Assessing India’s Great Power Status – OpEd
By Hashem Abed
Strategic vision in politics refers to a long-term perspective and plan that guides a state to its decision making and actions. It encompasses a comprehensive understanding of current and future challenges, opportunities and risks, as well as the goals and objectives that the state aims to achieve. A strategic vision helps leaders to stay focused on their priorities, align resources and efforts, and make informed decisions that contribute to the overall success of the nation or entity. To break it down further, every strategy must carry an action, which is a continuation of one’s political objectives. Thus, if one cannot comprehend the political reality of the international arena, then it will be impossible to create an effective strategic plan since weak political awareness would verily produce a weak link between the policy objective, policy instrument and public sentiment.
In the international arena, nations must maintain a keen understanding of their political environment in order to effectively navigate the complex web of diplomatic relations. An active foreign policy is essential for the preservation of a nation’s sovereignty and the well-being of its citizens. An active foreign policy serves as a tool for promoting and defending a nation’s ideology, if it holds one, and for effectively managing and regulating the nation’s relations with other countries. Understanding and implementing foreign policy is a fundamental aspect of ensuring a nation’s security and prosperity. However, India has not been successful in adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the international environment and the complex interactions between nations.
Throughout the Cold War, India steadfastly maintained a neutral stance, refusing to align with either the United States or the Soviet Union. This policy of neutrality allowed India to retain a measure of independence from the influence of the two superpowers. However, with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, India faced a new challenge in navigating the era of United States’ global pre-eminence. Despite this, India did not deviate from its established policy of strategic seclusion, instead choosing to maintain a consistent framework in which it would side with the United States on matters related to national security, specifically with regard to China, while continuing to maintain commercial relations with Russia, particularly in the areas of weaponry and energy procurement. India’s failure to recognize is that a policy of isolation, which may have been effective during the bipolar era, has become ineffective in the current unipolar age.
India’s goals are primarily focused on undoing the negative effects of British colonialism and restoring the nation’s greatness by prioritizing security and economic strength. This aims to create a prosperous and a secure India and establish its relevance on the global stage. To achieve these goals, India has been strategically aligning itself with different powers to protect its interests in order to maintain a strong position within the region. This approach, known as the Jaishankar doctrine, a doctrine rooted in history which takes into account two key factors: the East vs. West divide, and India’s political vs. non-political interests. The Jaishankar doctrine, while its scepticisms towards the West may be well-conceived, the doctrine is not a practical method for protecting India’s interests. India should consider alternative strategies to secure its interests. The policy of strategic seclusion and of switching alliances between major powers like Russia and the US is not feasible and does not bring much strategic advantage. A quick examination of India’s current capabilities highlights its inadequate political influence, which has prevented the creation of a central strategic plan that could connect India’s aspirations and goals with the objectives and challenges it faces in a cohesive manner.
For example, India’s purchase of the S-400 system from Russia does not add much strategic value towards China. The S-400 is a defense system, which relies heavily on the user’s knowledge and an integrated air defense system (IADs), but China’s IAD is far superior compared to India’s. Additionally, the S-400 is primarily a defensive weapon, and therefore, it would not be effective in helping India against China. Instead, India should have focused on acquiring offensive capabilities such as the American F-35 jets to enhance its military capabilities towards China. Another problem is India’s prolonged dependence on Russian military equipment, which has impeded the shift towards American military hardware and interoperability is a significant obstacle. This is also another cause for India’s weak military infrastructure. Furthermore, considering the Himalayas Mountains, where numerous of mountains range from 2000-2500 km and the S-400 SAMS travel at a maximum altitude of 30 km, it is clear that India has misused its funds. Lastly, New Delhi has repeatedly kept information about the skirmishes that have taken place since 2020 hidden from the public, which shows that the country does not have a clear political objective in place and instead, is more focused on appearing tough.
The QUAD alliance, led by the US, raises concerns for India’s autonomy in foreign policy. While both India and the US aim to contain China, India may not want to take the lead in this effort and yet remains in this informal alliance. Some see India’s participation in the QUAD as a strategic balancing act where it maintains autonomy while still cooperating in efforts to contain China’s expansion in the Indian and the Pacific oceans in a subtle fashion. However, if tensions between China and the US regarding Taiwan escalate to military conflict, India may be forced to formally align with the US, potentially sacrificing its autonomy.
India’s alignment with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE to fulfil its commercial needs raise concerns. These nations are heavily influenced by the United States, and as India lacks alternative options, it is uncertain if these relationships will yield significant benefits for India in terms of political or non-political interests. Collaborating with these nations poses a risk since it could result in India falling under the American sphere, if not careful. Additionally, the guarantee of non-political interests raise scepticism as these nations can null their agreements at any time due to US influence upon them, which raises concerns about the sustainability of these relationships. India must be cautious about becoming too close to such nations in the Middle East, as it could be detrimental to India’s long-term political and economic goals of becoming a great power.
