By Nitin Bajaj, MPIA 2014

In turning to its Military modernization, has India resigned to the idea of great power competition vis-à-vis China?

In 1998, India conducted Pokhran-II tests and officially declared itself a global nuclear power. Starting 2001, India had embarked on a new path of military modernization. This has made it the most lucrative arms market for the global weapons suppliers. In 2009, India launched the INS Arihant, its first indigenously designed nuclear submarine. It is also expected to complete building its first indigenously built 40,000-ton aircraft carrier, called INS Vikrant, sometime after 2018. Where is India headed with its pursuit for this advanced weaponry?

Those in charge of writing India’s grand strategy often have two explanations for the continuing build-up of India’s military muscle – the growing Pakistani state-sponsored terrorism in India or the fear of Chinese military attack as a result of any of the long-standing border disputes. But when I cast an unhurried glance around the Indian strategic establishments, it is difficult to ignore the subtle hanging desire of prestige and strategic autonomy. The prestige that is old enough as the independent India itself but has gathered new layers of prominence today. What does this mean?

One explanation is India’s desire to become a major Asian player was written in one simple word, non-alignment, coined by the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. This word has not lost its charm and in fact the official grand strategy paper of India, released earlier this year, was titled Non-Alignment 2.0. It is the same word that made the hackles of U.S. policy makers rise for over 40 years. Non-Alignment in the officially stated terms meant the placement of India beyond and above the rivalries of the great powers of the cold-war. The hidden, and more objective, goals were to satiate the Indian desires to establish a powerful status, over time, in South Asia and at large, in Asia after two centuries of British rule left India poor and oppressed.

The people of India desire nothing more than Nehru himself.

The constituted knowledge from the past is pointing at the reinforcement of India’s desires to be a stronger regional player, today. China has grown by leaps and bounds in the last three decades to become the second biggest economic player in the world. Its military desires are sharp, which clearly constrain India’s security. India views the relationship with China as a great power competition that is still unfolding. China is growing in this system of international anarchy but, in fact, it is growing partially at India’ expense.

India had always valued strategic autonomy and regarded China as a national security threat. It was in the lack of India’s economic capacity that it practiced strategic restraint and often used the Soviet nuclear umbrellas. But, the last two decades have been substantial for India. Its GDP more than quadrupled from the year 1991 to 2011. Today, the Indian economy of the size of $4.825 trillion (GDP measured in PPP) is the third largest in the world by purchasing power parity (PPP) terms.

Gurmeet Kanwal, a New Delhi based defense analyst, estimates an approximate $100 billion worth of defense equipments that India would import in the next 10 years to sufficiently fulfill its military rise.

The growing material prosperity provides India the opportunity to build the power and fulfill the desires of regional hegemony in Asia. This would be a pursuit for maximum national security vis-à-vis China, in the lack of external protections.

As a leading proponent of the realist theory said – “What money is to economics, power is to international relations.”

This article was first published in The Indian Economist

Attribution: Courtesy of Ajai Shukla