India has 1.3 billion people, but fewer than 1,000 diplomats.

August 31, 2018 - Anchal Chaturvedi

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis are heading to New Delhi next week for an inaugural set of high-level meetings — one more sign the West wants to deepen cooperation with India as a hedge against China.
But former Indian officials say an understaffed foreign ministry is holding back Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to seek greater global influence in line with his country’s fast-growing $2.6 trillion economy. The nation of 1.3 billion people only deploys around as many diplomats as New Zealand, which has a population of around 5 million.

“We’re woefully under-equipped,” said former junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor, an opposition lawmaker who chairs India’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. “This is not worthy of a country of India’s size and ambition.”
The need for a well-staffed foreign ministry in New Delhi is only growing more urgent, particularly as US President Donald Trump’s administration emphasizes outreach to the “Indo-Pacific” region in a bid to elevate India as a counterweight to China. New Delhi has started to take a leading role in pushing back against China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which is encroaching on India’s South Asian backyard.
India also has lots of unfinished goals. It’s angling for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while trying to defend the global mobility of its IT workers overseas as protectionism rises.
With roughly 940 foreign service officers, India has one of the most understaffed diplomatic corps of any major country — just slightly higher than New Zealand’s 885 officers, or Singapore’s 850. It’s vastly outnumbered by the Japanese and Australian services of around 6,000 people, the estimated 7,500 diplomats of rival China and the US State Department’s service of nearly 14,000.

Anchal Chaturvedi

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