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M.L. Sondhi 


An eminent student of India’s foreign policy, after reviewing Nehru’s role in the making of foreign policy, was compelled to make the following remarks:

Decision-making is a cumulative process involving a number of elements and a complex procedure.  It is, of course, difficult to delineate any fixed pattern of the actual process, because much depends on such variable factors as individual personalities and the nature of the situation whose combined effect cannot be precisely gauged.  But in any proper assessment of the factors shaping foreign policy, none of thee numerous elements can be ignored.  (A. Appadorai, emphasis added.)

The lack of clarity about the decision-making in the Ministry of External Affairs may be attributed to the general practice of looking for coherence in foreign policy by fixing responsibility and authority over all operational functions, in terms of a one-man show.  The appointment of the Pillai Committee will be justified if it recommends drastic changes to overcome the defects arising from lack of well-articulated methods and rational criteria for defining the structure and relationship of decision-making.

A former Secretary of the Australian Department of External Affairs (J.W. Burton), who has urged re-thinking on the practical aspects of foreign office administration in terms of “role theory” and decision-making models, makes the following important statement which has relevance to the matter of increasing the efficiency of our own foreign office:

For purposes of international relations, the decision-maker is a process; it is the final outcome of interaction between a host of domestic influences and interaction between these and foreign influences of all in the environment of the State and of the international structure.  The behaviour of particular leaders is part of a process, their decisions being a reflection of past policies and future expectations.  (emphases added).

If the full implications of the decision-making approach are accepted the Indian organisation would require radical modification at least in the following respects:

1.             The geographical area and functional divisions should be drastically altered to reflect the needs of policy-making.  The existing distribution of work where for example one Under Secretary deals with all the countries of East Europe does not evidently take into account the far-reaching diversification under way in that part of the world.  At the levels of the Directors, the Joint Secretaries, and the Deputy Secretaries, there is at present overlapping and diffusion of responsibility, although efforts have been made from time to time to introduce streamlined procedures.  The sharp focus on national units, which is desirable, is lost, and at the higher echelons the Foreign Secretary and the two Secretaries have to handle responsibilities which are not related to programmes which could be made operational.  Criticism of the bureaucratic apex would seem to be in line with the following judgement:

… organisations usually satisfy their needs for the appearance of nationality with clearance procedures or some other form of administrative due process without specifying standards for appraising the substance or content of policy.  At worst such procedures produce discussions in which no one reveals his reasons why.  At best, these procedures attack the issues on their merits, but may have to do so without adequate or agreed-upon supporting data. (Paul Y. Hammond)

Policy objectives do not appear to have influenced the present geographical functional divisions at the Headquarters which stem from the British network taken over by us two decades ago.  It is obviously necessary to push through far-reaching reform.

The information flow into the Foreign Office from the Missions abroad is organized in a way which is more than likely to produce stereotyped thinking.  Although public evaluation has not been made of the reports sent by our Missions, yet cumulatively the impression has grown that the flow of information to the Foreign Office is unsatisfactory.  The monthly confidential report suggests lack of sophistication in clarifying the issues which would be suggested by the most elementary systemic analysis of international affairs.  One could with some justification call these reports the mirror-images of the district level reports which have been integral to our internal management since the colonial period.  It is also fair to conclude that our “intelligence analysis” is hardly organised on a scale which can make the policy-maker develop expertise in this area and make the results available to the Foreign Office.

3.             The Government of India inherited a secretarial practice based upon the sacredness of “precedents”.  The decision-making ability is considerably narrowed in an environment where complicated policy manuals and a plethora of “previous papers” provide the setting for those who have to implement policy.  An unfortunate aspect of this mentality is the introduction of cumbersome procedures in our Missions abroad, which face a quickly changing environment and require rapid responses.  The administrative implications of effective foreign policy in a world of change call for a final break with the conservatism of the Indian Secretariat.

4.             The importance of research for providing adequate data to policy-makers has often been acknowledged and yet the enhancement of knowledge available in the Ministry has not been a central motivation.  The organisational arrangements of the Historical Division, the Current Research Division now re-designated as the Policy Planning and Review Division, and the Legal and Treaties Division do not indicate that research plays as yet the role which the recent advances in interdisciplinary studies would lead one to expect.

Defence and Foreign Policy:

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Cabinet brings the Defence Minister into close relationship with the decision-making at Cabinet level on foreign affairs.

