Does India Have a Successful Grand Strategy?

Traditional examples of good grand strategies are illustrated in the unification of Germany by Bismarck and the policy of containment. It is opined that no country can be said to be without a grand strategy. Yet, the question continually arises, do middle powers have a grand strategy? This highlights that a successful grand strategy for a middle power would be one that is able to secure its national interests, whilst at the same time, convey that it indeed has one. Taking the example of India, this article argues that India has a grand strategy, which continually evolves to meet the changing international climate. A successful grand strategy rests on its ability to address contemporary issues like, climate change. In addition, there exists debates over the existence of an Indian grand strategy. This article will argue that this stems from a failure to enunciate its existence and impedes it from achieving a successful grand strategy.

Since the Cold War, the emerging role of middle powers such as India, in the international arena cannot be ignored. India is limited in what it can achieve, being a developing nation, but it is able to utilize the international system to achieve its national interests. This is in line with Freedman’s account of grand strategy, which is that it is associated with how and for what reasons nations situate themselves within the international system. A successful grand strategy is one that provides a clear indication of what the country’s vital interests are, its threats, and limits to its capabilities. Grand strategy, in the Indian perspective, takes into consideration how policies can be framed for the nation to achieve its long-term goals within the international structure. 

Most of the literature suggests that grand strategy is not static. Since the Cold War, India embraced economic liberalization and has stepped away from non-alignment. The former was carried out to address its balance of payments crisis while the latter is attributed to the changing international climate. India pursues ‘strategic multi-alignment’ to advance its national interests. This enables it to maximize its gains, particularly in a contradictory global environment. This demonstrates the dynamic nature of grand strategy and India’s ability to change it according to the demands. For instance, India is a member of QUAD, is focused on the centrality of ASEAN, and engages with China indicating that it retains its autonomy and interests in the Indo-Pacific. This demonstrates that its grand strategy is flexible and continuously evolves in response to changes in the global arena.

A successful grand strategy is formulated in a manner such that it minimizes conflict. India historically, has faced protracted conflicts within its immediate neighborhood, primarily from Pakistan and China. Accordingly, maintaining a stable regional security architecture has been a pillar of India’s grand strategy. Since the mid-2000s India approached China with economic trade, and diplomatic engagements. However, with the commencement of the BRI and the recent border incursions by the PLA, India has shifted its grand strategy towards China. To balance the BRI, it has partnered with Japan for the development of AAGC, enhanced its blue water navy capabilities, and formed defense partnerships with regional powers in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, within the immediate neighborhood, India continually uses its soft power, in the form of humanitarian assistance and developmental packages to balance China’s role in the region. This demonstrates that India’s grand strategy can counter potential threats to security by using different aspects of power. 

Most of the scholarship suggests that a successful grand strategy depends on understanding its limited capabilities, including its domestic base. This suggests that a good grand strategy requires a synthesis of meeting domestic requirements as well as achieving foreign policy goals. Taking into consideration that India is a developing country it faces several issues, including climate change. Socio-economic challenges and meeting developmental capabilities are significant roadblocks to reducing carbon emissions. This places India in a unique position, where difficulties faced by the international community to address climate change act as a significant threat to India’s national interests. By deepening its engagements in multilateral organizations and by bringing a major geopolitical fault line to the foray, India has expanded its traditional Global South partnerships in favor of partnerships with similarly situated middle powers, in the form of BRICS and BASIC. For India, prioritizing resources to addressing climate change and protecting its domestic base is a significant challenge and according to Hal Brands, resource allocation is a significant challenge to the implementation of a grand strategy. Collectively, this indicates that India has recalibrated its grand strategy to address climate change but a successful grand strategy rest on its ability to tackle climate change.

Scholars such as Luttwak have opined that nations do not need to enunciate that they possess a grand strategy and that all states are in possession of a grand strategy, irrespective of whether they know it or not. In the case of India however, a great deal of the literature questions whether India possesses a grand strategy. George Tanham opined that India is marred by an absence of a grand strategy. Instead, it could be argued that this debate has arisen because of a failure to communicate that it indeed has one. Indian scholarship rarely uses ‘grand strategy,’ which may be due to its close association with war and military history. A failure to enunciate ‘grand strategy’ may have given way to a landscape that lacks strategic thinking and planning. Grand strategy provides a guiding map for the policies a state should implement. In the Indian scenario, lack of strategic planning impedes policymaking and can result in ad-hoc decisions being made in an ever-changing global climate. Therefore, it may be argued that a successful grand strategy is one in which the bureaucratic machinery is equipped to handle multiple threats, and this requires enunciation of grand strategy in the political discourse in India. Eventually, this would enable more engagement with the rest of the world and in achieving a successful grand strategy.

Collectively, this demonstrates that India is in possession of a grand strategy that continually learns and adapts. However, to address contemporary challenges, it is necessary that its grand strategy be explicit in Indian political discourse. This may pave the way for a successful grand strategy of a middle power.

[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office, India, via Wikimedia Commons]

Lakshmy Ramakrishnan recently earned her MA in International Relations from King’s College London. In addition to her MA, Lakshmy holds a BSc and an MSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Adelaide, Australia, and Manipal University, India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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