India in Transition - Foreign Policy & Security
If the historic trend line in Sino-Indian relations holds, the recent India-China military stand-off in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir will soon be followed by predictable hype in Delhi about the impending transformation of bilateral relations and how it might change the world. The three week intrusion by the Chinese security forces into territory claimed by India came to an end in early May after India persuaded Beijing that a failure to restore the status quo ante could severely set back the bilateral relationship.
Despite favorable geopolitical conditions such as concern over the nature of China’s rise, the relationship between India and Japan remains one of unfulfilled potential. The persistence of a “perception gap” between the two is preventing deeper engagement. At first glance, India and Japan appear natural partners. Located on the periphery of Asia, both are examples of economic growth developing in line with democratic values. Furthermore, India and Japan share no territorial disputes or historical animosity. Since a nadir following India’s nuclear tests in 1998, relations have evolved apace yet certain sticking points are holding back its promise.
If globalization is a game, India would seem to be one of its winners. The past decade has seen India record impressive economic growth and move into fast-moving high tech sectors. Nowhere is this transition more apparent than in information and communication technology (ICT). While China has made a name for itself making ICT hardware, India is known for its prowess in software. Multinational corporations from Microsoft to Adobe have set up R&D centers in India, while home-grown firms like Infosys and Wipro have taken advantage of the outsourcing boom to become global players.
On the eve of India’s founding, no one could have imagined how successfully it would come to navigate the international system. At that time, there were legions of skeptics who believed that the half-life of this new country would be measured in years, perhaps decades at most. The question of when India would split apart was one of the staples of public discussion going back to Churchill’s celebrated remark, “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the Equator.” Since then, legions of commentators believed that it would be a miracle if India survived.
As the United States and India grow ever closer as partners, they cannot escape the challenges posed by Pakistan, which has been a complication in the bilateral relationship between Washington and New Delhi since 1947. The next American President and his Indian counterpart will find it impossible to ignore the dangers and opportunities posed by Pakistan today. Cooperation between Washington and New Delhi on how to deal with these challenges is crucial and fortunately seems to be improving especially as we prepare for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan.
The troubled state of civil-military relations in India has attracted much attention in recent times. Many, especially within the military, argue that it has been in a state of prolonged crisis as far back as 2006 when disputes over the Pay Commission created bad blood between civilians and the military. These tensions, however, paled in comparison to the controversies that erupted earlier this year.
The third annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in June left many convinced that the two nations’ “strategic partnership” is expanding. And not without reason as unprecedented counter-terrorism coordination, extensive joint military exercises on land, sea, and air, and candid discussions on sensitive topics like Iran and Myanmar point to a deepening relationship. But amidst a flurry of high-level visits surrounding the Dialogue, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta acknowledged that “we now have to put meat on the bone.”
The latest round of talks between India and Pakistan on the Siachen glacier ended on June 12th without a breakthrough. It’s been twenty-eight years since India launched Operation Meghdoot to pre-emptively occupy the dominating Saltoro ridge on the glacier. It’s been twenty-seven years since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan agreed to begin talks at the level of defence secretaries on the Siachen dispute.
Do recent events and the logic of the past indicate that we are at the beginning of a shift in policy by India’s neighbors from attempting to “balance” India to “bandwagoning” with India over the long run? Why do India’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, but also to a lesser extent Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, not bandwagon with the region’s largest and fastest-growing economy for their own interests?
In response to security concerns in the neighborhood and as it emerges as a regional superpower, India has embarked on a grand scheme of defense modernization. A recent study published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) places India as the largest importer of arms between 2006 and 2010 and estimates the modernization of the industry at $80 billion. With annual GDP growth rates between 7 and 9 percent in the past decade and the government’s commitment to steady investments in military capabilities, India’s spending on defense as a share of its GDP has remained relatively steady at 2.5 to 3 percent. Consequently, India’s defense budget has grown by 64 percent (in real terms) since 2001 – reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011-2012 budget – and enabled the implementation of long-term acquisition plans.