The Russo- Ukraine War entered its second year on February 23, 2023. Mere hours before its second anniversary, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution to end the War. 141 Member States voted in favor, 7 voted against and 32 Member States abstained. India was among the abstentions. As a result of this voting, the Assembly reiterated its demand that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine and call for a cessation of hostilities.”
India’s abstention is not the first incident of such neutrality towards the War, even during the initial phase of the War, India had abstained three times from UN Resolutions that condemned Russian actions in Ukraine. By doing so, India has walked a diplomatic tightrope. India’s foreign policies have long taken pride in taking “strategically independent” or “non-aligned” stands. In this blog, the author explains how the response of India to this war is in line with securing its national interests. This perspective seeks to understand, explain and predict international relations from a sociological viewpoint through the theory of social constructivism and realism. This approach has been embraced as a mainstream approach to explain the global relations among nation-states in contemporary times.
This blog aims to locate India’s response towards the Russo- Ukraine War through an explanation of the theory of social constructivism and realism. Furthermore, the blog also discusses the way in which India has responded to the whole Russo- Ukraine War, and ultimately, the blog provides suggestions on how India should proceed in regard to its relations with the world while balancing its national interests.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVISM THEORY FROM A REALIST PERSPECTIVE
Social Constructivism is a mainstream theory of International Relations that was developed comparatively earlier. Constructivists argue that political reality is socially constructed and hence, identity and interests are determined by social structure. They also insist the normative or ideational structure in the context of international relations is a reference to systems of shared beliefs, norms, ideas, and values among the international communities. Therefore, world politics is amenable to change. According to this theory, human agency and social aspects are not alien to international relations. Rather, they play an important role in formulating and shaping the same. This theory received recognition after it was able to predict 1 the end of the Cold War. It emerged as a central theory that was rooted in normative sociological analysis like a critical theory but was also willing to embrace empirical and real-world analysis.
Social Constructivism is an approach to the philosophy of social science with implications for the kinds of arguments that can be made about world politics. 2 Therefore, this approach needs to connect itself with another political theory of world politics, like realism or liberalism. India’s response towards the entirety of the Russo- Ukraine War can be positioned through social constructivism along with realism as the way India has reflected its pragmatic neutrality is rooted in the idea of realism.
Social constructivism with realism combines two levels of analysis-human nature and the environment or structure of international politics to account for the state of affairs. India’s current stand-in global politics can be attributed to the circumstances that have arisen in the past. According to social constructivists, each State has a conception of self which is based on its history and shared values in the polity. 3 If one has to understand international relations and state behavior, then it is the structure of shared, socially constructed knowledge that needs to be understood. For instance, the active non-alignment policy originated to deal with the international relations prevalent in the Cold War era between the US and the Soviet Union. It is based on how India sees itself or the very ‘idea’ of being a non-aligned state (the
sense of self). This understanding is based on its history and Constitution. This has an influence on how India relates itself to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, non-alignment does not equate to passive neutrality. India’s non-involvement in no way means that India is barred from leaning towards one side or another. Rather, it means playing an active role like the one India has taken in the Russo- Ukraine war. Albeit, it should also be noted that the current stance of India is different from the policy of non-alignment that India had adopted in the past. The contemporary policies of India are governed by realism, however, earlier it was just inspired by the theory of realism. In the present scenario, India has grown and balanced India- Russia ties, however, it has also criticized Russia’s take in the War in several instances.
INDIA’S RESPONSE TO THE RUSSIAN- UKRAINE CRISIS AND ITS JUSTIFICATION UNDER THEORIES OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Based on the theory of Social Constructivism and Realism, India’s response is justified if India is advancing its national interests while keeping social aspects in consideration. Realism highlights national interest as the primary concern of the nation-state. The promotion of the national interest is, according to realists, an iron law of necessity. On the same lines, as put by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in his address in Rajya Sabha, “The government does not ask Indian companies to buy oil from Russia but it is a sensible policy to get the best deal in the interest of Indian people.” From this statement, it is obvious that India is not willing to wage economic war against Russia, like other developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, to save its national interests. In accordance with social constructivist theory, it is normative and ideational structures that define or give meaning to material capabilities like military power or economic might. One’s friendship or enmity with someone is based on interactions between them over a period of time. It is normative or ideational structures that define or give understanding to material factors like power. Likewise, in the present episode, India’s response has its foundation in the amicable relationship that it has shared with Russia. Hence, India’s conception of itself with respect to Russia is one of having an “amicable” identity which then dictates her interests toward Russia. There are several reasons for India’s response to finding a diplomatic balance over Russo- Ukraine War. It is rooted in history, mutual trust, and mutually beneficial cooperation. It is the shared inter-subjective understanding of these norms and ideations by the actors themselves which determine the behavior of states. Bilateral trade in 2015 between the two nations amounted to US$ 7.83 billion. Moreover, Russia has supplied defense equipment like the S-400 Missile System, which gives India significant strategic deterrence against China and Pakistan. Hence, when seen through the lenses of social constructivism and realism, it is evident India has to take pragmatic decisions. As put forward by International Relations experts, “Historical ties with the former USSR, and the threat of China getting closer to Russia, are also reasons that shape India’s support.”
However, in these circumstances, the question of morality arises. A major conundrum for most nation-states in international relations is deciding which course of action to pursue when it comes to taking specific actions in the event of a conflict, whether to quest moral choices or advance their national interests. The same dilemma is faced by India as well. It is very clear that the end of the War would act as a bellwether for peace in the region. Despite knowing this
India’s abstained from voting to end the War. This instance taken by India questions the morality of India’s policies towards the international arena. According to Machiavelli, under realism, it is imperative that state leaders learn a different kind of morality, which accords with political necessity and prudence. In this case, India has followed such a kind of morality.
The choice has been tough. As said by former Indian diplomat JN Misra, “One cannot tilt both ways at the same time. India has not named any country, which shows it will not go against Moscow. India had to be subtle in picking a side and it has done that.” India wants the conflict to conclude soon and for there to be a new balance of power in terms of security so that the world can stabilize its economy and concentrate on more urgent issues. As mentioned by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “India has not criticized Russia directly but it is not that India has turned a blind eye to the suffering of Ukrainians. It has adopted a balanced approach. It talked strongly about territorial integrity at the UNSC and it was clearly meant to highlight Ukraine’s plight.” India has done well with keeping open diplomatic channels with both sides, Russia and Ukraine.
CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD
As of now, the situation is pregnant with many possibilities. The way in which India defines its national interests will influence how it acts in the future. The emergence of social constructivism as a mainstream approach in the last few decades has broadened the scope of discipline of international relations. As the social constructivists argue that the socially constructed identities can change if social structures change, resulting in interests too. Ultimately, India will have to make choices in order to secure its national interests while maintaining a relationship in global politics and at the same time, putting its national interest should be the core of India’s foreign policy. India has repeatedly stated in the UN that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected” and this is how India has to take a balanced, principled and independent approach while pushing for a practical solution to the crisis. The degree of political, economic and social involvement in the global politics, and the level of India’s engagement will all play a role in how India will move towards its policies in the international arena.
1 Robert S. Snyder, Foreign Policy Analysis, Volume 1, Issue 1, March 2005, Pages 55–71 (2005).
2 Alder, Emanuel, Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics” European Journal of
International Interests. (1997)
3 Finnemore, M., and Sikkink, K.,‘International Norms and Political Change’, in P. Katzenstein et al. (eds),
Explorations and Controversies in World Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). (1999).
2nd year, National Law Institute University, Bhopal