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30 review for Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Himanshu Khurana

    Choices -‘Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy’ authored by former Foreign Secretary and subsequently NSA Shivshankar Menon is a simple and lucid analysis of the challenges that faced Indian foreign policy, the particular circumstances the decision makers found themselves in, the choices which were subsequently made and the wide-ranging ramifications of these decisions. Particularly, the author with strong theoretical underpinnings, elucidates and analyses five significant foreign policy Choices -‘Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy’ authored by former Foreign Secretary and subsequently NSA Shivshankar Menon is a simple and lucid analysis of the challenges that faced Indian foreign policy, the particular circumstances the decision makers found themselves in, the choices which were subsequently made and the wide-ranging ramifications of these decisions. Particularly, the author with strong theoretical underpinnings, elucidates and analyses five significant foreign policy situations and/or decisions that were taken by India under different political establishments and how they affected a significant shift in our policy orientation while safeguarding and sometimes strengthening the core principles at the same time. All these situations were encountered during times that were difficult and challenging in various ways. They often involved complex intricacies of international diplomacy intertwined with an interplay of domestic political compulsions. Along with dissecting these particular situations, the thrust is on emphasising the strategic goals while minimising the tactical advantages that India could have gained through the exercising of alternative choices. Without doubt, the most difficult situation out of these was the decision to refrain from exercising overt force against Pakistan for 26/11 attacks. As he argues succinctly, India kept its strategic and long term goals in mind as a declaration of war would have played into the hands of our neighbour and internationalised the conflict. However, he emphasises that in a future situation of external aggression, the response may be different. The best thing about this book is that along with the ‘what’ and ‘when’ of these circumstances, the ‘why’ and more importantly, the ‘how’ has been delved into in detail and with clarity. The web of diplomatic negotiations has been illuminated with a clear understanding, particularly in the international negotiations that followed the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in 2005 and culminated with the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008. Further, the role of domestic political compulsions determining our foreign policy choices has been examined, for example how the foreign policy has become politicised since the Nuclear Deal. Further, he reiterates constantly throughout the book that foreign policy decision making is not a black and white conception of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but a huge gray area where we often have to make mini-max decisions that minimise the damage and maximise the benefit to our interests. ‘There are seldom clearly right or wrong answers or evident successes at the time the decisions are made and implemented.’ In a passing reference, the author has pointed out the capacity concerns facing India’s diplomatic cadre and cited examples to show when facing NSG waiver, ‘it took a colossal and considerable disruption of our normal work for us..’ Thus there is a need to strengthen our ‘diplomatic machine’ to focus on more such issues at the same time. In my knowledge, steps have been taken to correct this problem and in the near future, we will be able to improve upon the current situation through better cadre management and improved training practices. This book, as it could be predicted given the high credentials of the former foreign policy practitioner, is not a gung-ho nationalist account of India’s foreign policy choices. It is nonetheless a patriotic account of these situations and choices with the overarching goal of strengthening India’s position in the global order through the almost unique Indian foreign policy style of ‘boldness in conception and cautious in implementation’ and the same time fiercely safeguarding our strategic autonomy. To be neither a ‘responsible power’ nor a US-style superpower but to be, as Indira Gandhi said, a ‘different power’, his dictum to the foreign policy establishment is the reiteration of Deng Xiaoping’s ‘’twenty-four character strategy : “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; to be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kaustubh Kirti

    Choices is a compact and a fast paced book riding on the back of the knowledge and experience of the author in the External Affairs Ministry. It is not a Natwar Singh memoir but more of Shashi Tharoor memoirs plus story. There is more story rather than behind the scenes discussions which was expected of the author. However the story build up in the five instances mentioned is good. Book starts the tale with five instances wherein the Indian Diplomacy has been questions and the author discusses t Choices is a compact and a fast paced book riding on the back of the knowledge and experience of the author in the External Affairs Ministry. It is not a Natwar Singh memoir but more of Shashi Tharoor memoirs plus story. There is more story rather than behind the scenes discussions which was expected of the author. However the story build up in the five instances mentioned is good. Book starts the tale with five instances wherein the Indian Diplomacy has been questions and the author discusses the after effects of those choices and what these choices mean today. These choices related with four of our biggest stakeholders - China, Pakistan, USA and Sri Lanka and the forth is of our nuclear Doctrine. The story part behind the CHina Boundary agreement, Srilakan Civil War and the 123 Agreement are also public knowledge. IN between analysis is good including when he tells of recent Chinese agressions and what they mean from a Diplomats perspective. However the Civil Nuclear Agreement and the Sri Lankan story look more of history textbook read out. Credit for the Manmohan Singh for 123 Agreement is duly acknowledged but it would have been great if some behind the scene discussions which the author might have been party could have been added- explaining character and characteristics of the people involved. The Mumbai Incident chapter was a fad. I bet they might have done a game theory decision tree analysis which could have been added. The chapter just says it was great as diplomats to not attack Pakistan. World was sympathetic with us and we were able to invite investments against which the attack was targeted. Needless to say India is still reeling under our behaviour at that time. But being a diplomat I give him due credit for being the best judge that us public. I can only question him . I would probably read this book for the China chapter and the nuclear doctrine. The scope ont he foreign policy front was immense but the book does not meets the mark .

