A Requiem for Nonalignment? Few events, barring the shock of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, has had as much of an impact on India’s foreign and security policies as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the concomitant end of the Cold War. The Soviet collapse and the transformation of the global order forced India’s policymakers to make drastic changes in India’s foreign policy at multiple levels. At a global level, nonalignment ceased to have much meaning. As a former Indian foreign and subsequently prime minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, quite succinctly stated, “It is a mantra that we have to keep repeating, but who are you going to be nonaligned against?” With the end of nonalignment for all practical purposes, India’s foreign policy was suddenly bereft of a grand strategic vision.
At another level, the country was also confronted with an unprecedented fiscal crisis partly as a consequence of the first Gulf War of 1991. Three factors contributed to this crisis. First, anticipating a spike in oil prices because of Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, India had purchased considerable amounts of petroleum on the spot market thereby draining its treasury of much-needed foreign exchange. Second, the government of India was forced to repatriate over a hundred thousand workers from the Persian Gulf at short notice. Third, it lost the very substantial remittances that the workers from the Gulf had contributed to the Indian exchequer. The confluence of these three factors placed the country in dire financial straits.xxxvii Faced with his extraordinary crisis and also confronting the loss of the vast East European market as a consequence of the Soviet collapse, India’s policymakers, most notably the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, chose to dramatically alter India’s domestic and international economic policies. These involved abandoning the country’s historic commitment to import-substituting industrialization, unbundling, though fitfully at best, its vast public sector and dismantling a labyrinthine set of regulations, licenses, permits and quotas which had largely stifled economic growth.xxxviii Drastic changes were also undertaken in the political arena. As argued earlier, India’s commitment to nonalignment had already eroded in practice, if not in rhetoric, in the post-Nehru era. Now its policymakers sought to forge a new vision for the country. However, the country lacked a leader of the stature and intellectual proclivities of Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, possessed a sufficient grasp of international affairs to recognize the necessity of charting a new course for the country in both domestic and international arenas.xxxix Accordingly, he sought to chart a new course for the country’s foreign policy.
This effort to alter the country’s foreign policy orientation toward the emergent, sole superpower, the United States ran into an important hurdle for three compelling reasons. First, at a global level, the United States had few significant interests in India barring nonproliferation. This issue, of course, put the two sides on a collision course as India was a staunch opponent of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and categorically refused to accede to its expectations. The US, especially, under the Clinton administration, was committed to its indefinite and unconditional extension at the Review Conference in 1995. Not surprisingly, their fundamental differences put the two countries ate odds.
Second, at a regional level, even though the US Department of Commerce under the stewardship of Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, had anointed India as one of the world’s “big emerging markets”, American investment in and trade with India was so negligible that the nonproliferation issue overshadowed other interests.
Third and finally, at a bureaucratic level in both countries the “shadow of the past” weighed heavily on all deliberations. Most Indian foreign policy bureaucrats looked were dubious about American goals and interests in South Asia and there was lingering distrust of India in both the State and Defense departments in the United States. These mutual misgivings hobbled the growth of the relationship even though some small progress had been made in the last days of Indira Gandhi and her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi. As a consequence of these three factors, improvements in relations were, at best fitful, and frequently hostage to minor, episodic differences. For example, the Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael’s careless remark about Kashmir’s accession to India at a press briefing in Washington, DC became a major diplomatic contretemps.xl
However, Indian policymakers managed to move with somewhat greater dexterity on other fronts. To that end, they ended country’s reflexive support for the Arab position on Israel and the Palestinian question. Historically, since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 India had adopted for reasons of both domestic politics and national ideology, a mostly frosty approach toward the Jewish state. At home Indian policymakers were attentive to the sentiments of the Muslim population. At an ideological level they had viewed the creation of Israel as the continuation of a colonial policy. xli In 1992, in the wake of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinians, India upgraded its diplomatic relations with Israel to the ambassadorial level.
