Strategy for International Relations in GS Paper 2 Mains

International Relations (IR) is a crucial component in one’s UPSC preparation because it constitutes more than 100 marks in General Studies Mains Paper 2. The importance of IR is not limited to Mains but can extend to Essay, prelims and interview as well.

It is one of the most dynamic portions (current affairs based) of the UPSC Mains syllabus. Considering the trend from the past two years, majority of questions are from the dynamic portion only. One needs to be constantly updated about the recent developments and happenings around the world that affect India directly or indirectly. One should avoid having superficial knowledge in IR and instead aim to gain a holistic understanding as IR also happens to be one of the most analytical segments of the syllabus. It is important to master the basic concepts related to the syllabus before proceeding to the current developments. Let’s have a look at the syllabus before we proceed to the sources.

International Relations UPSC Syllabus

  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

International Relations Book for UPSC

Sources for IR:

      For Background (Static)

  • Rajiv Sikri – Challenge and Strategy Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy
  • Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor (Supplementary Reading)
  • Does the Elephant Dance? (Supplementary Reading)

Dynamic Part

  • Ministry of External Affairs Website
  • Think Tanks – IDSA, ORF, Brookings India
  • Newspapers – The Hindu, Indian Express
  • Magazines – Frontline and Diplomat
  • Yojana issues related to IR
  • Rajya Sabha TV – India’s World

The right approach for IR is to extract the maximum from the preparation and the key to this lies in comprehensive planning and execution. Many aspirants find IR very tough because of its vast and current nature. But the fact of the matter is that one needs to be acquainted with the background to make sense of the current developments and present his/her analysis and projections for the future based on that.

Even if an aspirant is pretty well versed in all these sources and has a thorough understanding, it is close to impossible to retain all the information. During the examination in particular, this problem gets accentuated where a candidate is expected to write an analytical answer in less than 8 minutes. Hence it is not the number of sources or how extensive the understanding is, if one is not able to give a satisfactory answer, entire efforts are wasted.

How to approach the Static Portion of the syllabus??

Challenge and Strategy Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy by Rajiv Sikri summarises India’s diplomacy in the recent past in a concrete manner, thus presenting a good background of India’s foreign policy.

Having said that, if one wants to dive deep and learn about India’s Foreign Policy, there are always specialised books like Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor and Does the Elephant Dance by David M. Malone which can act as supplementary reading and are vast in their scope and content.

 How to approach the Dynamic portion??

As mentioned earlier, majority of questions seen in the past two years are from the dynamic portion and one should start with this upon completion of the above mentioned components.

  • Start with newspapers and concentrate on the editorials and articles dealing with IR or those having an impact on India’s Foreign policy. Don’t go by the newspaper opinions as they tend to be biased. Use this content to pick out the facts and basic analysis and rely on the official government sources for a diplomatic account. This helps one develop a balanced opinion which is in line with the government’s policy.
  • Make it a habit to visit the MEA website frequently as this provides an authentic and official account. Bilateral documents are arranged in a searchable format on the site.
  • IDSA and ORF websites carry well researched, in-depth analysis and provides a complete understanding of both bilateral and multi-lateral relations.
  • Selectively use the magazines mentioned and the RSTV programme to gain a wider perspective.

Considering the time constraint and the vastness of the syllabus, it’s better to stick to the basic understanding plus comprehensive reading from the dynamic sources and go for supplementary reading only if time permits.

Focus Areas: A brief outline

  • India’s Foreign Policy doctrine over the years
  • Foreign Policy direction under each PM
  • Bilateral Relations
  • India’s Neighbourhood – South Asia
  • Middle East and Africa
  • Central Asia, Europe
  • North America, Latin America
  • Asia Pacific, Island States
  • Multilateral Relations
  • International Organisations
  • UN Agencies, WTO, WIPO, IMF, World Bank, etc.
  • Climate Change – UNFCCC, Environment related protocols, etc.
  • Issues affecting Indian Diaspora

Strategy for International Relations

Strategy for International Relations

Strategy for International Relations

Strategy for International Relations

Few pointers to keep in mind with regard to bilateral relations:

  1. Whether the country in question a major economic/military/nuclear power?
  2. Does the country hold geo-political significance due to its location?
  3. Is the country a significant trading and investment partner for India?
  4. Does India have crucial defence and strategic ties to the country?
  5. Is the country a critical source to meet India’s energy demands?
  6. Presence of Indian diaspora and people to people relations with the country?
  7. How do events/developments/outlooks/regimes/policies in the country affect India’s strategic, security and geo-political interests?

IR has interlinkages with Internal and National security which is a part of GS Paper 3.

E.g.: If you are studying about India’s neighbourhood foreign policy, then it also includes topics such as Border Disputes, Cross Border Terrorism, Border Management, Trafficking etc. which have direct implications on India’s security calculus as well.


 1. The protests in Shahbag Square in Dhaka in Bangladesh reveal a fundamental split in society between the nationalists and Islamic forces. What is its significance for India? (2013)

  • This question/topic has both IR and Internal/National Security dimensions.
  • Extremist incidents in India’s neighbourhood have a direct bearing on India’s security concerns.
  • So while preparing for IR, keep an eye with regard to commonalities in internal security and inter link the issues.
  • This not only saves your prep time but also gives you a holistic understanding of the issue.

2. A question relating to India-Pakistan-Afghanistan is a common feature in IR every year

  • This topic is intimately linked to issues of terrorism, covert warfare, trafficking, narcotics, organized crime and counterfeit currency
  • So while studying India-Pak, India-Afghanistan relations from an IR perspective, one need to keep in mind the interconnected topics of internal security as well.

Also, see:

IAS Political Science and International Relations Syllabus
International Relations UPSC Mains GS Paper II Books
Important Headquarters of International Organisations


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