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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2242, 26 March 2007
Querying India's Grand Strategy Firdaus AhmedStrategic Analyste-mail:
While inaugurating Aero India 2007 at Yelahanka in February, India's defence minister, AK Antony said, "India is gearing up to play a more dominant role in the twenty first century not only in Asia, but also in the world." India's grand strategy in the minister's words is: "First, our national strategy must keep our territorial sovereignty and integrity secure. Second, it must provide the stimulus, with an adequate supply of energy (italics added), to help the economy to develop at a rapid pace."
While the first is unexceptionable, the second element needs interrogation in conjunction with India's 'more decisive and responsible role in world affairs and in the Asian region' that, according to the minister, it has been called upon to play since the economic reforms of 1991. The moot questions are 'by whom?' and 'why?' The US National Security Strategy of 2002 saw India as having the 'potential to become one of the great democratic powers.' In March 2005, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had announced that the US intended 'to make India a Great Power'. That this discourse has been internalized in India is evident from the thesis of an influential strategist, C Raja Mohan, that India is emerging as the 'swing state' with an 'opportunity to shape outcomes on the most critical issues of the twenty-first century: the construction of Asian stability, the political modernization of the greater Middle East and the management of globalization.' ("India and the Balance of Power," Foreign Affairs, Jul-Aug 06).
Against this backdrop, the subtext of the Minister's take on the changed priorities to guide India's overall strategic thinking becomes clearer. A deconstruction of his remarks on maintaining world stability through peace and imparting strength to the economy, without compromising India's interests, would imply that neocolonial wars under the guise of the global war on terror require to be supported as part of India's participation in Great Power games.
Both the Minister and Raja Mohan highlight that India is a democratic power. While this indicates its affinity with western democratic powers, it does not follow that their actions, purportedly to bring about stability, requires India's endorsement, much less participation. That India wishes to do so, keeping its energy security requirements in the foreground, negates India's anti-colonial stance in the past. In recent years, there has been an attempt to co-opt India into the US power orbit. While India staved off sending its troops to Iraq, it could not avoid the pressure to vote against Iran in the IAEA. This is definitely a dilution of its strategic autonomy, and reinforces the earlier conclusion of India joining great power games in exchange for recognition as a great power. This is in keeping with the famed Jaswant Singh analogy of India being inside the crowded railway compartment, wishing to keep others out.
It would be unfashionable to question India's grand strategy in terms of India's departure from its traditional moorings as an anti-colonial power, and of safeguarding its strategic autonomy and space. Instead, querying India's strategic direction in terms of its effectiveness in realist terms helps preserve the argument from becoming counter-productive. India's defense budget this year, slightly less than rupees one lakh crores with forty five per cent being set aside for capital acquisitions, indicates the seriousness with which India is pursuing the design informed by Mr Antony: "In the global context, we wish to achieve this objective (maintenance of peace and stability) through effective diplomacy backed by credible military deterrence." It is believed that India's growth rate of 9.2 per cent can sustain India's participation in power games.
However, an assessment of the effectiveness of the side it is backing, and future implications of this association in terms of equations with China, suggests that participation in great power games is not unambiguously in India's interests or the only option. India's great power status is presently being conferred on it in exchange for India retracting from its traditional democratic positions. It is not a status that it has earned or could keep permanently. For this, it would require nursing its strengths rather than prematurely joining the great power contest, particularly in backing what might turn out to be the wrong horse. In the long term, a radical departure from traditional principles of India's strategic policy might be rued if the military deterrent sought with armaments is of an increasingly dysfunctional character.
India's grand strategy must command the support of the political spectrum and mainstream strategic analysts, if not the Left. It is necessary to articulate the contrary view lest India pay the price in a not-too-distant future for premature pretensions and unsustainable precociousness.

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