Simultaneously, India also directed its gaze toward South-East Asia after a long span of neglect. During much of the Cold War Indian policymakers had shunned the states of South-East Asia, with the critical exception of Vietnam, viewing them as mostly American puppets. Now as part and parcel of the opening of its markets to foreign investment and seeking to develop a viable export sector, the country embarked upon a “Look East policy”.xlii
Closer to home, the Narasimha Rao regime efforts continued to improve relations with the PRC, a process that had been initiated during the Rajiv Gandhi regime in the late 1980s. Even though the two sides forged two important confidence-building measures (CBMs) in 1993 and 1996 designed to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control, little or no progress was made in resolving the border dispute.xliii
Finally, relations with Pakistan, India’s long-standing adversary remained contentious as ever. In considerable part the relationship with Pakistan deteriorated because of the outbreak of an ethnoreligious insurgency in the dispute state of Jammu and Kashmir in December 1989. The origins of this insurgency were mostly indigenous could be traced to a process of growing political mobilization against a backdrop of steady institutional decay.xliv However, with the outbreak of the insurgency Pakistan’s policymakers quickly stepped into the fray and helped transform a largely internal uprising into an ideologically charged, sanguinary, extortion racket.xlv In an attempt to suppress the insurgency India resorted to a time-honored counterinsurgency strategy. This involved the substantial use of force against the insurgents but with the promise of free and fair elections once they proved willing to abandon their secessionist agenda. As with other counterinsurgency operations, this strategy has met with some success. However, while it has reduced the insurgency to manageable proportions, it has not been able to eliminate it altogether. Continued Pakistani logistical support for the insurgents, the provision of sanctuaries in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and a porous border has prevented India from successfully suppressing the insurgency.
Crossing the Nuclear Rubicon and Beyond
Pakistan’s needling of India in Kashmir was and remains susceptible to management through India’s conventional military capabilities. Nor does Pakistan’s conventional capabilities pose an especially compelling threat to India’s security. The conventional military capabilities, the persistence of the border dispute and the PRC’s nuclear weapons posed an altogether different order of threat to India’s security. Indeed it was the long-term security threats that the PRC posed to India proved to be the most compelling underlying factor that drove India’s nuclear weapons program.xlvi The specific timing of the program, contrary to much polemical writing had little to do with the ascendance of the right-of-center Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power.xlvii Instead it was closely tied to the successful extension of the NPT in 1995 and the seeming inexorable efforts of the Clinton administration to conclude a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Fearful that the test ban treaty was all but inevitable Indian policymakers chose to exercise the nuclear option before ineluctable pressures were brought to bear on India to accede to the regime.
Despite the initial burst of hostility from the United States and the other great powers, the international community has come to grudgingly accept India as a de facto nuclear weapons state. In large part this came about as a consequence of extended bilateral negotiations between the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh, the Indian Minister for External Affairs.xlviii Also their alarmist claims and fears about a possible nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan have not materialized. Pakistan’s feckless attempt to revive the Kashmir issue through its incursion in the Kargil region did contribute to a limited war between the two states in 1999.xlix However, despite the Pakistani provocation India exercised remarkable restraint and a large-scale war was effectively avoided. Similarly, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 India resorted to a strategy of coercive diplomacy albeit with mixed results.l However, it is important to note that neither of these two crises culminated in a full-scale war between the two long-standing adversaries.
In the aftermath of the 2001-2002 crisis India and Pakistan with some American prodding embarked upon a peace process. The results from this process have been limited though it had resulted in some de-escalation of tensions on the Kashmir front.li However, in August 2008, tensions once again came to the fore with Indian allegations about a Pakistani violation of the cease-fire agreement. Matters worsened considerably after India (and the United States) alleged that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D) was behind the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008.lii While relations with Pakistan remain quite fraught, Indo-US relations now seem to be on a very secure footing. The Bush administration’s willingness to exempt India from the expectations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (which India had never acceded to in the first place) and pursue a civilian nuclear agreement provided a sound foundation for the relationship.liii After protracted bilateral (and internal) negotiations the Congress-led regime of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh withstood a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in July 2008.liv There is little question that this agreement can make a meaningful contribution toward alleviating India’s energy needs. However, once consummated, its larger significance will lie in ending India’s thirty-odd years of nuclear isolation from the global order. Since the United States had been one of the principal protagonists in creating and bolstering these global arrangements, the shift in American policy, which made an exception for India, was nothing short of revolutionary. Consequently, the American concession on this critical issue must be construed as recognition of India’s emerging potential as a great power in Asia and beyond.
