Terra Nullius | The significance of a bilateral relationship

A relationship between people is based on multiple factors that define its nature and character. Whether between two individuals, or between groups of people, the nature of the relationship emerges based on certain parameters that portray the strength of the relationship and conclude whether it is positive or  negative. For people, the parameters can include communication, the activities that they participate in together, the benefits and deficiencies of the alliance, the trust between the two parties and the networks that they create together, among others. To survive and strengthen, relationships need adequate investment from both the sides.

When it comes to countries, a relationship is based on similar grounds. What change are the parameters that go into defining it and the intricacies involved within each of these parameters. A relationship between two countries is called a bilateral relationship and the relationship between multiple countries or groups/blocs of countries is a multilateral relationship. Bilateralism or a bilateral relationship usually involves economic, political, social and cultural exchanges between the two nations. The definers within these are trade and investment between the two countries, the number of treaties signed, the visits by heads of states and ministers, migration of citizens, tourism, remittances, cultural exchanges, research and educational collaborations among others. Each of these defines the strength and the direction of the relationship and allows one to gauge its impact in the larger geo-political context. With multiple interests at play, through diplomacy, countries usually try to establish robust bilateral ties with one another that ideally conclude in mutually beneficial outputs and results.

For example, a visit by the Foreign Minister of India to Turkey in October 2013, the first time in 10 years, indicated a genuine warming of relationships between the two nations. The visit was an effort on the part of India to “raise the profile” of India-Turkey relationships. India wanted to secure Turkish support for its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the best way to accomplish this was to have a direct dialogue between the two foreign ministers of the country. According to a piece in the World Politics Review that reported on this meeting, “India is now Turkey’s second-largest Asian trading partner, and Turkey is seeking more bilateral high-level exchanges as a precursor to expanded people-to-people contacts.” As a result, Turkey extended support for India’s full membership in NSG. This exchange between India and Turkey is based on an old and established style of bilateral relations– ones that are formed because of state initiatives. Increasingly though, this may not be true for all bilateral ties.

In the next few weeks, my research work with respect to this topic will take a two-pronged approach. First, I will be defining and delving into the indicators that go into a bilateral relationship between two countries and explore their significance in the relationship. I will be identifying each indicator under the broader category of Government, Business and People and looking at whether these have a long-term impact, whether they strengthen a relationship, or weaken it. I will also look into the risks that can lead to the disintegration of a robust relationship between two countries or that act as a threat to it.

The second part of my research project will be to quantify the data available with regards to India’s bilateral relationship with countries and create an Index ranking the countries and India’s relationship with each. It would also portray the areas where some countries rank higher and the others lower with respect to the indicators given. The purpose of this research will be to depict the relative strengths of bilateral ties- for example, whether the India-US relationship is stronger than the India-UK relationship- and the significance of this relationship in the larger geo-political space.

(This blog is a part of my research work with the Takshashila Institution under its Scholars Programme, on India’s bilateral relationships.)

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.