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ashutosh

    I had many reasons to pick this title by former Indian foreign secretary Mr.Shivshankar Menon. And I am glad that it fulfilled almost all of them. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep the book focused and easy-to-read so that an average reader like myself with limited foreign policy 'vocabulary' can understand the process and the logic behind five important 'choices', the author was involved in. The five ''choices'' discussed are, the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement with China, t I had many reasons to pick this title by former Indian foreign secretary Mr.Shivshankar Menon. And I am glad that it fulfilled almost all of them. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep the book focused and easy-to-read so that an average reader like myself with limited foreign policy 'vocabulary' can understand the process and the logic behind five important 'choices', the author was involved in. The five ''choices'' discussed are, the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement with China, the Civil Nuclear Agreement with the US, the events that unfolded after Mumbai 26/11, Srilankan Civil War and the elimination of LTTE and finally India's No-First-Use Nuclear doctrine. The author gives you the insight into the elusive world and behind the scenes look at what it takes to formulate a foreign policy. It is after reading this, that I now understand that even the policy making exercise in a democratic country like India happen through consensus building and that it is definitely not a one-man show. Another eye opener was the central role played by the Prime Minister, on defining the broad contours of the country's foreign policy, within which the stakeholders operate. As the author explained India has been fortunate enough, to have Prime Ministers right from Jawarhlala Nehru till Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has deftly responded to demanding circumstances. The former foreign secretary has defined Indian foreign policy 'Tactically restraint but Strategically bold'. And it does reflect in choices that the country made during Srilankan civil war and Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack. But I was not totally convinced by the arguments that the author gave regarding the restraint that India showed during this two crisis. Particularly regarding the 26/11 terrorist attack; the author does make a concession that the future governments might not have the option of restraint that was shown by the then administration.The author did not elaborate much on the 1987 Indian involvement in Srilanka that lead to the loss of estimated 1400 Indian Peace Keeping Force personnel. The much-discussed part of this book that has given more clarity to India's nuclear doctrine forms the penultimate chapter of the book. The author gives a detailed account of the evolution of No-First-Use Policy and why India went nuclear in the first place. All in all, this is a great book and must read for anyone who would like to get to know why India has made certain 'choices' and how it is trying to adjust to the realities of an emerging multipolar world.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hari Sankar

    Tl.Dr : An absolute feast for Foreign Policy aficionados to devour. A gripping account of India’s recent foreign policy choices and the rationale for the same. Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, is an exemplary book written by one of the most revered diplomats, Mr. Shivashankar Menon, who retired as the Foreign Secretary of India. It is an invaluable book that shines light into the esoteric art of Foreign Policy decision making and about the ‘Choices’ made during the pursuit o Tl.Dr : An absolute feast for Foreign Policy aficionados to devour. A gripping account of India’s recent foreign policy choices and the rationale for the same. Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, is an exemplary book written by one of the most revered diplomats, Mr. Shivashankar Menon, who retired as the Foreign Secretary of India. It is an invaluable book that shines light into the esoteric art of Foreign Policy decision making and about the ‘Choices’ made during the pursuit of the Nation’s objectives. It is a riveting read regarding five scenarios in which Mr. Menon was involved, at various levels of engagement and wherein, he could assist the government of the day in making key choices, given the situation and means at hand. Honest and rational in his writing, he lists down the reasons why the said choices were made. The scenarios were the following: The Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement: The negotiation for a boundary settlement with regards to China. The Civilian Nuclear Deal with USA India’s restraint after the 24/11 attacks against war with Pakistan. Sri Lankan Civil War and the tough policy choices that India had to make. India’s Nuclear Doctrine and the basis behind the same. In each instance, the author maintains a logical flow starting with a background and the various stakeholders involved, the policy choices that India had, the dilemmas, the final action, the consequences and a final word on how the events would have played out if the said choice was not implemented. For a foreign policy nerd like myself, the detailed account of how policy decisions are crystallized in the PMO and the South Block, was delightfully enlightening. The points which the author made on the disproportionate influence wielded by the PM and ironically, about the nature of consensus building before formalizing policy (as opposed to a one man show as commonly perceived) was heartening to read. It also shines a beacon on the incredible contributions of our much-maligned past PMs from Mr. Nehru to Mr. Singh who set us on the path to becoming a major power. The author delves into the keystone of Indian Foreign Policy philosophy which is ‘Boldness in policy conception, caution in implementation’ and the riddle that is the Indian Strategic Autonomy. Lucidly written, thoughtfully conceived, pragmatically portrayed- this book is a brilliant addition to the annals of Indian foreign policy literature.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Venkatarangan Thirumalai