In the shaping of foreign policy under Jawaharlal Nehru, V.K. Krishna Menon’s predominant role in India’s foreign policy planning on international organisations led many observers to expect that foreign policy and national security problems were closely co-ordinated.  The events of 1962 called for a re-examination of the actual procedures for co-ordinating Defence Ministry decisions and foreign policy implementation.  The involvement of the Defence Minister in segments of foreign policy implementation was evidently an inadequate answer to the fundamental political-strategical questions facing the country.

The large-scale Chinese attack led to the creation of the National Defence Council, but it was provided neither with specific objectives nor with a supporting organisation which could have led to the development of a body resembling the National Security Council in the United States.

The Defence Minister does not have a functional organisation under him comparable to the International Security Affairs Office in the United States and evidently the arrangements made for the fulfilment of foreign arms aid and purchase programmes have not led to the emergence of agencies which achieve defence participation in foreign affairs.

The National Defence College in New Delhi gives senior offers of the Defence Ministry, the three Services, and the Ministry of External Affairs an opportunity to get orientation on defence problems viewed in close relationship with the political environment.  The College does not provide a source of defence and foreign policy analysis, and plans are underway to get up an institute which could conceivably provide research on political and defence problems.

The UN and Conference Division provides assistance to the Indian negotiators for disarmament. It has a working relationship with the Defence Ministry representatives for the complex problems which are facing India as a country committed to international disarmament.  It is also believed to handle problems connected with foreign policy implications of nuclear developments and maintains contact with the Atomic Energy Department.

The Service Attaches in our Missions abroad function at a technical level and do not have access to any policy procedures in the Foreign Ministry.  In specific operational contexts the service attaches are not channels of co-ordination between the three services and the ministry of External Affairs.

The newly opened Policy Planning Cell has as one of its objectives the strengthening of the Foreign Office-Defence relationship.  The results of this effort will mature only after a lapse of time, but it is clear that the problem of co-ordination on current policy still awaits a major re-organisation of procedures to meet the demand for a National Security Policy commensurate with the grave challenges facing the country.

Foreign Affairs and Commercial Policies and Economic Policy:

India’s chronic export and foreign exchange problems underline the importance of commercial diplomacy.

The Commerce Ministry has to rely upon the External Affairs Ministry and the Commercial Secretaries in the Missions abroad to access the impact of external developments on India’s commercial interests.  These officers are from the Indian Foreign Service and seconded from the Commerce Ministry.  They operate on Commerce Ministry budgets but are under the discipline and control of the Heads of Missions to which they are attached, but report directly to the Commerce Ministry.

The administrative rigidity and narrow basis on which the commercial set-up has functioned has been brought to light by the public criticism of India’s overseas commercial activities.

The creation of the separate Ministry of Commerce and the reorganisation brought about minister Manubhai Shah are motivated by the objective of making India’s exports more competitive.  The State Trading Corporation focuses its attention on the particular range of trade which can be handled most effectively by the nationalized trading channel.

The Department of Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Finance provides the main organisational framework for considering problems of foreign aid and investment policies.  The Ministry of External Affairs has recognized, although belatedly, the importance of the economic operations for Indian foreign policy by establishing an Economic Division.

The quality of work in the commercial and economic spheres has been the subject of considerable criticism.  With all the denials that foreign aid is with attached strings it is evident from recent experience that the political factor is predominant in all important economic transactions.  The External Affairs Ministry has to develop more activities in economic and commercial expertise at the higher levels although the need is acute and is likely to be aggravated in the future.

Information and Cultural Policies:

 A basic problem which affects all aspects of Indian foreign policy is:  how can Indian approach to policy issues be explained so as to influence public opinion abroad?  Both in Parliament and in the Press, at the time of the hostilities with Pakistan the Government was criticized for neglecting the publicity set-up and thereby undermining India’s vital interests.  The External Publicity Division in New Delhi and the Information Officers in our Missions abroad must think in broader terms that the diplomatic political side of the Foreign Office. Bernard C. Cohen shows in Press and Foreign Policy, that the inter-relationships are highly complex and the mass media of public opinion require specialised attention.  The Information Service of India is not rated high for its technical efficiency.  News transmission to Indian Missions abroad uses machinery and methods which are far behind the latest technology.  All India Radio’s external broadcasting is hopelessly inadequate.

On the cultural side the main responsibility devolves on the Bureau of Language, Literature, and Arts and External Relations Division of the Ministry of Education.  Cultural plans are drawn up on an inter-ministerial basis.  The Indian Council for Cultural Relations meets the requirements of a formal organisation, but when considered in the context of India’s potentialities for cultural activities, the whole effort scarcely seems qualitatively appropriate or quantitatively adequate.

