Narendra Modi shakes hands with Xi Jinping, China's president | Photo: Graham Crouch | Bloomberg
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Xi Jinping, China's President | Photo: Graham Crouch | Bloomberg
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Instead of disruptive foreign and national security policies, India seems content with the existing world order. It covets a place at the high-table but on terms set by other countries.

International affairs is witnessing several megatrends, but India is yet to respond actively. And it won’t do anymore.

A reactive and retreating America under President Donald Trump has accentuated the conditions of unusual flux in the international system. With the old certainties gone, traditional alliances (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), trading regimes (Trans-Pacific Partnership), schemes of regional peace (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and technology and supplier cartels (Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, et al) are all alike in disarray, their concerns now are matters of contestation with China staking claim to the pole position vacated by the US.

There’s a particular urgency in Asia to blunt China’s hegemonic ambitions and preclude its domination from taking root.


Also read: In second term, Narendra Modi must make room for people’s inputs in national security


State of play

Unfortunately, India finds itself on the wrong side of these trends because it has accelerated its efforts to join these very same non-proliferation regimes and cartels that had victimised it all along.

Worse, by sidling up to the US and virtually outsourcing its strategic security to Washington, India’s historical role as a prime balancer in the international balance-of-power system, courtesy its hoary policies of nonalignment and strategic autonomy, has been imperilled.

So, the 2008 civilian nuclear deal, for all practical purposes, signed away India’s sovereign right to resume underground testing, and froze its nuclear arsenal at the sub-thermonuclear technology level (1998 fusion test was a dud). Agreeing to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement – the so-called “foundational accords” will, respectively, permit America to stage its military forces out of Indian bases and embroil the country in its wars in the extended region, and to penetrate the most secret Indian communications grid, including the nuclear command and control network.

By clinging to a feckless and demanding US, India’s profile as a fiercely independent state has taken a beating, distanced the country from old friends, such as Russia, which is pivotal to balancing China and US, and Iran – central to India’s geostrategic concerns in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Placating China is the other imprudent theme that Indian foreign policy has cottoned on to. Mollycoddling the country’s most dangerous adversary in Asia with giveaways while treating Pakistan, a weak flanking country, as a full-bore security threat when it is only a military nuisance, is at the core of India’s external troubles.

A topsy-turvy threat perception has also meant a lopsided Indian military geared to handle Pakistan but incapable of defending against China.

It is almost as if the Indian government and armed services have given up on national security. This bewildering state of affairs is in urgent need of drastic overhaul and repair.


Also read: For 5 years, Modi put national security reforms on hold. Now, he must act fast


Geopolitical vision & strategy

Strong nations in the modern era have transitioned into great powers by pursuing policies disrespectful and disruptive of the prevailing order and multilateral regimes they had no hand in creating.

India, on the other hand, seems content with measuring its foreign policy success in terms of entry gained or denied in congeries of international power (UN Security Council) and trade and technology cartels (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, etc.).

The Indian government is hampered by its mistaken belief that stressing its soft “civilisational” power will make the country great.

India with its many infirmities is in no position to undertake system disruption by itself. Rather, for India to rise as the premier Asian challenger to China and as the other economic-political-military power node in the continent in the shortest possible time needs a double-pronged strategy.

One prong should stress absolutely reciprocal positions and policies. Beijing’s insistence on ‘One China, two systems’ should be met with ‘One India’ concept, and acceptance by Beijing of all Jammu & Kashmir (including the Pakistan-occupied portion) as inalienably Indian territory. And, China’s nuclear missile arming of Pakistan should, even if belatedly, trigger India’s transferring strategic missiles to the states on the Chinese periphery so that China too, thereafter, suffers permanent geostrategic disadvantage.

Second, hamstringing China should also involve meta-measures to carve out separate, loose and specifically anti-China security coalitions from the two important existing groups India is part of – BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) and the Quad (India-Japan-Australia-US). BRICS can be mobilised to form a smaller, informal, security-cooperation BRIS (Brazil,-Russia-India-South Africa). Likewise, a modified Quadrilateral or ‘Mod Quad’ with India, Japan, Australia would reduce the uncertainty of America’s security role given that the US and China owing to their close economic and trading links are inseparable.

BRIS and Mod Quad will enable their member states to be less inhibited in cooperating with each other to deal with the overarching security threat posed by China, but without the intimidating presence of the US.

But BRIS and Mod Quad leave Pakistan out of the reckoning. Pakistan is strong enough to be a spoiler and, in cahoots with China, pose a substantial problem. A lasting solution is essential to break up the Pakistan-China nexus.

