New Delhi: The record of the country in being able to control its geopolitical destiny has been mixed. That India has come this far with all its geopolitical deficiencies is remarkable, and this considerably owes to Jawaharlal Nehru who gave this country excellent foundations. Liberal democracy was the gift of his understanding of the exceptional nature of Indian civilization which is over five thousand years old and predates the Chinese, Sumerian, Egyptian and other vaunted ancient civilizations. In a region riven by medievalism, flawed democracies, dictatorships and totalitarian states, India has registered a distinct identity with liberal democracy which also causes it to tower over the rest as a beacon of hope.

Nevertheless, its geopolitical deficiencies are all too apparent and any further rise for India is only possible if the gaps are filled. Seizing the opportunity provided by a natural fault-line, Indira Gandhi separated East from West Pakistan, but she failed to settle the contentious frontiers of Kashmir with Pakistan. The contentions on Kashmir have only grown since the Simla talks and one of the unintended consequences of India and Pakistan’s rival nuclearization is that terrorism has felt grotesquely empowered in the new circumstances. India’s geopolitical infirmity is entirely evident by its inability to persuade Pakistan to settle Kashmir in a manner honourable to both sides.

The situation with China is more complex. It shares Great Power status with two other major states, the United States and Russia, but it is an ascending power while they are in decline. India would be ill-served by aligning with the United States against China. Russia is already more or less aligned with China and the United States has considered doing the same in the last administration with the flotation of the G-2 idea. Once an idea is born, it does not easily die. If the United States is unable to reverse the decline effectively and promptly (in the sciences and technologies of the future, China is already grabbing a lead), this or a future administration would feel compelled to make a long peace with China. If India, by then, is already formally aligned against China, it will pay a heavy geopolitical price.

On the other hand, if India is strictly non-aligned in respect of China while, at the same time, safeguarding its geopolitical interests, it would be better placed to face future fluxes. Indeed, it is possible that China may even accept and appreciate this stance. After all, for any state, safeguarding its geopolitical interests is supreme. Preeminently for this, India must strive to become self-reliant in conventional arms. Self-reliance would go a long way in securing the country’s true defense needs. It would save billions to the exchequer which could gainfully be diverted to development and poverty alleviation. A determined drive towards self-reliance would also compel services to plan strategies in a manner that privilege jointness over inter-services rivalry for toys of war and appropriations.

In this context, it is critical to stabilize security around nuclear weapons. The Cold War was prevented from going hot because of nuclear weapons. Apart from occasional nuclear sabre-rattling by Pakistan, conversation in the sub-continent about deterrent weapons is surprisingly coy. The concept of balance of terror is quite effective in preventing hostilities from occurring or escalating. While Pakistan is clearly ahead of India in its understanding of deterrent tactics and strategies (since the army is in direct control of nuclear weapons without civilian oversight), India appears in no hurry to catch up. While this is good to the extent that it advertises sobriety, the goodness is ruined by the obsession of the services for the latest imported war toys. The generals and the air marshals appear like children going wild in a glitzy toy shop in New York or London. In the nuclear age, it is both foolish and dangerous to invest in greater and greater quantities of hugely expensive conventional weapons.

This writer can scarcely discuss nuclear strategy in a public forum but India has to do better in bringing stability built on the fact that India, Pakistan and China are nuclear powers. Nuclear conversations among the three states either together or bilaterally would considerably minimize the threat of conventional war. In the missile age, furthermore, to invest hundreds of thousands of crores in manned nuclear bombers constitutes the pinnacle of stupidity. Ditto for huge orders of exorbitant foreign artillery, tanks and so on. India is a poor country. It simply cannot afford conventional defense spending at these high levels. Since India has taken the easy and expensive route of defense imports, the concept of revolution in military affairs (of which the PLA is continuously seized) has entirely bypassed India. India’s high defense spending will ultimately starve the country’s needs for social and industrial investments. To blindly invest ever larger sums in conventional arms as though nuclear weapons, the ultimate decider of security today, do not exist is insane.

As long as India does not think through its defense and security needs, it will often stumble and fall. And autonomous thinking is not possible unless and until India becomes truly non-aligned. When India comes to the final realization that it cannot -- and must not -- depend on foreign powers for security or to resolve neighbourhood disputes, it would have taken the first step towards controlling its geopolitical destiny. The way to that traverses through Non-Alignment.

Concluded

Also read “India’s geopolitical crisis - 1,” “2,” “3,” “4,” “5,” “6” and “7” here, here, here, here, here, here and here .