A close relationship between cultural and information activities has been fostered in countries like France and the United States with results which are regarded as highly satisfactory.  In the case of India the broad scope for utilising men of talent, in cultural diplomacy has been ignored at home and abroad in a manner which appears truly amazing to sympathetic observers of the Indian milieu.



The selection procedure for the IFS(A) through the UPSC examination meets the requirements for fairness in accordance with the norms of the Indian democracy.  The common orientation with the IAS seems however, to have been carried to an excess.  The provision of an International Relations course and some incentive for taking Language courses could strengthen the quality of every year intake.  The provision of lateral entry in most well-organised Foreign Services testifies to the importance of providing the foreign office organisation with expertise not available by the minimum age entry.  There is need to recruit at least from the following:

  1. Universities and higher institutes of learning
  2. Business
  3. Defence Services

The IFS(B), who are manning the subordinate posts and are also eligible for a small proportion of higher posts, are more conditioned by the norms of bureaucratic behaviour which are not particularly relevant to foreign policy needs.  But it should be relatively easy to devise procedures of recruitment by which the best qualified subordinate officials would be obtained.

The IFS(A) have views on personnel reform, some of which were recently aired by the Chief of Protocol.  These do not constitute in fact serious proposals for reform although the ostensible purpose is to do away with the old ICS orientation.  The Chief of Protocol represents a point of view which is shared elsewhere in the world and is hostile to reform.  To quote James L. McCamy, an expert on the US Diplomatic Organisation: ation: ation:

“With the exception of a few who took the broad view, Foreign Service Officers when threatened with change thought first how change might damage the security of the service. They found high principles to justify their concern.  Their group they said in public, maintained the professional skill and, equally necessary, the professional attitude towards work abroad.  Its members were the only men in government service who were specialists in foreign relations and willing to work wherever needed no matter how unpleasant.  They talked among themselves of threats to their chance of promotion if new numbers were admitted.”

The tendency to deny status as Foreign Service Officers to specialists is clearly the result of the Praetorian notions held by the career foreign service officers.

Training Programme

The archaic notions of the Western diplomat have arrived in some of the newly independent countries at a time when there is growing emphasis on the specialist-functional role of the diplomat in the West and a playing down of the sartorial and gastronomic aspects.  The practice of sending IFS probationers to Oxford and Cambridge was a major retreat from the programme providing an Indian orientation to the bureaucracy.  It is these officers with minimum training in the specialized aspects of international affairs themselves who rationalize in favour of a training programme devoid of intellectually stimulating content under the guise of the noble purpose of providing the new entrants with well rounded personalities.  To augment the intellectual resources of the Ministry of External Affairs, the training programme at the Indian School of International Studies should be run on the basis of a Foreign Service Institute with an interdisciplinary emphasis.  Intellectually capable officers of the External Affairs and other Ministries should be associated on a whole time basis with Indian academic specialists in foreign affairs.  The language requirements should be stepped up considerably.  Training policy should aim at radically improving the intellectual background of the service rather than at preserving its present political service – district official orientation.

Non-service Ambassadors:

Politically appointed Ambassadors are inevitable if the sphere of foreign affairs is not to be isolated from the mainstream of Indian politics.  Much of the criticism of this system seems to have been wide of the mark.  The practice of rewarding persons regardless of their talents with ambassadorial positions must be condemned, but there is nothing to suggest that rich talent from public life would be in any way inferior to that it found at the senior levels of the career foreign service.


Jawaharlal Nehru was Foreign Minister of Free India, continuously from 1947 to 1964.  This combination of the role of Foreign Minister with that of Prime Minister had far-reaching effects on the organisation and procedures for implementation of foreign policy.  The issues which confronted Nehru influenced the administration of foreign affairs in the following manner:

Organisational and Managerial Roles:

The justification for the immediate expansion of the External Affairs Ministry and the Missions abroad after India became free, was expressed in terms of the requirements of an independent foreign policy and our contribution to world peace.  There is room for argument whether the purposes of the Foreign Office organisation were adequately expressed in the programme of the chief political executive which was characterised by a telescopic vision.  The chief criticism in contemporary discussion is that the Foreign Office organisation is well equipped with its experience under Nehru to provide the technology for aiding summit diplomacy but does not provide evidence of holding its own in providing guidelines for political strategies which can comprehend the minutes of foreign affairs, particularly crisis situations where quick responses are required.


