Friday, August 14, 2009


Dr. Subhash Kapila
Aug. 13, -S.A.A.G.

Introductory Observations

The Indian Republic in the first fifty years of its existence maintained a strategic autonomy in the conduct of its foreign policy despite a much more limited national power profile and economic profile than that exists today.
Today, when India is economically vibrant and strong and India has been able to amass sizeable conventional and strategic assets, India to its citizens seems strategically tied down in adding muscle to the conduct of its foreign policy.

Adding muscle to India’s foreign policy does not imply war mongering or military adventurism. Adding muscle to India’s foreign policy implies that India’s national security interests are accorded a paramountcy in the conduct of foreign policies to the exclusion of the personal predictions of the Indian Prime Minister and his proximate foreign policy advisors. It also implies the existence of political will to secure India’s national security interests.

The period 2004-2009 has witnessed a bartering away of India’s national security interests. This trend stands examined in the Author’s SAAG Paper No.3210 dated 22 May 2009 entitled “India’s Foreign Policy 2004-2009: The Wasted Years:

The major part of India’s foreign policy failures in this time span and the distortions that willingly or unwillingly have seeped into India’s foreign policy (2004 – 2009) have resulted from policies or lack of policies generated by the predominance given by India’s current Prime Minister to the “United States Factor” in our policy formulations.
Co-attendant with the primacy given to the “United States Factor” in India’s foreign policy formulations during 2004-2009 has been the “parallel track” of “Pakistan-appeasement policies” out of deference to United States Pak-centric strategic sensitivities.

In the process, India can be said to have abdicated its much prized “strategic autonomy” (not to be confused with non-alignment) in its foreign policy formulations. In another sense, it can also be said that India has diluted its aspirations to become a global power.

The center of gravity of the global balance of power has shifted to Asia. India along with China are the two prominent stakeholders and determinants of this shift in the balance of power.

While China has leveraged this shift to her advantage, India’s foreign policies has not leveraged this shift in India’s favor. On the contrary, India’s current foreign policy has led it to seemingly emerge as more of a United States satellite or camp follower.

Rhetorical flourishes by United States political leaders and officials will not impart global power status on India. India has to earn its global power status by standing firmly on its own legs, build its strengths and demonstrate its strategic autonomy globally and regionally, and firmly demonstrate fortified by Indian nationalism, that it has the will to use power to secure India’s national interests.

This point is contextually relevant to the examination of the impact on India’s foreign policy formulations of the “United States Factor”.

This Paper intends to examine the main theme under the following heads:

The “United States Factor” in India’s Foreign Policy (2004-2009): No End Gains

Indian Prime Minister’s “Foreign Policy Romanticism” with United States Reminiscent of Nehru’s Romanticism with China.

Peace with Pakistan: An Elusive Mythical Obsession of India’s Prime Minister

China’s Containment was Implicit in Evolution of US-India Strategic Relationship: United States Now Shirks from it

1) The “United States Factor” in India’s Foreign Policy (2004-2009): No End Gains

The US-India Strategic Partnership much hyped in 2000-2001, including by this Author, now stands reduced to a “strategic relationship” only. That too is alive only in South Block corridors.

India’s expectant hopes attending the advent of evolving a US-India Strategic Partnership focused on multiple aims. At the core of these aims were (1) India’s rise to global power status with a US impetus (2) Strategic downsizing of Pakistan and limiting its “spoiler-state” role in South Asia (3) Joint US-India convergence in coping and managing of the growing military rise of China.

Post 9/11 and now Post Af-Pak Policy unveiling it should be clear to all right thinking Indians that the United States global and regional agenda in South Asia is not in consonance with India’s strategic expectations from the United States. The United States agenda is in contradiction to India’s national security interests and India’s national aspirations.

India’s supine foreign policies during 2004-2009 in accommodating United States strategic sensitivities “at all costs” has landed India in a position where there are “no end-gains” for India by according a primacy to the “US Factor” in India foreign policy formulation.

The above assertions stand fortified by the following manifestations:

Proximity to United States has not contributed to lessening of India’s threat perceptions emanating from Pakistan and China. United States has not contributed at all in this direction.
United States strangulating hold over Pakistan has not been exercised to prevent Pakistan’s proxy war and terrorism against India nor has the United States diluted the Pakistan-China strategic nexus
United States till today has not supported India’s candidature for the United Nations Security Council as a Permanent Member. It indicates US reservations on the emergence of India as a global power.

