Emerging Major Powers and the International System: Significance of the Indian View

  • Subrata K. Mitra (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


India's new and contested status as a nuclear power, the scale of her arms purchases, her investment in missile technology and the huge deployment of ground troops on the western front against Pakistan are issues of immediate concern to her South Asian neighbours. Since tension feeds on tension, war in Afghanistan, terrorist attacks in Kolkata, Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar, mounting tension between India and Pakistan over the issue of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and the recent threat by General Pervez Musharraf to consider the first strike option as part of Pakistan’s strategic response to Indian mobilisation have contributed to the seriousness of the situation. The probability of the regional conflict escalating into large scale nuclear war, or weapons of mass destruction finding their way into the hands of non-state actors, have drawn world attention to South Asia, which has had visits in quick succession by political leaders and military delegations from the United States, UK, Germany, France, China and Russia. The paper, focused on India’s capacities, perceptions and institutional arrangements for the management of security, seeks to evaluate the significance of her status as an ?emerging? power for the security environment in Asia, and its implication for the international system. It analyses the main objective both empirically, and theoretically. The empirical aspect concerns the measurement of India’s economic and military resources according to the conventional indicators of power. These facts, based on experts’ accounts, are supplemented by political and institutional factors which are significant for the estimation of the power of a country. In addition, the analysis seeks to juxtapose the views of observers and actors, and locate the strategic perception of the Indian voter, an important factor in her political landscape in view of her active democratic process. These factors of contemporary politics are to be seen in the larger context of India’s political and security culture, history, the structure of the political system. The issue of contextualisation needs to be understood in terms of its methodological implication at the outset, because, while all states are members of the international system, the use to which they put international politics varies from one context to another. Western nation states, products of a long process of nation building, industrialisation and state-formation, seek the promotion of national interest through their strategic initiatives. Post-colonial state-nations, engaged in the process of nation-creation, are more complex in their rhetoric. For these actors, international politics, in addition to being used as an instrument of national interest, also plays a symbolic role in the building of a national profile. The paper seeks to combine both the material and symbolic aspects of Indian policy in the concept of a security doctrine, one that can bring potential power into an effective focus, in the absence of which mere appurtenances of power like guns and ships are just that and not much more. Since the stability of the doctrine, in addition to its coherence is an important parameter of the significance of Indian power, the paper also takes into account the problems of implementation as well. Though there is considerable force to the argument that South Asian security is crucially contingent on the India-China-Pakistan triangle, India remains the biggest power in South Asia, and her significance, in terms of how India sees herself and how others see her, is a key consideration for regional politics. The need for a sophisticated methodological analysis arises paradoxically from the fact that India is a democratic state and an open society, both of which give a false sense of visibility to India’s security profile. Foreign observers, depending on their own national origin and the context, place their bets on predictions of India’s next move either as the ?regional bully? or the ?regional push-over?, and India, Janus-like, often proves both speculations to be right, appearing in the process to be either mystical-moral, or utterly devoid of principle or doctrine. The paper is in three parts. The first examines the state of play by ranking India with reference to her strategic resource endowments. The second part examines India’s strategic doctrine and the organigram of security, and evaluates her potential power in the light of her doctrine. The third part makes a prognosis of the challenging path ahead for India with reference to the unsolved problems concerning her national security. The conclusion reconsiders the main issue posed in the introduction in the light of the analysis undertaken here.


India; International Relations; Emerging Power; International System