The Pathway to 1962 From the time of independence to the disastrous border conflict with the PRC, three key features characterized India’s foreign policy. First, India played a significant role in multilateral institutions and particularly in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Second, it also emerged as a critical proponent of the nonaligned movement. Third, as a leader of the nonaligned movement it also made a significant contribution toward the process of decolonization.
These three critical commitments, in turn, manifested themselves at global, regional and national levels. At a global level, India attempted to defuse Cold War tensions in a number of contexts regional and functional. To that end, India had emerged as one of the early proponents of a nuclear test ban treaty and in 1952 had introduced a draft resolution co-sponsored with Ireland to bring about a global ban on nuclear tests. In the event, thanks to the exigencies of Cold War politics, little or nothing came of this effort. Nevertheless, this endeavor was a manifestation of India’s interest in forging a particular global order, one which would hobble the use of force in international affairs. India also sought to play a vital role in United Nations peacekeeping operations as well as the peaceful resolution of regional disputes. In pursuit of these ends India became involved in the International Control Commission in Vietnam along with Canada and Poland, it was a key member of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea and it also made a significant troop contribution the United Nations Peacekeeping forces in the Belgian Congo.xiv Also, India proved to be a tireless campaigner in the effort to bring about the end of decolonization. To that end, India’s diplomacy was carefully geared to the discussion of the issue at various international for and especially in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
In the region, it referred the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan to the United Nations for possible resolution. To the dismay of its policymakers, the issue became quickly embroiled in the politics of the Cold War.xv As a consequence of the largely partisan discussions at the United Nations, India’s political leadership became increasingly disillusioned about the resolution of its bilateral territorial disputes through the mechanism of the United Nations. Not surprisingly, after extensive diplomatic discussion with the intransigent Salazar regime in Portugal produced a deadlock and Prime Minister Nehru faced increasing criticism from a group of Afro-Asian leaders, India chose to use force to oust the Portuguese from their colonial enclave in Goa in 1960.xvi Finally, at national level, the country’s commitment to nonalignment led to the adoption of particular set of significant policy choices. Specifically, one of the key elements of the doctrine of nonalignment was the limitation of high defense expenditures.xvii To this end Indian military expenditures were drastically limited even when steady evidence about a possible security threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to mount.xviii Such a policy, unfortunately, proved to be extremely costly when the border negotiations with the PRC ultimately reached a cul-de-sac in 1960. Faced with this situation, India embarked upon a strategy of compellence designed to restore what it deemed to be the territorial status quo along the disputed Himalayan border. This policy, however, was singularly ill conceived as it involved sending in lightly armed, poorly equipped and ill-prepared troops to high altitudes in “penny packets”. In October 1962, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacked with considerable force, the Indian military was grossly unprepared to face the onslaught. The PLA inflicted considerable losses on the Indian forces and then withdrew from some of the areas that they had entered. However, they did not vacate some 14,000 square miles that they had initially claimed.xix These territories and other still remain the subject of tortured and glacial border negotiations.xx “Modified Structuralism”: the post-Nehru Eraxxi The military defeat in 1962 marked nothing short of a watershed in the structure and conduct of India’s foreign and security policies. In the immediate aftermath of this military debacle Nehru overcame his staunch objections to defense spending. In his final days, he oversaw a drastic re-appraisal of India’s security policies and practices. Most importantly, India embarked on a substantial program of military modernization. It committed itself to the creation of a million man army with ten new mountain divisions equipped and trained for high altitude warfare, a 45 squadron air force with supersonic aircraft and a modest program of naval expansion. However, even after Nehru’s demise in 1964, his successors still could not formally abandon the stated adherence to a policy of non-alignment. Consequently, the rhetoric of nonalignment remained a staple of Indian foreign policy. India’s foreign policy behavior, however, increasingly assumed a more Realist orientation.
Once again, global, regional and personal factors contributed to the major policy shift. Despite a fleeting moment of military cooperation with India in the aftermath of the 1962 war, the United States disengaged itself from South Asia after the second Indo-Pakistani conflict in 1965 as it became increasingly preoccupied with the prosecution of the Vietnam war.xxii Barring a brief and unhappy interlude in 1966 when the Johnson administration chose to exert considerable economic pressure on India to temper its criticism of the Vietnam war, to reform its agricultural policies and to open up its domestic economy to foreign investment, the United States, for all practical purposes, lost interest in India. xxiii Sensing an opportunity to expand their influence in the subcontinent, the Soviets brokered a peace agreement between India and Pakistan in the Central Asian city of Tashkent in 1966. With this American disengagement from the subcontinent, Pakistan sought to expand the scope of its security cooperation with the PRC to balance Indian power contributing to a growing security nexus between India’s two major adversaries.