Another interesting development in recent years, is Pakistan’s weak stance towards India which is not coincidental. Over the years, the US has abandoned Pakistan in return for India so it could draw the Indian nation into its sphere of influence. During the Cold War, the US had a strong relationship with Pakistan where it was utilized as a barrier against communism, but since 1991, India has become more important to the US while Pakistan’s significance has diminished. In addition, Pakistan has helped the US build closer relations with India where Islamabad has abandoned its goal to free Kashmir, which is something strongly desired by the Pakistani people. Under Musharraf’s reign, Islamist groups in Kashmir were suppressed in the name of countering terrorism by the government in Islamabad, which shifted Pakistan’s focus away from Kashmir to Afghanistan in order to aid the US in invading Afghanistan and fighting the so-called “war on terror.”
Moreover, a few years ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to return a captured Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture, which apparently aided Modi’s election, instead of using it as political leverage against India. All these actions further weakened Pakistan’s position. Furthermore, Khans empty rhetoric in UN, in essence, provided India a continual authority over the autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir after Modi revoked the autonomous status two years ago. Furthermore, according to data the militancy from Pakistan’s side has decreased by 59 percent last year in Jammu and Kashmir. And the US on the other hand, has remained silent in backing Pakistan.
As a result, Pakistan went from being a crucial US ally in the fight against communism, the “war on terror” to a mere bystander towards India’s growing power and furthermore, witnessing US close ties with India. Thus, over the years, Pakistan has ceded its strategic objectives to aid the US and in doing so, has helped the US become close to India by creating a pleasurable atmosphere for government in New Delhi. Surprisingly, over the years, US military aid has decreased as IMF aid to Pakistan has increased, which has resulted in weakening Pakistan, by using the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a tool to destabilize the country and maintain the pre-eminence of the dollar. As a result, Pakistan is now close to defaulting on its loans, with only $4 billion remaining in its reserves.
From India’s viewpoint, the weakening of its rival neighbour Pakistan and the US’s apparent preference for India over Pakistan may seem advantageous. But this could also be a potential trap for India to align too closely with the US, where it could compromise India’s own interests and political sovereignty in the future. In the future, the US may eventually use India for its own purposes, leading India to sacrifice its strategic interests for US policies. Therefore, India should be cautious of US promises where India should develop its own vision and not let foreign powers dictate its future, in order to preserve its aspirations as a great power where India possibly one day become an American Raj.
Having a strong economy and military alone does not make a nation a great power – this viewpoint is often misrepresented in mainstream politics. What truly defines a great power is the ability to influence the behaviour of other nations. Russia and China, for example, possess immense material power yet they are incapable of shaping the behaviour of states within their own region. China, for instance, has failed to solve the issue of Hong Kong, which recognizes itself as a Western-oriented nation distinct from China, revealing a lack of political will and ability on China’s part to solve the issue. Like China, Russia’s ability to shape the behaviour of other nations is limited. The events in Ukraine have highlighted Russia’s isolation, with few potential allies. Some may view Russia and China as being in an alliance and a threat to US hegemony, however, this is not the case. If Russia was truly allied with China politically, they would have jointly invaded Taiwan and Ukraine simultaneously and achieved their objectives swiftly. However, reality illustrates that this is not the case.
India must understand that in order to exert a significant impact in the international arena, it must possess an active foreign policy and possess valuable assets to offer other countries. In the current global landscape, where the United States dominates, it has the capability to provide a wide range of benefits to other nations, further solidifying its position as the dominant power. Despite its current challenges, no other country has the capability to challenge the United States’ preeminent status, as it has the resources, ideals and the political influence to maintain its global primacy.
This highlights the importance of political awareness and finesse, regardless of a nation’s material power. If a nation lacks the ability to formulate an active foreign policy and adapt to changing circumstances, it will eventually be vulnerable to subjugation in some form by another great power who is constantly politically engaged in the international arena.
Hashem Abed is a researcher and an analyst of global affairs
One thought on “Assessing India’s Great Power Status – OpEd”
Dude, you understand the difference between horizontal and vertical, right?? Even the highest Himalayan Peak is 8 km, so 30 km ceiling is adequate imo. Also, from what I know China and India are pretty comparable in IAD except for China’s questionable 5th gen fighters. Apart from that, F35 is incompatible with IACCS, thus harder to integrate with IAF’s other assets even if we don’t consider F-35’s countless other shortfalls.