A Kashmir solution roughly along the lines negotiated with General Parvez Musharraf in 2007 that Prime Minister Imran Khan has said Pakistan will accept, is a reasonable end-state to work towards. But lubricating such an offer with policies economically to co-opt Pakistan, along with India’s other subcontinental neighbours, will help it obtain the goal of unitary economic space in the subcontinent and lay the foundations for a pacified South Asia.


Also read: A new survey reveals what India’s strategic community thinks about Pakistan, China and US


National security policy priorities

Lack of money has never been the hitch. Rather, the problem has been and is the continued misuse of financial resources by India’s three-armed services with faulty expenditure priorities.

Intent on equipping and sustaining inappropriate force structures geared to the lesser threat, they have squandered their colonial legacy of expeditionary and “out of area operations” and, consequently, shrunk greatly in stature even as they have increased in size.

Seeing Pakistan as a threat long after it credibly ceased to be one post-1971 War, has resulted in an Indian military able to fight only short-range, short-duration, small and inconclusive wars.

The political leadership, for its part, has chosen the easy way of relying on the armed services professionally to do the right thing by proffering the right advice, which they haven’t.

Breaking the Pakistan-China nexus requires a conducive political milieu making certain safe unilateral military moves. What the Pakistan Army most fears are India’s three Strike Corps, which “threat” if denatured can obtain a milieu with enormous peaceful potential. The nuclear backdrop can likewise be changed for the better by India removing its short-range nuclear missiles from forward deployment on the western border and, perhaps, even getting rid of them altogether, because hinterland-based missiles can reach Pakistani targets with ease. These two moves will cost India little in terms of security and persuade Pakistan of India’s goodwill and China as the Indian military’s primary concern.


Also read: With BIMSTEC, Modi govt should let India’s border states do the talking, not New Delhi


Tackling China at a time when it is widening the gap with India in all respects necessitates India using the playbook the Chinese successfully used against the US, Pakistan against India, and North Korea against America, when facing an adversary with a marked conventional military edge. It means resorting to Nuclear First Use (NFU) and deploying weapons to make this stance credible.

Politically, the most difficult policy decision for the Modi government will, however, be to resume nuclear testing. This is absolutely necessary to obtain tested and proven thermonuclear weapons of different power-to-yield ratios. India has got by with a suspect thermonuclear arsenal for 20 years. It is time India’s strategic deterrent acquired credibility.

The author is a research professor at CPR and a national security expert.

This is the sixth in a series of articles titled “Policy Challenges 2019-2024” under ThePrint-Centre for Policy Research (CPR) collaboration. A longer version of this piece is available on the CPR website at www.cprindia.org. The full policy document on a range of issues addressed in this series is available on CPR’s website.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Underestimting pak caused india a major embrassment on 27th feb , buying weapons at high cost will bleed india with defunct defence industrial base!!!!

  2. Bharat is living in his make believe world. He is having megalomaniac view of India which is totally inconsistent with ground realities. None of the ideas presented by him makes sense. India has to deal with Pakistan as a source of constant headache but since it is beefed up by China and particularly after CPEC, we need to treat as if India is encircled by China from east to north to west. This is a tall order and at the basic, we need to defend ourselves competently. Our alignment with the USA follows common sense approach and we must get maximum military benefit out of it, just as China derived massive economic benefits from USA after 1970 Nixon visit. It is only USA combined with India, Japan, Australia and others in South East Asia that can hope to contain China. As regards nuclear test by India, there is absolutely no need to disturb the status quo, whether yield was up to the mark or otherwise! Should India hanker after NSG? It must as it brings us many benefits. Bharat should come out with more nuanced and meaningful ideas in future and not behave like a bull in China shop!!

  3. At this time it would be prudent to set the house while keeping a low profile. This implies improving the economy; internal security; modernisation of armed forces and police in view of the threat of terrorism; increasing domestic consumption with innovative ‘Made in India’ products that are also exportable; bringing about strict implementation of minimum wage; encouraging ‘Start up India’ to reduce unemployment. There is more than likely a positive correlation between economic well-being and bargaining power of a nation on economic and military dimensions. Hollow nationalism is unsustainable. The adversary is too powerful, because of either economic well-being or propensity for unlawful conflict. Therefore, for the time being, India must work on policy, strategy and execution so that responses to contingencies are not hostage to constraints. China did the same in 1980s and so did Japan in the aftermath of WWII. The British are doing it now after Iraq war fiasco. Lessons to be learnt.

  4. What the column calls pampering, one would call prudence, pragmatism. Great pity though about Pakistan. If a political benefit is available, that approach will be continued, even if it is not in the national interest.

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