Asia and Eurasia
Strategic Priorities of India and The Changing International Landscape

Challenges notwithstanding, the mantra for India’s transition from balancing to leading power entails developing comprehensive national power: economic development, diplomacy and deterrence are its three pillars, writes RPS Bhadauria, VSM (Retd), Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies & Simulation (CS3) at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi. 

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the world has been witnessing a shift in global power, as well as a change in the character of the global economy and regular disruptions in technology. The pandemic, great power competition and the developments in Europe have only accentuated the emergence of a new world order.

The emerging world order is characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA). The foundations of the global order appear to be shaken. Additionally, the future looks less certain. For all our progress, we live on the edge of uncertainty, of unsettled questions and unresolved disputes; contests and claims; and clashing visions and competing models.

The world is seeing growing insecurity and rising military spending, particularly in Europe; internal dislocations turning into external tensions; and new fault lines in trade and competition in the global commons. Above all, we also see the assertion of economic and military power being chosen over compliance with international norms.

In the midst of all this, some challenges touch us all, which include the unending threat of terrorism and extremism, the long-lasting repercussions of the pandemic on the global health system, the adverse effects of climate change in our daily lives, and now rising energy prices and food insecurity, to name a few.

This is a world of interdependent fortunes and failures. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which translates to “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” is the theme of India’s G20 presidency and this sums up the nature of the cooperation we need; as no nation can deal with these common challenges on its own.

Unfortunately, increasing nationalism, authoritarianism and bilateralism are fast changing the established international security landscape in the emerging multipolar world. We are witnessing new geopolitical and strategic alliances, as well as competitive and confrontationist activities by nations blurring the distinction between peace and war.

This international development is generally assigned to a growing perception of gradual weakening of the Comprehensive National Power (CNP), resulting in the relative decline of the USA, coupled with the rise in power of China and its ‘No Limits’ partnership with Russia, and the emergence of several regional powers like the EU, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, Japan and Australia.

In a very significant development, the Indo-Pacific region’s economic resurgence has shifted the global economic and political centre of gravity towards the region. The region includes seven of the world’s largest economies and members of the G20, namely China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia and the United States. This shift has occurred not only due to the resurgence of China but also due to the rise of India.

The Indo-Pacific Region has many of the world’s largest and most critical supply chains, centred on China; the majority of the world’s trade passes through the Indo-Pacific Region.

The region is now witnessing increasing competition for rule-setting and the creation of new norms and the re-ordering of its economic and security architecture. BRI, RCEP, CPTPP, QUAD, AUKUS and now Indo-Pacific Eco Framework for Prosperity (IPEP) have been added to the existing security and economic structures like ARF, EAS, etc.

China is the largest economy in the region and its largest investment and trading partner. Economic partnership with China is an attractive proposition for most of the countries in the region; however, neighbours have also experienced that China converts its economic heft into strategic influence. This along with PLA’s growing military capabilities and reach constrain the strategic space and increase threat perceptions of its neighbours.

China’s desire is to change the existing status quo and refashion international norms. China is doing this by being more assertive and aggressive. Consequently, it is being seen as a strategic threat by its neighbours.

China aspires to be the sole dominant power in Asia and number one power in the world by 2049, a national goal which is also called the China Dream.

This is not acceptable to its neighbours, particularly a large nation like India. India wants a multipolar Asia and also a multipolar world. India sees the USA, China, Russia, EU, and Brazil as other poles.

Because of the prevailing strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific Region, we have a few potential hot spots — SCS, ECS, the Taiwan Strait and LAC with India.

The USA has energised a web of regional alliances with East Asian/South East Asian countries and is partnering with India to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific; India considers this region to be a theatre of opportunity for its economic development.

South Asia is mired in varying levels of political instability, border disputes, migrations, cross—border terrorism, the spread of radical ideologies and now economic meltdown in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The region is the least interconnected in terms of regional trade. China’s strategic forays and massive drive to increase the dependence of smaller countries, including IOR littorals, is altering the strategic balance in a manner inimical to India’s interests.

India is at the cusp of realising its ambition of becoming a leading power. The country is witnessing tangible and comprehensive national development, has graduated to proactive and assertive diplomacy, and is progressing to achieve enhanced deterrence capabilities. It has also demonstrated national resolve to protect its territorial integrity and core interests.

The South Asian States and Indian Ocean littorals largely acknowledge India’s leadership and expect it to be a potential ‘net security provider’ in the region.

However, on its continental frontiers, India is beset with intense strategic competition and vexed collusive hybrid threats which pose formidable national security challenges. India has fought wars in the past over unsettled boundaries with China and Pakistan.

The PLA’s aggressive transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Pakistan’s proxy war across the Line of Control (LoC) remain unabated. The PLA’s growing ambitions at the LAC and the strategic dynamics of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have added a profound and overt security dimension to the India-China-Pakistan relationship.

Growing Chinese influence in India’s neighbourhood (Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as attempts to subdue Bhutan) also pose serious challenges to India’s influence in South Asia.

In order to meet its aspirations and regional/global expectations, it is imperative for India to be a leading economy backed by strong military capabilities with a secure and peaceful neighbourhood.

Thus far, India has navigated the challenges well. India has always followed a policy of strategic autonomy in the past; it has stood the test of time and served India’s national interests well. A recent example of this is India increasing its trade in energy resources with Russia; it is also negotiating an agreement that would facilitate the involvement of their own national currencies in bilateral economic exchanges.

Challenges notwithstanding, the mantra for India’s transition from balancing to leading power entails developing comprehensive national power: economic development, diplomacy and deterrence are its three pillars.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.