United States has revived or shortly will revive pressures that indirectly aim at capping/rolling back India’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Strategically, the United States has only conceded the vast empty expanse of the Indian Ocean to India to extend its influence. The United States has not conceded that India is the predominant regional power in South Asia and that Pakistan must adjust its delusionary strategic mindsets accordingly.

Increased Indo-US military-to-military contacts are no index of a thriving US-India Strategic Partnership. One is now constrained to term it as a US-India Strategic Relationship. The United States has held itself back from adding enhanced strategic and political contours to the US-India relationship.
The most striking deduction from the above analysis is that India’s foreign policy (2004-2009) has been strategically misconceived and ill-advised in making the “United States as the “Central Pillar” of India’s foreign policy.”

2) Indian Prime Minister’s “Foreign Policy Romanticism” with United States Reminiscent of Nehru’s Romanticism with China

One would not be far wrong to term the Indian Prime Minister’s “Foreign Policy Romanticism” with the United States as reminiscent of Nehru’s similar romanticism with China. The results of the later were a great military setback for India.

It is not to suggest that the United States will attack India like China did. But an Indian monochromatic foreign policy focused on United States has brought distortions in India’s present foreign policies, foreclosing many of its wider options afield, particularly India foreign policy towards Pakistan.

Military setbacks can accrue to India by United States continued military build-up of Pakistan and thereby affecting the India-Pakistan Military Balance. It is strategically strange that while the United States increasingly harps on the strengths of its Strategic Partnership with India, it concurrently keeps building Pakistan’s conventional military capabilities. Even a non-commissioned officer of the Indian Army would point out that it is a puerile US argument that it’s provision of combat fighter aircraft and long range maritime surveillance aircraft fitted with anti-submarine weapons to Pakistan are intended for augmenting Pakistan’s anti-terrorism warfare capability.

The Indian Prime Minister has failed in his foreign policy approaches to the United States to demand strategic ‘quid-pro-quos’ from the United States in relation to the adjustments and compromises he has made in Indian foreign policies to accommodate US strategic interests on Pakistan.

3) Peace with Pakistan: An Elusive Mythical Obsession of India’s Prime Minister

Peace with Pakistan is a desirable objective for India’s foreign policy. But the timing of peace and resumption of composite dialogue with Pakistan has to be decided by India’s assessments and readings of the contextual security environment and India’s national security interests.
The timings of such a process cannot be dictated by the United States to synchronize with the timings of its strategic overtures to Pakistan to serve US strategic interests. It does not require much imagination for anyone to assert that the United States and India have serious strategic divergences over Pakistan.

Additionally, has the Indian Prime Minister and his advisory team ever asked themselves the question as to why the United States constantly preaches to India on peace with Pakistan?

India despite repetitive Pakistani acts of terrorism against India has exercised restraint. Even today India stands aloof and strategically not taken advantage of the growing civil war within Pakistan. Then why does the United States resort to peace sermons to India on India-Pak peace knowing fully well that these need to be given to Pakistan only.

Further, in the past, and even now, Kashmir- mention is used as a strategic pressure point against India by US political leaders.
Sharm-al- Sheikh was a direct manifestation of the “distortions” that the “United States Factor” has induced in India’s current foreign policy formulation. The Havana Agreement 2006 was the earlier manifestation.

In both cases the “Indian foreign policy troika” of the Prime Minister, the National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary were the moving spirits behind these infamous appeasement concessions on terrorism to Pakistan, acting in duress under US pressures.

Does it behave a country of India’s size and potential to succumb to external pressures?

Fortunately, the force of Indian public opinion pressured the Congress President to make the Indian Prime Minister to retract from Sharm-al-Sheikh concessions to Pakistan. That does not lessen the gravity of the Indian policy establishment succumbing to external pressures especially over Pakistan.

Peace with Pakistan will continue to be an elusive myth till such time some Indian political leader emerges who can recognize that the only way to restrain Pakistan is to follow the US model against Russia in the Cold War.

Further peace with Pakistan will accrue when Indian Prime Ministers ensure that India’s war preparedness at all times is so high that coupled with Indian Prime Ministers demonstrating the will to use power, these two realities existentially deter Pakistan from provoking India and indulging in military adventurism against it..

Indian Prime Ministers down the line have not grasped the fundamentals of why peace with Pakistan will remain an elusive myth. The onus of bringing about India- Pakistan peace lies squarely on United States shoulders and not on India's shoulders.