Where is India’s foreign policy headed in the post-Cold War era? Obviously the structure of the international system has changed beyond recognition since the immediate post-war era. Will India be able to sustain the pragmatic approach to the conduct of its foreign policy without completely sacrificing the values that it cherishes and protects at home? Or is the new found pragmatism likely to manifest itself in a crass pursuit of India’s parochial interests at the cost of any commitment to the preservation of those values? These questions are far from trivial and there are no clear-cut answers that are available. However, given the internal shifts in political power, its raid rate of economic growth and its emerging position in the global order, it is doubtful that the country will lapse into its past posture as a revisionist critic of the global order.lv
On the concept of “self-help” see Kenneth Waltz, The Theory of International Politics (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 1979).
ii For a statement of the key principles of Realism and its manifold forms see John Mearshiemer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001).
iii On the three levels of analysis see Kenneth Waltz, Man, State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965 ).
iv On the ideational sources of India’s foreign policy see Michael Brecher, India and World Politics: Krishna Menon’s View of the World (London: Oxford University Press, 1968)
v Lorne J. Kavic, India’s Quest for Security; Defence Policies, 1947-1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).
vi On this subject see the Robert McMahon, The Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
vii Robert Donaldson, Soviet Policy Toward India: Ideology and Strategy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974).
viii On the security threat from China that culminated in the Sino-Indian border war of 1962 see John Garver, Protracted Conflict; Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).
ix For a discussion of the role of public opinion on Indian foreign policy see Jayuntanuja Bandopadhaya, The Making of India’s Foreign Policy: Determinants, Institutions, Processes, and Personalities (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1970).
x On this subject see J. Ann Tickner, Self-Reliance versus Power Politics: The American and Indian Experience in Building National States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).
xi See A.P. Rana, The Imperatives of Nonalignment: A Conceptual Study of India’s Foreign Policy Strategy in the Nehru Period (Delhi: Macmillan Co. of India, 1976).
xii See Jawaharlal Nehru, Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963 ).
xiii On Nehru’s misgivings about defense spending see Stephen P. Cohen, The Indian Army: Its Contribution to the Development of a Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971)
xiv On India’s role as a mediator in South-East Asia see D.R. Sardesai, Indian Foreign Policy in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968).
xv The best discussion of this subject can be found in C. Dasgupta, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2002).
xvi The background to the Indian use of force in Goa is nicely summarized in Arthur Rubinoff, India’s Use of Force in Goa (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971).
xvii It also stemmed from two very pragmatic considerations. Nehru was concerned the opportunity costs of defense sending and fearful of the dangers of Bonapartism. On this subject see Sumit Ganguly, “From the Defense of the Nation to Aid to the Civil: The Army in Contemporary India, The Journal of Asian and African Studies Volume 26, Number 1-2 (1991), pp. 11-26.
xix Sumit Ganguly, “Sino-Indian Border Talks, 1981-1989: A View From New Delhi,” Asian Survey Volume 29, Number 12 (December 1989), pp. 1123-1135.
xx Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu and Jing-Dong Yuan, “Resolving The Sino-Indian Border Dispute: Building Confidence Through Cooperative Monitoring,” Asian Survey Volume 41, Number 2 (March-April 2001), pp. 351-376.
xxi The term “modified structuralism” is derived from Kanti Bajpai. See Kanti Bajpai, “India: Modified Structuralism,” in Muthiah Alagappa ed. Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
xxii For a discussion of the origins of the 1965 war see Sumit Ganguly, “Deterrence Failure Revisited: The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965,” The Journal of Strategic Studies Volume 13, Number 4 (December 1990), pp. 77-93.
xxiii David Denoon, Devaluation Under Pressure: India, Indonesia, and Ghana (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986).
xxiv See G. G. Mirchandani, India’s Nuclear Dilemma (New Delhi: Popular Book Services, 1968).