    As an Indian citizen, often I wonder whether successive Indian Governments from Nehru to Modi have a strategic foreign policy to engage with the world at large, secure our interests from adverse neighbours around and do more. Post independence for many decades India championed Non-Alignment. As (then) a poor country, it would've been logical for it to place itself under the security umbrella of either of the superpower - the Soviet Union and the United States of America, and benefit from the rel As an Indian citizen, often I wonder whether successive Indian Governments from Nehru to Modi have a strategic foreign policy to engage with the world at large, secure our interests from adverse neighbours around and do more. Post independence for many decades India championed Non-Alignment. As (then) a poor country, it would've been logical for it to place itself under the security umbrella of either of the superpower - the Soviet Union and the United States of America, and benefit from the relationship. Instead, by staying mostly equidistant, subscribing to (in my view) an ill-fated socialistic ideology it lost opportunities when our neighbours gained economically and militarily during the period. Being the largest democracy in the world, it will be expected that major foreign policies undertaken by Government of India would be debated extensively in parliament and put before the people and voted on. Instead, foreign policy decisions are taken by the executive covertly and often apologetically. Let us look at few examples of these, taken post-liberation (1991): 1. For the generation which fought and got freedom from the imperial Britain, China was a friend, a fellow victim, which they truly believed, they even taught their kids the slogan of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers). For them, it was a body blow when China attacked in 1962 and decimated the young republics defences. In India for next 30 years, China was a thorn of concern. India didn't have the military or economic might to revenge the Chinese and claim back every lost inch as Parliament had vowed during the way, nor was it ready to reconcile to reality and patch up for the larger good. Yet in 1993, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao announced the signing of Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement with China, which effectively recognised the prevailing Line of Actual Control (LAC) which in many portions were not even defined and vowing not to use force to settle the boundary. 2.During the Parliament elections of 2009, when Sri Lanka was waging the final phase of a 25-year war with LTTE (Tamil Tigers), it was discussed on stage only in the state of Tamil Nadu, never becoming a national issue. During the war, the 60 million Tamils in India were worried about the safety of 2.2 million Tamils of Sri Lanka, yet Indian Government conspicuously stay away on the issue. 3.This was also the period when the wounds were fresh from the 26/11 Mumbai attack waged by LeT with the backing of Pakistan Army & ISI. The attack damaging the pride and prestige of Indian Armed forces and its political leadership dramatically, yet the opposition got no visible gain at the polling booths. Immediately after the attack, India didn't try to go after the actors of the crime in Pakistan by using its superior military might as many around the world expected it would. 4.India's Nuclear tests in 1974 and in 1998 was a show of strength by respective Governments nationalist agenda, aimed at a domestic audience than for any visible international gains. For twenty-five years after acquiring Nuclear capabilities India remained silent. Yet it never signed to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, opting to retain its rights for further development. Then in 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Initiative. Later in 2007, India agreed to the standards of NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement (which limits conventional weapons exports), and the Australia Group (which regulates trade in dual-use chemicals) and to international nuclear safeguards. It is unclear what it gained for its impeccable record on non-proliferation compared with Pakistan & China. To understand what went through the minds of policy makers of India while making the above four choices & more, you should read this book "Choices" - Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy by Shivshankar Menon. A veteran diplomat, Shivshankar was India's foreign secretary from 2006 to 2009, served as India's envoy to Israel, Sri Lanka, China & Pakistan and lastly as National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister of India from 2010 to 2014. Though there was nothing unknown told in its pages, the book serves as a guide on why India behaves the way it does on the world stage. The author puts forward the reasoning behind India's actions and inactions. In the fifth chapter, he goes into detail to explain Why India Pledges No First Use of Nuclear Weapons. He puts a good argument on why this became the official position of India. What could be seen by many to be counter-initiative proved advantageous to India in its efforts to manage the threat from Pakistan - a fellow NWS (Nuclear Weapons State) which operates with different motivations & acts through non-state actors. Pakistan is the only NSW which has put it's nuclear arsenal under the control of its army and is fast turning its nuclear weapons for tactical advantage and military usage, here the author shares his worry of a rogue Pakistan Air Force pilot deciding to take the law into his own hands armed with deployable nuclear weapons. Shivshankar Menon feels the Pakistan Army learned wrong lessons from Kargil war, which was that Pakistan's nuclear shield permits it to undertake terrorist attacks on India without fear of retaliation. He feels this may well have figured in the Pakistan Army's calculations behind the audacious Mumbai attack of November 26, 2008. The book gives you glimpses of the operational style of individual Prime Ministers of India. For example in 1992 during the negotiations with Chinese on the border agreement, PM Rao had asked the author to keep the opposition leaders constantly informed, that's when Shivshankar Menon was asked by A.B.Vajpayee who was the opposition leader "Do you think this is good for India?" One clue Shivshankar leaves for the reader to figure out how India will react in future is: The policy decisions discussed were strategically bold but tactically cautions. There are some who argue that there is a "unique Indian strategic culture of restraint". ..This caution in practice may owe to systemic factors: since foreign policy decision making is so centralised in the prime minister, and the Ministry of External Affairs lacks capability in India, no single actor or hierarchy in India is sufficiently empowered or has the time to ensure that policy is implemented satisfactorily. The corollary to the central role of the prime minister in decision making is the weak institutionalisation of foreign policy implementation in India. India has serious capacity issues in the implementation of foreign policy and lacks the institutional depth to see policy through. Most of the book has been about the retelling of what happened, but the book has served its purpose in my view with the above paragraph. This and many other insights makes the book a must-read for any student or actor handling India's foreign policies. Reading the book, you understand why the following quote is very true when it comes to foreign policies: Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives - Abba Eban Originally posted in my blog at http://venkatarangan.com/blog/2017/04...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Virat hooda

