New Delhi: Grand strategy: The final factor that disfavours the country’s geopolitics is the absence of grand strategy. The most intellectual and internationalist of India’s prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru, was entirely seized of the matter. But as he took leadership of a country at independence which was, as with the economy, considerably denuded of national power, he had to engage with the issue of grand strategy with little resources and assets. Out of this scarcity emerged the geopolitical concept of Non-Alignment and Nehru was a master of making virtue out of necessity.

However, there was another factor beyond considerations of resources and assets. Civilizational states such as India are in a sticky place as far as grand strategy is concerned. Their inherent social and cultural unity prevent them from forming alliances or joining existing ones, and should alliances still flower, they are scarcely durable. This becomes clear when you consider other civilizational states such as Russia and China. Russia formed the East Bloc but the alliance did not last despite what might be considered the glue of Pan- Slavism. In any case, Russia led and controlled the Warsaw Pact. Nor has modern China been in any form of treaty alliance although it found a common revolutionary cause with Soviet Russia and indeed fought side by side with North Korea in the 1950 conflict. By breaking away from old Europe, the United States also commenced as a civilizational power of sorts, and although it heads the NATO alliance, it is, for all intents and purposes, very much alone. Isolationism is hardwired into its national psyche.

Nehru was aware of all these factors when he opted for Non-Alignment. While the country’s abject material state made this inevitable, it was also compelled by India’s civilizational nature. It had to discover its own unique identity or crumble to dust. There was simply no midcourse available to India. Nehru understood this. The understanding has diminished with his successors. Narendra Modi, for example, has no conception of grand strategy. If he had, he would not genuflect to the United States and conceivably its worst modern president. In the worldview dictated by India’s civilizational state, the fashionable Quad has no place. Either India stands on its own firm foundations or it goes into pre-1947 decline.

If India’s civilizational substance is accepted, then it is clear that its rise has to be charted in an exceptional way. The wide latitude for rise available to present and past Great Powers is not available to India. It does not have the luxury of being a small island state (such as the former Great Britain but not today’s UK) or a great big one (like the United States). It is located in the most densely populated region of the world’s most densely populated continent. It does not have the free ranging spaces of Russia or the United States. Through the agency of colonialism, Great Britain became a bigger power than its national territories naturally should have permitted it. Colonialism is history. It cannot be revived in any form. Meanwhile, geo-economic competition has upstaged all other forms of geopolitical rivalry in the nuclear age, the subject of the previous commentary in this series. In other words, India has a very narrow window through which it must plot its rise. In a crowded field, India will get nowhere without a grand strategy. Since Nehru has already been through the planning and plotting phase and settled on Non-Alignment as best suited to the country’s civilizational core, Non-Alignment it must be. Narendra Modi is allergic to Nehru and therefore to Non-Alignment. No matter. After Modi, the country has to revert to Non-Alignment. Call it strategic autonomy by all means. But in substance, it must be non-aligned.

The biggest plus factor for Non-Alignment is that it manifests peace. Peaceful intent diminishes the military burden on geopolitics and vacates large spaces for diplomacy. Non-Alignment does not mean the absence of national defence structures and institutions. The offensive and aggressive profiles of the military are smoothed and this considerably reduces bilateral tensions should there be some. It also brings into sharp salience the profile of the potential aggressor and provocateur which has its uses in building responses and managing domestic and world public opinion. With the accent further being on peace, there is greater scope for friendly relations with neighbours (a sine qua non for rise) and the negotiated settlement of disputes. The opportunities of peace in the nuclear age are better obtained with Non-Alignment because peace so obtained has a permanence not always characterized by the outcome of alliance contests.

A variation of Non-Alignment and indeed perhaps its precursor is the balance of power which some in the country prefer for India to adopt. The balance of power was perfected by Great Britain and it was largely effective from the time of the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the outbreak of the First World War when its limitations were thoroughly exposed. India, however, cannot be the classical balancer like the erstwhile Great Britain. Apart from all the obvious and manifest differences between the 19th century and the 21st, and indeed the 20th itself, there is another stark factor that militates against balancer India. When Great Britain played the role of balancer, it was a Great Power backed by the largest and mightiest empire of Modern history. It had the world’s foremost navy capable of blockading any littoral power or even a combination of them. India is not there and will perhaps never be. The balance of power had virulent opponents in the United States who blamed the wars of Europe to it. United States foreign policy self-consciously eschewed the balance of power in the early decades of the last century. Clearly, Nehru had weighed all this when he chose Non-Alignment. Opposing Nehru’s foreign policy simply to appear different is crass and pointless. Building on it and overcoming its deficiencies is always possible and highly recommended.

Should India’s grand strategy be Non-Alignment? Assuredly. Nehru never conceived Non-Alignment in rigid terms and positioned it as the ideal to aspire to. The need for predictability in geopolitics cannot be overstated and a steadfast national commitment to Non-Alignment would go a long way in stabilizing India’s immediate external environment. Embracing Non-Alignment does not imply an attrition of national defence capability and could indeed be taken as a call for sovereign regeneration in all aspects of geopolitics. A genuine and robust practise of Non-Alignment would place the country in the strongest position to control its destiny which is the loftiest objective of geopolitics.

To be continued...

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