In response to considerations of rapid economic and social progress, the Chief Political Executive had developed in his own person a remarkable policy consensus which embraced economic, social, political, and defence interests.  This was perhaps inevitable in the context of the political demands of consolidating a new state.  The functioning of the Foreign Office was predicated on the existence of maximum co-ordination at the Foreign Minister’s level.  It is not surprising to discover that questions about co-ordination of say defence and foreign policy were rarely raised with the objective of modifying existing structure and process of the Ministry of External Affairs and bureaucratic isolation from defence matters has been the rule generally.


The importance of the ability and orientation of the Chief Executive and national pride in his achievements necessarily reduced to the very minimum competition in ideas.  The literature of public administration is eloquent on the importance of continuous internal interrogation of all politics.  Even external criticism should be welcomed if it enhances objectivity of the organisation.  In the absence of internal and external criticism a conventional wisdom comes into being which creates impediments in the way of appraisal of long-term changes and the initiation of corrective action.  The Foreign Office has been criticized for its lack of policy-planning, but it is clear that it is institutional lacunae rather than individual aberrations that require to be mitigated.  Special machinery for perspective planning is required rather than the creation of a new unit sharing management with other routine work-units.

The Political Element:

The Foreign office has been more isolated from the mainstream of Indian politics than any of the other Ministries.  The following statement by an American student of Indian political development (Wayne Wilcox) illustrates the point:

“One of the perverse effects of Nehru’s great stature was that he held the confidence of both a rapidly changing political system and ultra stable administrative machinery.  This had the effect of separating felt needs from abstract planning, and produced a minimum social input in Indian development. Representative institutions were mirroring their constituencies which were rural, ignorant of English, unevenly schooled, and hungry.  Bureaucratic institutions were mirroring their elitist backgrounds inherited from the colonial urban setting.”

Even a close study of the workings of the External Affairs Ministry by Parliament was handicapped by the inevitable reluctance of parliamentary sentiment to bring the Prime Minister’s own department under searching examination.  The shortcomings of the Foreign Office organisation cannot be blamed on the model of the British Foreign Office for if the activities of the latter are studied carefully they reveal a remarkable ability to cater to political requirements interpreted in terms of the motivations of the party in power and the political opposition.  The Indian Constitution provides for the healthy interaction of politics and bureaucratic administration.  Under Nehru legislative action on foreign affairs was neither comprehensive nor challenging, and executive action was dominated not only in formulating concrete issues but also in formulating general statements of goals and values.  The Cabinet’s direction of foreign policy is related to the extent on which foreign policy agency is able to provide a symbiosis of technical and political objectives.  The office of the Secretary-General when it was in existence could have been used to examine the political considerations of technical problems and choices, but the prescription that this post should be filled by a senior ICS officer and not by a politician assumed that the sole motive was accentuate the bureaucratic credo and confine the “social input” into foreign affairs to that provided by the integrating role of the Prime Minister cum Foreign Minister.

In order to evolve a scheme which will enable the development of an organisation to render the implementation of foreign policy more effective, I suggest the following issues for discussion:

1.                   Does the present administrative setting of the External Affairs Ministry provide effective and dynamic leadership at the higher echelons?

2.                   Is area and functional distribution of work calculated to promote efficient assessment of global and regional challenges facing India?  Does it facilitate foreign policy response to changing situations?  What changes are necessary to assure successful adaptation of India’s foreign policy to the needs of the future?

3.                   Does the present organisation promote effective diplomacy through coordination of various activities, e.g. Political, Economic, Commercial, Information, Cultural, Legal etc.?

4.                   What means are provided for co-ordinating political and military policies?  What changes are desirable in view of the growing threat to Indian national security?

5.                   What opportunities exist in the Foreign Office for Research?  Are facilities adequate?

6.                   Is the personnel policy geared to the efficient implementation of India’s foreign policy?  Recruitment? Training? In-service training? Selection for posts? Promotions? Retirement? Removal?

7.                   How does the performance of Service and politically appointed ambassadors compare?  How can government assure that the most talented and qualified people available in the country are appointed ambassadors?

8.                   Should the External Affairs Ministry utilize outside talent in the implementation of foreign policy?  What is the scope for agencies and institutions outside government to co-operate in the implementation of foreign policy?

9.                   Do new trends in international affairs suggest the need for changes in the “elitist” orientation of the foreign office?

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