    True Wonderer "There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth." ~Chanakya. This is perhaps more true for Diplomacy than for anything else. One of the best things about this book other than its core theme was it's author, there is no one better to tell you about the Choices India made in her most diplomatically charged phase, than the diplomat who helped her make them. Mr.Menon had been personally involved in all the 4 issu True Wonderer "There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth." ~Chanakya. This is perhaps more true for Diplomacy than for anything else. One of the best things about this book other than its core theme was it's author, there is no one better to tell you about the Choices India made in her most diplomatically charged phase, than the diplomat who helped her make them. Mr.Menon had been personally involved in all the 4 issues discussed in this book(China in the 1990s, USA in 2006, Pakistan & 26/11, Sri Lanka & LTTE in 2009) and has many years of experience driving the foreign policy of India.Hence this book was a delight and an immediate priority for me to read, to know from the people directly responsible the What and Whys is really refreshing. Though he has been quite evasive on the "How" part, the intricate details of the negotiations or the MOM that i had hoped this might contain are absent. Nevertheless the book though lacking in detailed blow by blow of the various issues, gives you the reasoning and thought process behind the various actions taken by the Indian government working within the constraints of that time period. One of the most important things this book made me realize is how underappreciated some of the very critical events are, for example P.V. Narasima Rao (9th Prime Minister of India) & his border peace and tranquility agreement with China. The 1990's was a very critical time for India, our economy was at its lowest point and we were in an unprecedented danger of being bankrupt (Courtesy of the 'License Raj' that had been practiced in the country till than) ,so naturally the immediate priority was the economy and its liberalization, but to achieve this having stability with our immediate neighbors was a necessary prerequisite. More so with China, having been defeated in the 1962 war, India was acutely aware of the scale of disaster that could ensue if the Chinese decided to press their advantage once again. Settling the border issue or in the lack of a favorable settlement, agreeing on a peaceful process for its resolution was paramount. Adding to that China,being the victor, would be very difficult to negotiate with specially resisting any kind of concessions(not every country could be as magnanimous (or foolish) in victory as we were after 1971 during the Shimla agreement), and to top it all off convincing the current political heads of the country to shake hands with a previous foe would have been quite a challenge. Yet,the deal was done. And its importance barely noticed,the mind boggles. Lao Tzu said "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say: we did it ourselves". This quote is quite apt for the "Accidental" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh & his civil nuclear agreement with the USA in 2006. Like every Indian i have my own misgivings about Mr. Singh and his tenure but the 123 agreement is one of the master strokes that has to be attributed to his dogged persistence. Convincing a country like the USA which scuttled a previous agreement for nuclear fuel supply, imposed sanctions on India after the "Pokharan" nuclear test in 1974, to a civil nuclear agreement, making it alter its own laws and giving a 'Clean' exemption from the very restrictions by the NSG that were a direct result of India's nuclear program in the first place would have been a daunting task. But yet again the deal was done,it is quite interesting to know how,and Mr.Menon as our faithful guide do not disappoint. Yet, i felt that he was way too soft on Mr.Singh, which is understandable as he was his National Security Adviser at the time.But still, not taking a strong military action against Pakistan after 26/11, and just posturing on the border and using diplomacy, still, to this day, doesn't sit well with me, maybe because as a citizen having these kinds of opinions is easy as opposed to being the one taking the decisions, but explaining away as to why we didn't use something like Israel's strong covert response to the situation "because we are different" and "that approach would only lead to temporary peace and not solve the main issue" is ludicrous. Mr.Menon himself admits that he suggested a strong and clear response, which he says we are fortunate the PM didn't go for, i mean 'War' was maybe not the ideal answer but we could have taken the scum who planed 26/11 out, morality be damned. But again, a country's foreign political machinery is too complicated a thing to be always in perfect working order. He warns the situation is different now and the restraint of the past is now just that 'Past'. The Lankan civil war and our involvement in it is once again, i felt, was downplayed quite a bit in the book, India made a number of blunders regarding the LTTE, and i agree with Mr.Menon that perhaps due to our meddling and trying to broker peace we prolonged Sri Lankans suffering. Though, i feel a complete disarmament of the rebels should have been a prerequisite condition before any kind of negotiation. But it is always easy to judge history. The assassination of PM Rajiv Gandhi, is perhaps the result of said blunders and the cause which finally lead to the war's bloody conclusion. The last 2 chapters of the book are perhaps my favorite, India's nuclear policy and a 'final word' about the intricacies of decision making, diplomacy and negotiation and their broad contemplation on the country's psyche and its unique personality were very well crafted. Here in the last chapters you really get to see the diplomat in Mr.Menon in all his glory. The book overall is well thought and well presented, the author talks about things he knows and has a first had experience in, adding credibility to his statements and thoughts. The fact that these agreements and issues were in a volatile time, as Mr.Menon notes where one could maneuver, concede and negotiate successfully ,as opposed to now where the world order is much more cemented and diplomats don't have the leeway that they previously enjoyed is what makes the book and his own experience so important. I have always had a keen interest in nations and their behaviors towards each other. To any such enthusiast and or history buff this book is a treat, perhaps we would not agree on all the points that Mr.Menon makes but that is not the purpose of this book. He lays down his views and experiences, and as Confucius said "Study the past if you would define the future". There are indeed lessons here, and lessons worth reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Akshat Upadhyay

    A take on India's foreign policy making process by an insider, this book lets you down due to the generality of the discussion. The choices are presented in the form of 5 case studies and apart from the US nuclear deal, rest of the 4 are just clippings from a newspaper. Also, the writer writes not for a layman but for someone who is already well versed with the basic terminologies of the subjects under discussion. This filters the reading population to a very narrow band. Overall an average book A take on India's foreign policy making process by an insider, this book lets you down due to the generality of the discussion. The choices are presented in the form of 5 case studies and apart from the US nuclear deal, rest of the 4 are just clippings from a newspaper. Also, the writer writes not for a layman but for someone who is already well versed with the basic terminologies of the subjects under discussion. This filters the reading population to a very narrow band. Overall an average book, hence the 3 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aditya Kulkarni

