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Insights into Editorial: Revamping the Indian Foreign Service



Insights into Editorial: Revamping the Indian Foreign Service



Concerns have been raised by a parliamentary committee over the way in which candidates are being recruited to the prestigious Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and trained.  


Present way of recruitment:

Those who desire to be a part of this service and become a career diplomat need to clear the Civil Services Examination (CSE) first. After selection, candidates go through a gruelling training period during which they are taught various aspects of diplomacy.


Why generalists should not be recruited for this job?

A diplomat is a representative of his country and a foot soldier of its foreign policy. Good armies fight wars and win. Good diplomats deter wars and win. Hence, diplomacy needs specialisation. It is not the job of a ‘generalist’. 


What kind of people need to be recruited?

Being a specialised job, diplomacy needs people who have prior theoretical and historical knowledge of the subject before being trained in its practical aspects.

  • Diplomacy involves the conscious pursuit of the national interest through well-designed policies and initiatives. That requires an understanding of international relations including the nature of the state, political systems, international order, among others.
  • In other words, the job of diplomacy demands that its practitioners be first well equipped with the basic knowledge of the subject of international relations.


Other challenges:

  • There is overall ‘deterioration’ in the quality of recruits to the IFS. The parliamentary committee noted that, unlike in the past, when only those with the highest ranks in the CSE were taken into the service, it was surprised to find that even low-ranked candidates are now able to enter the service.
  • The committee also highlighted the low strength of the IFS. It is well known that when compared to India’s global profile and its image as an emerging power in the international system, it needs many more officers in the field with a deeper knowledge and understanding of the areas they are about to serve in.


What can be done?

‘Lateral entry’ and ‘revolving door’ have been suggested to increase the strength and effectiveness of the service.

Lateral entry: It involves posting an officer from any other All India service to an overseas mission to execute a specific job. For instance, a railway service official is posted for executing railway projects in a neighbouring country, or a Commerce Ministry official is posted to handle complex trade negotiations. The advantage of absorbing such officials into the IFS is that they are exposed to an international work environment and could be valuable assets in carrying out relevant tasks pertaining to the work of overseas missions.

Revolving door: The other option to revamp the IFS is to introduce the ‘revolving door’ concept. Experts in academia, think-tanks or industry should be given an option to serve in the diplomatic corps. The walls between these fields and diplomacy need to be broken down and inter-operability need to be given a chance. The United States has been following this kind of inter-operability for decades, and with success.

Entry rules: IFS entry rules need to be made more specialised. Only those candidates who have an academic background in the subjects of international relations, strategic studies, security studies or foreign policy studies should be allowed to appear for the examination, which could either be conducted by a separate body or be a separate exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) itself. The clear advantage of such a change is that those who have already done a degree course in subjects related to international relations and foreign policy would have a better understanding of the job requirements prior to joining the service, unlike candidates with an engineering or medicine or management background who have no prior knowledge or very little knowledge of the subject.

Specialised institutions: The government needs to build institutions focused on international relations, defence, security and diplomatic studies in order to get the best skilled talent in the field. This is being practiced by many countries such as Russia and France, among others, where they groom students from these fields to become career diplomats. 



The time has come to apply the same standards to the IFS, if India wants to have a large number of quality diplomats. The argument is not that existing IFS recruits are of lesser quality but to highlight the fact that the rank of candidates in a ‘generalist exam’ decide their fate whether they would become career diplomats or not. With changing times and the growing profile of India in the international system, there is a need for a change in the structure and process of recruitment into this very important service.