations with its immediate and extended neighborhood. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was convinced that the Asian states needed to form a strong common identity, and noted that they had the capacity to work together for their common future. Nehru was also convinced that India had a key role to play in the emerging regionalisms within India's immediate and extended neighborhood.

No doubt India stands out in Asia apparently because of the size of its population, military, economic growth, and its growing interest in playing a role in international affairs. For instance, India accounts for 75% of the population of South Asia, 65% of its total area and 78% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).2 In terms of location, India also has centrality in South Asia, in that while it has borders with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, they do not have borders with each other. This gives India regional advantages as well as disadvantages as the smaller states either try to obstruct or counterbalance India or seek countervailing external help from outside the region from countries such as the Republic of China.

Given the size of India and her position in Asia, its vision of regionalism has sought to situate the country in a landscape larger than the Indian subcontinent. While India's clearest regional setting and strong sense of identity is within its immediate neighborhood of South Asia, and thus its expected role in the regional structure there, that is the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), India's sense of regionalism is not limited to its immediate neighborhood. India's sense of identity and involvement extends to regional structures such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIM-STEC), East Asian Summit (EAS) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). After the end of the Cold War and since the introduction of economic reforms in India, it has turned its attention also towards the South East.3 Thus, India's Look East Policy and the country 's potential as a major market and investment hub have contributed significantly towards expanding and diversifying India's relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member countries. India has also embarked on improving relations with nonAsian powers such as the European Union (EU) and the US. For instance, India and the EU signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2004. India has also strengthened its relations with Russia, and has also been taking steps to deepen its engagement with Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

This paper examines India's role in regionalism, specifically in regional organizations such as SAARC, ASEAN, EU and also in subregional structures such as BIM-STEC, IOR-ARC, and MGC.

Definitional and Conceptual Clarification

What is a region? What is regionalism? There are many definitions of region and regionalism. There is no single accepted definition of these concepts. While some argue that regions are rooted in geography, others stress that they should be viewed as socially constructed. The idea of a region as simply a geographical concept has been increasingly challenged as new definitions emerged. …

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