    A good read. Perhaps the best book on India's foreign policy as far as beginners are concerned. Written in simple and lucid style, the book covers those aspects in the recent past where former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was directly or indirectly involved. In the book, Menon analyses the "choices" that were available to India at the time and how the present and the future are shaped by the "choices" that were made back then. Overall, a very good book, especially if you are a beg A good read. Perhaps the best book on India's foreign policy as far as beginners are concerned. Written in simple and lucid style, the book covers those aspects in the recent past where former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was directly or indirectly involved. In the book, Menon analyses the "choices" that were available to India at the time and how the present and the future are shaped by the "choices" that were made back then. Overall, a very good book, especially if you are a beginner.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Saahithi Reddy

    The book gives one useful insights into the considerations that go into framing a foreign policy decision and arriving at it. It concentrates mostly on decisions taken in the last 2 decades and their implications on India now and in the future. It also discusses on the lessons Indian diplomats have learnt over the process and their shortcomings and way forward. Though it was an interesting read and offered some new insights, it felt more repetitive in its ideas towards the end.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nitin Baid

    A must-read. Could have been more interesting...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vijay Ivaturi

    "Choices - Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy" had so much that could have gone in its favor. Shivshankar Menon, its author, is a career diplomat. He was one of the Top 5 people who managed India's foreign policy and internal security for 10 years (between 2004 and 2014). He just could have got so many things right in a book with such impacting title. But then, there is a difference between an author and diplomat. As an author, Mr Shivshankar Menon disappoints us immensely in this book. "Choices - Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy" had so much that could have gone in its favor. Shivshankar Menon, its author, is a career diplomat. He was one of the Top 5 people who managed India's foreign policy and internal security for 10 years (between 2004 and 2014). He just could have got so many things right in a book with such impacting title. But then, there is a difference between an author and diplomat. As an author, Mr Shivshankar Menon disappoints us immensely in this book. Given the title and the background of the author, you would expect such a book to cover one or more of the following areas: - Importance of foreign policy, how it is practiced in other countries, how it is done in India - Specific instances where foreign policy decisions influenced the outcomes of historical events - Author's deep understanding of India, foreign policy - Author's narration of various policy choices and decisions - Author's involvement and influence on the policy decisions But Mr Menon gives us a wafer thin narrative. The book itself talks about 5 specific chapters in India's foreign policy - China oriented policies, Nuclear treaty with the US, 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Sri Lanka conflict and India's nuclear weapon policy. Now, on paper, these look strong areas to convey a lot of details. Unfortunately, we get very little facts in all these narratives, except for the Sri Lanka conflict.  And where the book gets boring is the personal (mostly subjective) views of Mr Menon. He goes into monologues very often with very little facts. He gives us some dots and then starts his own narrative to connect those dots. It gets repetitive and you lose interest in those long sentences that go nowhere. Word "Choices" gets inserted into some of the pages, rather forcefully, as it to justify the title of the book. In short, this is a hugely disappointing book. It does not provide you with exhaustive references to historical events, actors, actions and outcomes. All you get is pages and pages of monologues from author. I'm not sure if there are other better books out there on India's foreign policy. But "Choices" by Mr Shivshankar Menon is definitely NOT one of them.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anmol Jain

    Insight by the Inside Man. A must read for the students and scholars of conflict resolution, foreign policy, political science, and international relations. "Initiative and risk taking must be strategic, not tactical, at India's present level of power, to avoid the fate of powers in history whose rise was thwarted. History is replete with examples of rising powers that prematurely thought their time had come, that mistook influence and weight for real power. Their rise, like that of Wilhelmine G Insight by the Inside Man. A must read for the students and scholars of conflict resolution, foreign policy, political science, and international relations. "Initiative and risk taking must be strategic, not tactical, at India's present level of power, to avoid the fate of powers in history whose rise was thwarted. History is replete with examples of rising powers that prematurely thought their time had come, that mistook influence and weight for real power. Their rise, like that of Wilhelmine Germany or militarist Japan, was cut short prematurely." "At the risk of disappointing those who call on India to be a "responsible" power - meaning they want us to do what they wish - and at the risk of disappointing Indians who like to dream of India as an old-fashioned superpower, I would only say, as Indira Gandhi once said, "India will be a different power" and will continue to walk its own path in the world. That is the only responsible way for us." "Defining the Indian way in foreign policy is difficult, just as it is hard to put into words what makes a person Indian, since we base our nationhood not on religion, ethnicity, language, or any of the standard nineteenth-century criteria but on an idea of India. However, hard to define, the world knows an Indian, an Indian diplomat, and Indian foreign policy, it is marked by a combination of boldness in conception and caution in implementation, by the dominant and determining role of the prime minister, by a didactic negotiating style, by a fundamentally realistic approach masked by normative rhetoric, by comfort in a plural and diverse world or multiverse, and, most consistently, by a consciousness of India's destiny as a great power."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Saurabh Goyal

