By Dr. Subhash Kapila
The global power shift to Asia has been the cynosure of the international strategic community from the middle of the last decade and a subject of close scrutiny in the major capitals of the world. Global power occurrences are rare and are historical milestones. In their wake are brought about a recycling and transformation of the global power structures and emergence of new global power centres.
The global power shift to Asia has primarily arisen as recognition of the stupendous rise in China’s economic and military power, a transformation that has been under way for the last two decades or so.
International recognition of global power shift to Asia has also arisen from the noticeable economic rise of India and the economic strengths of Japan over the last few decades with some interruptions.
Undoubtedly, Asia’s cumulative economic strengths and economic power have spurred growth and expansion of the military strengths and potential of its major powers. This also spurs widening of wings of Asia’s rising powers and their aspirations to spread their political influence.
However, one needs to inject a dose of realism in the discussion on the global power shift to Asia before one gets led away by the magical allure that in the remainder of the 21st Century all strategic and political roads would lead to Beijing, New Delhi and Tokyo.
Surely, the trend has already begun with strategic and political roads leading to Beijing but what is noticeable is that the same trend does not stand repeated for New Delhi and Tokyo.
The major reason which is holding up the opening of strategic and political roads to Indian and Japanese capitals is that both India and Japan have yet to display and demonstrate that they have a “national will” to use “Power” endowed on them and accruing from their power attributes. While the case of Japan is a separate topic of discussion, as an Indian strategic and foreign policy analyst, it is India that draws my concerns and misgivings.
India stands strategically uncertain at the historical cross-roads when the global shift of power is moving towards Asia. India stands not only strategically uncertain but also strategically confused as to how to don the mantle of one of the two leading powers of Asia in a world which has already conceded that global power shift has headed towards Asia.
India is strategically uncertain because in the present decade of global transformation of power structures it is unsure whether to strategically stand tall and alone or keep persisting in looking for countervailing powers from amongst the global powers to off-set its threat perceptions.
Needless to reiterate is the fundamental fact that if India aspires to be counted as one of the two leading powers of Asia and with global power aspirations it needs to strategically stand tall and alone to be counted as such.
The US-India Strategic Partnership viewed by me also as “The Advent of the Inevitable” in 2000 is no longer the panacea to off-set India’s threat perceptions. The United States will never stand by India in the event of an armed conflict between China and India in the future. Nor can this strategic partnership be the “step-ladder” for India’s strategic ascendancy on the Asian and global strategic firmament as in both cases US and Indian strategic interests will clash.
India is therefore strategically uncertain, neither sure of the strategic worth of its strategic partnership with the United States nor sure of building its strategic assets nor having conviction and faith that it can strategically stand tall and alone.
In the last five years or so, perceptively, the image is getting fixed that India is headed towards an eventual strategic role of ending up with present policy formulations as a US satellite or at worst a B-Team player of the US camp. Both such images of India will detract from her true strategic potential and India assuming its due place in the global shift of power to Asia.
India’s’ answer to such fears is building up her strategic assets for conventional and nuclear deterrence and based on those strengths explore strategic convergences with China on how both countries should in shared endeavour mange the global power shift to Asia independent of US formulations. To this end India must disassociate itself from US-sponsored ‘Trilaterals’ and ‘Quadrilaterals’ in Pacific security architecture. They smack of India’s participation in US-sponsored ‘China Containment’ strategy.
India’s strategic uncertainties and strategic confusion also arises from an entangled web of its own creation and basically revolves around its continued lack of demonstrated will to use power, a ‘Strategic Culture Deficit” in India’s political leadership and policy establishment, and archaic national security management structures which defy the basic fundamentals of modern national security management and also defy strategic logic which goes into it.
All of the above are heavy dead-weights which weigh down India’s strategic audacity and assertive strategic postures— essential attributes for strategic power recognition. No sparks of brilliant diplomacy, which in any case India lacks sorely, can substitute or off-set the lack of Indian strategic will.
India’s lack of demonstrated will to use power was most noticeably apparent in the recent case of the Maldives, where an India-friendly President was allowed to be toppled by a bloodless coup. It was earlier noticeable in the case of Nepal being gifted away to Nepalese Maoists, erasing a vital buffer state which kept China away from India’s heartland. Both these strategic setbacks arose from failure of Indian political leadership, the policy establishment and Indian diplomacy—all displaying a strategic-deficit in their policy outlook and formulations.
India’s archaic national security management structures contribute in a significant manner to the “Strategic Deficit” in India’s political leadership, policy establishment and diplomacy. This stands analysed abundantly for the last six decades by noted strategic analysts and senior defence officers and do not bear repetition
What needs to be pointed out is that India’s political leadership, policy establishment and diplomacy stand severely disconnected in arriving at substantial and sound Indian strategic formulations by the exclusion of the Indian Armed Forces Triumvirate from direct participation in strategic decision-making.
India’s strategic bankruptcy came into the limelight last year when a Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs at a Seminar by one of New Delhi think-tanks asserted that the Armed Forces cannot be brought into the loop on nuclear decision-making on the principle of civilian supremacy in national security management. It was a preposterous assertion and a shocking revelation of strategic myopia and strategically-limited mind-sets of Indian officialdom.
Concluding, it needs to be forcefully emphasised that India’s future greatness cannot be mortgaged or made captive to the “Strategic Deficit” leadership or their policy advisers. Structural imperatives exist to overhaul and transform the whole range of foreign policy and national security decision-making apparatus.
India’s apex-level “Strategic Culture Deficit” can be overcome only by the direct inclusion of the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy in national security decision-making and more frequent and inter-active strategic decisions between the Indian political leadership and the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy devoid of the use of bureaucratic middle-men.
In the ultimate analysis if India has to assume its rightful place in the global shift of power to Asia, then India can ill ignore the structural shortcomings in the structures that fashion the power of the Indian Republic.
(The views expressed are author’s own)
About the author: SAAG
SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.