At a regional level, India’s misgivings about its security increased in the aftermath of the first Chinese nuclear test at Lop Nor in 1964.xxiv The political fallout from these tests was considerable. Some within India’s parliament called for an abandonment of nonalignment and even urged that India acquire an independent nuclear weapons option. After considerable debate, the ruling Congress party and the new prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, reaffirmed the country’s public commitment to nonalignment and eschewed any immediate plans to acquire nuclear weapons.
However, in 1966, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Shastri’s successor, decided to seek a nuclear guarantee from the great powers. This effort, proved to be quite fruitless.xxv In the aftermath of this failure, Prime Minister Gandhi authorized India’s Subterranean Nuclear Explosions Project (SNEP) which culminated in India’s first nuclear test of May 1974.xxvi Under Indira Gandhi, India’s foreign policy sought to sustain two competing visions of world order. On the one hand, India still supported the cause of decolonization and continued to lead the charge on behalf of the weaker states in the international system. For example, it remained a staunch opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa, it was an unyielding supporter of the Palestinian cause and it opposed the Portuguese presence in Angola and Mozambique.
On the other hand, it also came to accept the importance of defense preparedness and increasingly overcame its reservations about the use of force in international politics. Not surprisingly, when faced with several million refugees from East Pakistan as a consequence of the outbreak of a civil war, the country quickly forged a careful politico-diplomatic strategy to break up Pakistan.xxvii Part of this strategy involved the acquisition of a tacit security guarantee from the Soviet Union to counter possible Chinese malfeasance. Accordingly, despite India’s professed commitment to nonalignment it signed a twenty-year pact of “peace, friendship and cooperation” with the Soviet Union in August 1971. With its northern flanks thereby protected, India had a free hand to intervene in East Pakistan. Fortunately, Pakistan’s attack on its northern air bases in early December gave it the casus belli to launch an attack on the eastern front. Within two weeks, the Indian army along with an indigenous Bengali rebel movement, the “mukti bahini” (literally “liberation force”) militarily prevailed against the demoralized Pakistani forces.xxviii
In the aftermath of the 1971 war, the concomitant break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, Indian emerged as the undisputed dominant power within the subcontinent. Despite its new-found status, the country was unable to transcend the region. Several factors account for this failure to emerge as a power of any consequence in the global order. Most importantly, thanks to its pursuit of a dubious strategy of state-led industrialization India’s economic growth remained anemic.xxix Simultaneously, the country’s deep-seated export pessimism led it to shy away from integrating itself into the global economy. The failure to develop ties with the global economy contributed to a paucity of foreign investment, important technological lags, a lack of innovation and the stifling of entrepreneurship. In turn, these forces contributed to what the eminent Indian economist Raj Krishna mordantly referred to as the “Hindu rate of growth”.xxx
India’s political choices at systemic and national levels also did very little to enhance it global stature. At a global level, in the wake of the first oil crisis of 1973, India chose to spearhead the Group of 77, a set of developing nations seeking to fundamentally alter the global economic order. Ironically, while it was a leader of this coalition it benefited little from the global spike in oil prices and failed to obtain any meaningful concessions as a resource-poor developing nation from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Indeed the country’s economic weakness effectively prevented it from carrying through a viable nuclear weapons program even after it managed to successfully test a nuclear weapon in May 1974. Faced with widespread global diplomatic disapprobation and significant economic and technological sanctions, India’s policymakers chose not carry out any further tests.xxxi Enter the Bear
Throughout much of the decade of the 1970s thanks to its poor record of economic growth and its diplomatic limitations India became a marginal player in the global order. Its influence remained confined to the South Asian region. Its insignificance was again underscored when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.xxxii The United States paid scant attention to Indian sensibilities and concerns when it chose to forge a renewed strategic relationship with Pakistan almost immediately after the Soviet invasion. General Zia-ul-Haq even rebuffed India’s efforts at reassuring Pakistan in the aftermath of the invasion.xxxiii In its efforts to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan the United States came to rely heavily on Pakistan. General Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator, quite astutely exacted a significant economic and military price for such cooperation. During his watch, the United States provided two packages of foreign assistance the first for five years of $ 3.2 billion and the second for six years of $4.02 billion. (The second package was not fully delivered because the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1990 and the United States also imposed economic sanctions on Pakistan for its pursuit of a clandestine nuclear weapons program).xxxiv In a effort to maintain its military superiority over Pakistan, India entered into a tighter military cooperation relationship with the Soviet Union. This military relationship, however, exacted a significant diplomatic cost. India was forced to tacitly acquiesce in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.xxxv For the remainder of the decade, barring some limited efforts on the part of the Reagan administration to improve relations with India as part of a strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on the Soviet Union, India remained of little consequence to the great powers.xxxvi