    Choices is a sober analysis of Indian Foreign policy. The book ruminates on five key choices Indian foreign policy made- No first use of Nuclear policy, Restraint in face of 26/11 attacks, Limited involvement in the last phase of Sri Lanka- LTTE conflict, Civil Nuclear Agreement with the USA, and Boundary negotiations with China. Through this five choices, the book aims to go deep into drivers of Indian foreign policy. Those looking for some grand theoretical framework will be disappointed. The b Choices is a sober analysis of Indian Foreign policy. The book ruminates on five key choices Indian foreign policy made- No first use of Nuclear policy, Restraint in face of 26/11 attacks, Limited involvement in the last phase of Sri Lanka- LTTE conflict, Civil Nuclear Agreement with the USA, and Boundary negotiations with China. Through this five choices, the book aims to go deep into drivers of Indian foreign policy. Those looking for some grand theoretical framework will be disappointed. The book concludes that these choices were less a product of some grand theory, and more a result of conjectures, personalities and resources available at those times. India's world view is incoherent because it is shaped by many mutually contradictory elements. The history of colonisation induces thrust on sovereignty, the experience of UN over Kashmir issue in 1947-48 makes it suspicious of great power politics at multilateral forums, the desperate need of domestic development overrides charming idealism at multilateral forums and finally it being in phase of national consolidation keeps it from taking first principle stands of issues of separatist movements, human rights and so on. Menon makes no bones about admitting to the fact of incoherence in Indian foreign policy. As an insider, as someone who had skin in the game, he knows that real world offers little chance of high idealism based on first principles. Diplomacy is much more about judgement. The judgements which have to factor in histories, presents and futures; judgements which need to be strategically acute and tactically workable; judgements which are rooted in reality of capabilities. 'Choices' offers us a fascinating story of such judgements.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Akshay Ratan

    A comprehensive account of India's foreign policy outlook post the cold war by an acclaimed diplomat, the book talks about an Indian way of policymaking because of the unique geo-strategic challenges the country faces. The author reflects on five key engagements he was involved in as a key policymaker - border dispute with China, civil nuclear deal with the United States, policy outlook towards Pakistan in the wake of 26/11 attacks, India's role during Sri Lankan Civil War and dealing with LTTE, A comprehensive account of India's foreign policy outlook post the cold war by an acclaimed diplomat, the book talks about an Indian way of policymaking because of the unique geo-strategic challenges the country faces. The author reflects on five key engagements he was involved in as a key policymaker - border dispute with China, civil nuclear deal with the United States, policy outlook towards Pakistan in the wake of 26/11 attacks, India's role during Sri Lankan Civil War and dealing with LTTE, and lastly India's position on Nuclear Weapons. In each of the chapter, Menon discusses the possible choices, roadblocks and the learnings from each of the decisions taken at that point of time. He clearly illustrates how diplomacy and policymaking is a combination of art & science with a hazy distinction between right or wrong. In all of the situations, Menon clearly illustrates how the strategic policymaking is influenced by culture and politics of a nation, but why a nation should not ever let them become deterministic factors. He captures India's way of policymaking beautifully, "If there is an Indian way in foreign policy, it is marked by a combination of boldness in conception and caution in implementation, by the dominant and determining role of the prime minister, by a didactic negotiating style.....and by a consciousness of India's destiny as a great power." Overall, a wonderful read for anyone with interest in the evolution of Indian foreign policymaking over the previous decades!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Abhishek Maheshwari

    I have only just started studying geopolitics and foreign policy. And since this was only my second book after Shebonti Ray Dadwal's Geopolitics of Gas (IDSA), my review might seem a little too appreciative of the author as I haven't read the contrarian views. Now coming to the book, I loved the structure in which it was presented. It was rich in knowledge and guided the reader well through the build ups which led to certain important decisions. The chapters discussed all those issues which I have I have only just started studying geopolitics and foreign policy. And since this was only my second book after Shebonti Ray Dadwal's Geopolitics of Gas (IDSA), my review might seem a little too appreciative of the author as I haven't read the contrarian views. Now coming to the book, I loved the structure in which it was presented. It was rich in knowledge and guided the reader well through the build ups which led to certain important decisions. The chapters discussed all those issues which I have been pondering upon over the years. I too wondered why we never attacked after 26/11 and after reading the book I am now convinced that it was for the best. Having an elaborate light shed on these issues were a source of significant joy and knowledge for me. Now, coming to the eyebrows raised part, I felt that the author was a little too critical of the new government. Even though he didn't put it explicitly, it was quite evident from the writing. What confused me was that the book mentions that the new government does not have an established foreign policy yet, I want someone to explain me why author would say that. I can see India building on its existing relationship with USA, while at the same time keeping Russia happy. While relationship with China is uncertain, the trade with it has also been good. India's growth potential and increasing trade is perhaps it's leverage against its neighbors. So is not the foreign policy implied here? Again, I am not trying to criticize the author, the question I ask is to satisfy my own curiosity.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vandita

    Yet another Indian Foreign Policy Book by yet another Former Foreign Secretary of India but so worth it as it is written by ShivShankar Menon, an articulate and one of the most well respected Indian diplomats. He expertly lays out the ‘Choices’ in the making of Indian Foreign Policy through 5 knotty issues (China border; Civil Nuclear Initiative partnership with the US; Restraint or riposte in relation to Cross border terrorism from Pakistan; Dealing with Sri Lanka’s LTTE saga and India’s pledge Yet another Indian Foreign Policy Book by yet another Former Foreign Secretary of India but so worth it as it is written by ShivShankar Menon, an articulate and one of the most well respected Indian diplomats. He expertly lays out the ‘Choices’ in the making of Indian Foreign Policy through 5 knotty issues (China border; Civil Nuclear Initiative partnership with the US; Restraint or riposte in relation to Cross border terrorism from Pakistan; Dealing with Sri Lanka’s LTTE saga and India’s pledge of ‘no First use of nuclear weapons’) and is pragmatic and self-reflective enough to posit that some mistakes were made and the stances may need to be readjusted as geopolitics reality evolves. However the essence of the book is in the last chapter of ‘A final word’ which summarises the Indian way in Foreign Policy being ‘marked by a combination of boldness in conception and caution in implementation, by the dominant and determining role of the PM, by a didactic negotiating style, by a fundamentally realistic approach masked by normative rhetoric, by comfort of existing in a plural and diverse world and most consistently, by a consciousness of India’s destiny as a great power (though fully acknowledging it is not there yet).’ Thus Menon looks to the future and sees India continuing to seek to enlarge its strategic autonomy, remain fiercely independent and remain convinced of its exception status (as unlike other states - Australia, Japan, it cannot outsource its security needs to others) and interests in the international system. Book worth reading just for the last chapter!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Akshay