xxv On this subject see A.G. Noorani, “India’s Quest for a Nuclear Guarantee,” Asian Survey Volume 7, Number 7 (July 1967), pp. 490-502.
xxvi Sumit Ganguly, “Why India Joined the Nuclear Club,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Volume 39, Number 4 (April 1983), pp. 30-33.
xxvii On the crisis in East Pakistan and India’s subsequent involvement in the civil war see subject Richard Sisson and Leo Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
xxviii India’s military strategy in East Pakistan is discussed in John Mearshiemer, Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).
xxix For an early and especially thoughtful discussion of the limitations of India’s strategy of import-substituting industrialization see Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, India: Planning for Industrialization, Industrialization and Trade Policies since 1951 (London: Oxford University, 1970).
xxx For a useful discussion see, Jagdish Bhagwati, “What Went Wrong ? ” in Rahul Mukherji, ed. India’s Economic Transition: The Politics of Reforms (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007).
xxxi Ganguly, “Why India Joined the Nuclear Club.”
xxxii On the motivations and consequences of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan see Henry Bradsher, The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: A Study in the Use of Force in Soviet Foreign Policy (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
xxxiii On India’s efforts see Bhabani Sen Gupta, The Afghan Syndrome: How to Live With Soviet Power (New Delhi: Vikas, 1982).
xxxiv The most comprehensive discussion of the clandestine features of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program is Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, Deception: Pakistan, The United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2007)
xxxv Donaldson, Soviet Policy Toward India: Ideology and Strategy.
xxxvi The attempts to improve relations with India during the two Reagan administrations see Dennis Kux, India and the United States: Estranged Democracies, 1941-1991 (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 1993).
xxxvii Sumit Ganguly, “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,: The Developing World and the New Oil Crisis” The International Executive, January-February 1991.
xxxviii On this subject see the succinct discussion in Jagdish Bhagwati, India in Transition: Freeing the Economy (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1993).
xxxix Sumit Ganguly, “South Asia After the Cold War,” The Washington Quarterly Volume 15, Number 4 (1992), pp. 173-184.
xl See the discussion in Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2002).
xli For a discussion of India’s policies toward Israel see P.R. Kumaraswamy, in Sumit Ganguly ed. India as a Great Power (London: Frank Cass, 2003).
xlii Sanjaya Baru, “India and ASEAN: The emerging economic relationship towards a Bay of Bengal community,” in Strategic consequences of India’s economic performance (New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2006).
xliii See the discussion in Sumit Ganguly, “Border Issues, Domestic Integration and International Security,” in Francine Frankel and Harry Harding, eds. India and China: Rivalry and Engagement (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004).
xliv Sumit Ganguly, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
xlv Praveen Swami, India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert Kashmir, 1947-2004 (London: Routledge, 2007).
xlvi Sumit Ganguly, “India’s Pathway to Pokhran II: The Sources and Prospects of India’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” International Security Volume 23, Number 4 (1999), pp. 148-177.
xlvii For a statement that claims India tested nuclear weapons for reasons of prestige and status see George Perkovich, India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press,1999).
xlviii Strobe Talbott, Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).
xlix The literature on the Kargil conflict, while mostly from India’s perspective, is voluminous. See for example Praveen Swami, The Kargil War (New Delhi: Leftword Books, 1999); Amarinder Singh, A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights, 1999 (Patiala: Motibagh Palace, 2001).
l Sumit Ganguly and Michael Kraig, “The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy in South Asia: The Indo-Pakistani Crisis of 2001-2002,” Security Studies Volume 14, Number 2 (April-June 2005), pp. 290-324.
li P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2007).
lii Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistanis Aided Attack in Kabul,” U.S Officials Say,” The New York Times, August 1, 2008.
liii For the pertinent details of the agreement see Sumit Ganguly and Dinshaw Mistry, “The Case for the US-India Nuclear Agreement,” World Policy Journal Volume 28, Number 2 (2006), pp. 11-19.
liv Rama Lakshmi and Emily Wax, “Foes fail to oust India’s leader: Singh survives vote of no confidence --- nuclear deal on track,” The Washington Post, July 23, 2008.
lv Arvind Panagariya, India: The Emerging Giant (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).