The United States has consistently invented and re-invented Pakistan’s strategic utility for US national security interests. Pursuant to this fixation it has armed and re-armed Pakistan substantially and encouraged it to box much above its strategic weight.
Peace with Pakistan will therefore continue to be elusive till such time United States re-calibrates its South Asia policies with Pakistan removed from the centrality it occupies in US strategy.

4) China’s Containment was Implicit in Evolution of US-India Strategic Relationship: United States Now Shirks from It

Democracy and shared values were not the bed-rock of the advent of US-India’s Strategic Partnership. The bedrock of this evolving strategic relationship was an implicit understanding and strategic convergence that China’s rising military power needed to be contained for mutual strategic benefits.

American strategic literature of the preceding decade and even in this decade is alive with discussions to this end.
The American stress on joint exercises and enter-operability with the Indian Armed Forces was surely not for disaster management purposes. The underlying intent has surely been a possible China contingency.

Recent and latest United States foreign policy trends indicate that the United States is no longer imbued with a China containment strategy. Nothing could be more blasphemous for Indian ears than the latest US proposal of a G-2 (US and China) combine to control global affairs. The underlying content is not only economic but also a strategic compromise that the United States seems to be making with China.

Further, India’s Prime Minister and his team are seemingly unaware that it is a cardinal tenet of United States strategic policies that no single Asian nation emerges as the predominant power. To that end United States would continue to play more of a role of a “balancer” rather than side with India to offset China’s military rise.

India’s Foreign Policy Options (2004-2009) Foreclosed by “United States Factor” Primacy

India will now begin to strategically pay for its foreign policies or lack of foreign policies during the period 2001-2009 arising from giving a misplaced primacy to the “United States Factor” in its foreign policy formulations.

In respect of India’s main threat adversaries, namely Pakistan and China, India’s foreign policy options stand foreclosed because of the “US Factor”.

The Indian Prime Minister with all his proximity to the United State has failed to prevail and convince the United States to restrain Pakistan’s proxy war and terrorism against India.

Contrarily, the Indian Prime Minister is being pressurized to suffer Pakistan’s intransigence for the cause of greater American strategic good.

The United States constantly changing priorities in its foreign policy stances towards China makes it an unreliable partner of India to deal with its China threat.

In relation to Pakistan, the close relations of India with Iran were a counter weight. In relation to China, the longstanding Russia-India Strategic Partnership was an effective counter-balance and restraint.

According primacy to the “United States Factor” in India’s foreign policies during the period 2004-2009 led to a strategic downgrading of India’s foreign policy priorities towards Iran and Russia. Earnest hard work would be required now to resurrect these relationships.
With aspirations to emerge as a global power, India’s foreign policy cannot be converted into a US-centric mode. If the United States resorts to “balancing” India by use of Pakistan and/or China then Indian political leaders must learn to ‘balance’ the United States with an equally strong strategic partnership with Russia.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for years did not attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit meetings. It sent wrong signals to Russia.
In the same vein it needs to be pointed out that this Government should desist from making India’s military inventories totally reliant on the United States. There is a danger that this Government for political reasons may place the multi-billion dollar order for 126 combat fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force on the United States. By such a decision, in one single stroke, India would be mortgaging the cutting edge of India’s offensive capabilities to the mercy of a Pak-centric United States.

5) Concluding Observations

In earlier Papers of this Author a point that repeatedly stands made is that India cannot afford to emerge as a global player despite the United States or in opposition to it.

The opposite is also true that no global power has ever helped another aspiring power to emerge as a global power. This stands true for the United States and India too.

The United States may, and one repeats may, assist India to emerge as a “global player” but it will never assist India to emerge as a “global power” on equal terms with USA.
The years 2004-2009 have been “wasted years” in terms of India’s foreign policy formulations and its conduct. The overwhelming reason was that India’s foreign policy troika” comprising the PM, NSA and the Foreign Secretary made the United States as the “Central Pillar” of India’s foreign policy.

The resultant effect was that India stood disconnected from its proven traditional friendly partners.

It is high time, that with no end- gains having accrued from such foreign policy fixations, India’s foreign policy is re-calibrated and strong connectivities re-established with India’s proven friends.

An aspiring global power like India needs to have multiple foreign policy connectivities to provide flexibility of options.

India’s Prime Ministers need to emulate China. If the United States today talks of a global G-2 combine of USA and China to manage global affairs, it is because China has followed the dictum of a “mailed fist in a velvet glove.” and leveraged its national strengths to propel its rise on the global stage.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:

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