    Former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon takes us on a master-class of Indian foreign policy thinking, in a very readable and concise book. He explains India's strategic dilemmas, foreign policy history and wonders about Indian strategic culture through the lens of 5 "choices" exercised by India in the post-Cold War world, namely: 1. The India-China Border Agreement of the 1990s 2. The India-USA nuclear agreement of the 2000s 3. Why India didn't strike Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks 4. In Former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon takes us on a master-class of Indian foreign policy thinking, in a very readable and concise book. He explains India's strategic dilemmas, foreign policy history and wonders about Indian strategic culture through the lens of 5 "choices" exercised by India in the post-Cold War world, namely: 1. The India-China Border Agreement of the 1990s 2. The India-USA nuclear agreement of the 2000s 3. Why India didn't strike Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks 4. India's limited involvement in the final phase of the Sri Lanka-LTTE conflict of 2009 5. India's Nuclear No-First-Use Policy The striking conclusion readers come to via this book is the competence, patience, diligence and pragmatism that lies at the heart of Indian foreign policy making. India's foreign policy shines through this book as strategically bold, yet tactically cautious. This is exemplified in Former Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpayee & Dr. Manmohan Singh's approach to Indian foreign policy. All three men were well aware of their domestic constraints and India's geopolitical constraints, and yet each individually broke the mould, while ensuring continuity and cross-party support for their policies. With India guided by pragmatic and brave patriots, we cannot but feel secure and optimistic about the future of our country.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mihir Parekh

    Book describes options available and possible outcome of different choices during five important Indian foreign policy decisions in which author was actively involved. Indian choices and decisions during Indo-China Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal initiated in 2005, Indian response of 26/11 Mumbai attack, cleansing of LTTE by Sri Lankan government in 2009 and Indian doctrine of no first use of nuclear weapons are analyzed. Book throws light on wisdom of Book describes options available and possible outcome of different choices during five important Indian foreign policy decisions in which author was actively involved. Indian choices and decisions during Indo-China Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal initiated in 2005, Indian response of 26/11 Mumbai attack, cleansing of LTTE by Sri Lankan government in 2009 and Indian doctrine of no first use of nuclear weapons are analyzed. Book throws light on wisdom of top Indian leadership, prime ministers of that time in particular, in getting things done in cohesive democratic setup. This descriptions of Indian way of doing things also indicates future trajectory of our foreign policy in this dynamic era where world is rapidly changing in unpredictable way and our own capabilities and options are also increasing. In last chapter, this ‘old fashioned patriot’ puts an argument in favor of Indian aspiration for becoming grate power; it is in interest of India to be grate power. Nevertheless, not military or economic might but openness of society and culture tolerance makes a nation grate. In this sense, India has long way to go. However while finishing the book; we couldn’t agree more with author that India is destine to be a great power.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shubham Bansal

    Overall a very good book. This is not a book on overall analysis on Indian foreign Policy. The book focuses on certain selected select events/phases of which the author was personally part of. However, I would have enjoyed the book even more if more analysis at decision making at policy level was elaborated upon. As the book itself points out that this is a practitioners account and not that of a theorist. So you would not find references to political theories, but emphasis on role of opposition Overall a very good book. This is not a book on overall analysis on Indian foreign Policy. The book focuses on certain selected select events/phases of which the author was personally part of. However, I would have enjoyed the book even more if more analysis at decision making at policy level was elaborated upon. As the book itself points out that this is a practitioners account and not that of a theorist. So you would not find references to political theories, but emphasis on role of opposition and dilemmas the government faces in certain situations. The book provides proper brief background information in each of the chapters. There might be certain cases where one may have to search on the internet for the discussions/names mentioned in the book. Discussions on 'deterrence' as a policy are quite insightful. The chapter on No-First use policy is a must-read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Piyush Yadav

    The author has presented a rigorous analysis of all the circumstances and situations, cleverly picked for their lessons and insights, and choices India faced in the last three decades or so. In a fairly concise manner with a lot of nitty-gritty of policy-making in between the story proceeds, comes to climax in the fourth chapter - "Force Works". The undercurrents of the book now take broader turns and encompass wider thoughts and ideas, from diverse streams. Finally, the book always kind of maint The author has presented a rigorous analysis of all the circumstances and situations, cleverly picked for their lessons and insights, and choices India faced in the last three decades or so. In a fairly concise manner with a lot of nitty-gritty of policy-making in between the story proceeds, comes to climax in the fourth chapter - "Force Works". The undercurrents of the book now take broader turns and encompass wider thoughts and ideas, from diverse streams. Finally, the book always kind of maintains a tacit, balanced viewpoint not superficially but through showcasing the sequence of events in totality, expanding the horizon of observation. A perfect example for this would be- "..Where nuclear weapons placed unimaginable power in the hands of possessor states, the revolution in Information and communication technology placed power in the hands of small groups and individuals."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sandeep Bhat

