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Nonalignment had its origins in India's colonial experience and the nonviolent independence struggle led by the Congress, which left India determined to be the master of its fate in an international system dominated politically by Cold War alliances and economically by Western capitalism. The principles of nonalignment, as articulated by Nehru and his successors, were preservation of India's freedom of action internationally through refusal to align India with any bloc or alliance, particularly those led by the United States or the Soviet Union; nonviolence and international cooperation as a means of settling international disputes; the Panch Shila (see Glossary), or the five principles of peaceful coexistence, as the basis for relations between states; opposition to colonialism and racism; and international cooperation to alleviate poverty and promote economic development (see Nehru's Legacy, ch. 1). Nonalignment was a consistent feature of Indian foreign policy by the late 1940s and enjoyed strong, almost unquestioning support among the Indian elite.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Nehru's concept of nonalignment brought India considerable international prestige among newly independent states that shared India's concerns about the military confrontation between the superpowers and the influence of the former colonial powers. New Delhi used nonalignment to establish a significant role for itself as a leader of the Third World in such multilateral organizations as the United Nations (UN) and the Nonaligned Movement (see Participation in International Organizations, this ch.). The signing of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation between India and the Soviet Union in 1971 and India's involvement in the internal affairs of its smaller neighbors in the 1970s and 1980s tarnished New Delhi's image as a nonaligned nation and led some observers to note that in practice, nonalignment applied only to India's relations with countries outside South Asia.

The early 1990s demise of the bipolar world system, which had existed since the end of World War II, shook the underpinnings of India's foreign policy. The Cold War system of alliances had been rendered meaningless by the collapse of the East European communist states, the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact), and the demise of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, most colonies had become independent, and apartheid in South Africa was being dismantled, diminishing the value of anticolonialism and making it impossible for antiracism to serve as a rallying point for international political action (India and South Africa restored full diplomatic relations in 1993 after a thirty-nine-year lapse). The Panch Shila, peaceful resolution of international disputes, and international cooperation to spur economic development--which was being enhanced by domestic economic reforms--were broad objectives in a changing world. Thus, the 1990s saw India redefining nonalignment and the view of India's place in the world.

Overview of Foreign Relations

Data as of September 1995