India stares at even greater challenges on the security front in 2014. Thanks to the United Progressive Alliance government’s non-governance for the last 10
years, the Indian economy has lost steam
while red tape and a holier-than-thou
defense minister have ensured that defense
modernization is stuck in Central Bureau
of Investigation inquiries and a plethora of
To boot, India seems at loggerheads with
both China and the United States, a superhuman feat of failed foreign policy.
Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh’s obsession, remains
hostile as ever.
Against this backdrop, the American
drawdown of forces from Afghanistan is
widely expected to lead to the brutal
Taliban taking over the country, with a likely spillover of jihadist violence in Pakistan
The challenges — not threats, because
India is far too powerful to be threatened
by any country — can be analyzed at three
levels: Global, regional and internal. This
article intends to deal with challenges only
at the global level.
India emerged as a major player on the
global scene in the post-1991/Cold War era.
The period also coincided with economic
reforms unleashed by then prime minister
P V Narasimha Rao that saw India become
the fourth/fifth largest economy (in
Purchase Power Parity terms). The Indian
position was further enhanced when in
1998 it went overtly nuclear (it had been a
covert nuclear power since 1974).
Unfortunately for India, its ruling elite
still do not understand Indian strength and
are still stuck in ‘Third Worldism’. Unlike
during the Cold War when it was at best a
spoiler in Asia, today it is seen as a rival
pole vis-à-vis China.
This policy weakness is exacerbated by
the structural weakness of its foreign policy
establishment that remains tiny (even the
city State of Singapore has a bigger foreign
service), insulated, dominated by nepotism.
And it has only a dim understanding of mil-
itary, cultural and economic dimensions of
In many aspects, it is still stuck in the
Nehruvian model of moralist pretensions
and is reluctant to play the power game.
Much of the Delhi-based foreign policy
elite is also not fully in sync with the Indian
civilizational ethos that can be a source of
great strength for soft power.
Last year, China routinely needled India
on the Ladakh border and laid claims to the
state of Arunachal Pradesh. India’s belated
moves to build infrastructure on its border
and intention to create an ‘offensive’ capability is unlikely to check the Chinese.
The Chinese seem to have concluded that
they can keep India at bay by pinpricks on
the border and skilful use of their proxy
Pakistan. To a large extent, Chinese adventurism is fuelled by the uncertain India-US
The biggest challenge in 2014 may well
be the future of the US-India
‘alliance’ that never was. India
does not seem able to make up
its mind whether it wants to
be a US ally, partner or mere
The recent fracas over the
arrest and ill-treatment of an
Indian diplomat in the US is
not the cause but symptom of
what is wrong with US-India
The reason for this mutual
disappointment is that India
expected to get a military technology edge
with American help, since it has to balance
China. While for the US, this help has to be
balanced by the unease in Pakistan, an ally
it needs in the Middle East.
US-India relations seem to have soured
when Washington expected New Delhi to
not only balance China in the Asia-Pacific,
but also make concessions to Pakistan as a
price for US technological help.
As the US tries to find a quick-fix solution
to Afghanistan by cozying up to the
Taliban, Indian interests are likely to
diverge from those of the US. This is a
repeat of the 1962-63 scenario when the
nascent US-India alliance foundered on the
rock of American interests in the Middle
East — for which Pakistan is a necessary
Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate, had openly advocated these thoughts.
It seems this is still the basis of US
The fundamental cause of US-India rela-
tions languishing is the inability/unwilling-
ness of the Americans to understand/acce-
pt the power shift on the world stage and
also within India.
It is not that American power has
‘declined’ per se. But if ‘power’ is to be
understood as the ‘difference in strength,’
then the fact that the other countries’
power has increased means reduction in
the difference in relative power.
As political scientist Joseph S Nye said,
great powers do not adjust to circumstances, but instead alter the circumstances
to suit their ends. Clearly, the US has
passed that stage sometime in the first
decade of the 21st century, while it continues to behave as if this has not happened.
Even within India, America’s ability to
influence the electoral outcome/policies is
strictly limited, although it can attempt to
steer Indian politics with a combination of
economic, information-technology industry and Diaspora Indian lobbies. But there
are limits to this since outsourcing/eco-nomic ties are not a one way street. At best,
these lobbies can do damage control, as
they did during the Cold War.
US-India relations in the coming year
may well resemble those between Brazil
and the US, but not quite Venezuela.
Interestingly, this is not a throwback to
the Cold War era, when the US interest in
India was negative — it should not go
Communist — but positive in that a strong
India, whether a US ally or not, is existen-
tially a check on a rising China.
Given Chinese intransigence, the US can
afford to take India for granted. Given the
Chinese aggressive posture in East Asia,
India will continue to come closer to South
East Asia and Japan.
The challenge for India will be to manage
these relations without aggravating its economic relations with China.
In the noise created by incidents in East
Asia, a crucial fact has gone un-noticed:
The re-rise of Russia. Russia successfully
defended its ally in the Middle East, Syria,
and thwarted the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization nations and the European
Union from expanding to Ukraine.
Though Sino-Russian relations are cordial, Russia cannot overlook the long-term
threat to its Far Eastern empire and Siberia
from a growing China. Surely Russia does
not wish to be China’s Canada!
In that sense, like the US, Russia would
also look to India to balance China in Asia.
The challenge before India is to strike a
fine balance between these competing
interests. No diplomacy can work unless
India sets its economic house in order and
carry out much delayed reforms of the
defense production/research sector to lend
muscle to Indian diplomacy.
The work for the new government that
takes over in May is well cut out.
Retired Colonel Anil A Athale is
The diplomat’s arrest fracas show that the biggest
coordinator of Indian Initiative for Peace,
Arms-control & Disarmament,
a Pune-based think tank.
challenge in 2014 may well be the future of the
India-US ‘alliance’ that never was
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Great Hall of the People in
Beijing, October 23, 2013. To a large extent, Chinese adventurism along the border with India is fuelled by
the uncertain India-US friendship.
KYODO NEWS/PENG SUN/POOL/REUTERS