    The book is one of the best I have read on the decision making in foreign policies. In a highly globalised world, foreign policy is a tightrope which diplomats needs to walk on to ensure win win situation for the counterparties involved. The book discusses 5 issues on length, where India took decisions; author goes in length describing the various choices available and thought process by various governments on deciding on their choices. The book is Rich in context and details about 1993 Border P The book is one of the best I have read on the decision making in foreign policies. In a highly globalised world, foreign policy is a tightrope which diplomats needs to walk on to ensure win win situation for the counterparties involved. The book discusses 5 issues on length, where India took decisions; author goes in length describing the various choices available and thought process by various governments on deciding on their choices. The book is Rich in context and details about 1993 Border Peace and Tranquility agreement with China, Civil Nuclear iniitaitive with US, Mumbai attacks and cross border terrorism from Pakistan, LTTE issue and Indian policy not to use nuclear weapons first. It's highly recommended for India's foreign policy and decision making critcis.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bhaskar kumar

    This certainly wasn't meant to be a tell-all-tale by any means considering the author's proclivity of not spilling beans. 'Choices' concisely underlines the process and background of certain policy decisions. The essays are informative and interesting, the language behoves that of a former Foreign secretary. The chapter on India's nuclear policy and the last chapter are rich in values of statecraft and realism and allegories pointing towards the path that suit the National interest best. What is This certainly wasn't meant to be a tell-all-tale by any means considering the author's proclivity of not spilling beans. 'Choices' concisely underlines the process and background of certain policy decisions. The essays are informative and interesting, the language behoves that of a former Foreign secretary. The chapter on India's nuclear policy and the last chapter are rich in values of statecraft and realism and allegories pointing towards the path that suit the National interest best. What is needed is more of these treatises by retired diplomats on the foreign policy environment of India, the information and serious scholarly work on which is seriously wanting.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Santhoshi Srilaya

    I'd give five stars, but I sensed some partisanship in the writing. It's not something I disagree with, I love MMS too - but it just felt right to give four stars. This is a rather simple book to get started on Indian Foreign Policy. It has insights on China, US, Pakistan, Sri Lanka with a pinch of defense - the key foreign policy points that raise debate on domestic level. Foreign Policy making is some amazing 64-d chess. It's always implicity known but to read insider accounts realizing this fa I'd give five stars, but I sensed some partisanship in the writing. It's not something I disagree with, I love MMS too - but it just felt right to give four stars. This is a rather simple book to get started on Indian Foreign Policy. It has insights on China, US, Pakistan, Sri Lanka with a pinch of defense - the key foreign policy points that raise debate on domestic level. Foreign Policy making is some amazing 64-d chess. It's always implicity known but to read insider accounts realizing this fact is wow. Bonus points for the quotes at the beginning of each chapter.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rohit

    Author ws NSA security adviser during upa govt.. The author list 5 foreign policy choices that India face under upa govt and wat ws india's response to it... Wat were the reasons behind that response n long term effects of it to India... In layman language beautifully explains geo political situation of that time... Though it is supposed to be an unbiased inside account but author has clearly sidestepped from criticising any actions of upa govt... Wud have loved to hear if govt shelved some good Author ws NSA security adviser during upa govt.. The author list 5 foreign policy choices that India face under upa govt and wat ws india's response to it... Wat were the reasons behind that response n long term effects of it to India... In layman language beautifully explains geo political situation of that time... Though it is supposed to be an unbiased inside account but author has clearly sidestepped from criticising any actions of upa govt... Wud have loved to hear if govt shelved some good choices due to political considerations!!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nitin Nair

    It’s a quick read, doesn’t tell you more than you’d have reasonably guessed. Overall, it needed to have more meat on the bone. The little you get of the ringside view is depressing, Indian foreign policy is person dependent, lacks institutionalisation, is reactionary without being aggressive. The book reinforces all the stereotypes of India lacking cojones, wasting time and political capital on meaningless point scoring while trying to win debates that no one cares about

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shariq

    A very balanced and comprehensive look at India's foreign policy, which is to be expected of a top diplomat! The significance of the book can be summarised as follows: "Future governments may not respond in the same way as previous ones had to the same circumstances" "the better we know our past, the better prepared we are for our future" These are probably the two statements which in conjunction explain the whole significance of the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Prakhar Jain

    Having picked this book knowing what to expect, I wasn't left disappointed. Former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon gives an account of 5 important decisions he was a part of in his role with MEA. The insider account doesn't go into the kind of details I had secretly wished for, but is nonetheless admirable and makes for a good guide to practicing Foreign Policy in a real world with many variables and choices to make.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shyamanjan Bose

    A brilliantly written and well documented account of India's Foreign Policy. The writer had described the complex situations in such a simple ways, which doesn't even feel like reading a Sensitive issue of International Relations. A must read for all who wants to have some knowledge about India's Foreign Relations.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Reshov

    One of the most engaging books on policy I've read. Mr. Menon clearly expounds on the chess-like calculations of strategy and tact that goes into foreign policy balances that effects 1.3 billion people in India, and billions across the Globe. The book is engaging and well-balanced. Mr. Menon is logical and explains things with clarity. A good time spent.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Udit Srivastava

    The book touches upon the difficult choices that India had to make in it's Foreign Policy. The insider account of Indo-China Border dispute, 2008 Mumbai Attack, Sri Lanka-LTTE and Nuclear Deal with the US gives the reader a a sneak peek into the MoEA and about the who's and how's of these decisions. Overall, a good read.

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