Feb 6th 2016

Modi's Quest to Achieve India's Great Power Status

by Daniel Wagner

Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and co-author of the book "Global Risk Agility and Decision Making" (Macmillan). 

Indian Prime Minister Modi invited French President Hollande to be the guest of honor at India's Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi last month. The seat is generally reserved for, and used by the office of the Prime Minister as, a signal of close and important state ties. Last year President Obama was Modi's guest, which served as the start for a banner year of U.S.-India cooperation, on a broad range of economic, climate, and defense issues. Among others, Washington and New Delhi signed agreements aimed at developing India's next generation aircraft carrier -- an overt signal of joint concern about China's emerging power in the Indian Ocean and, by extension, the South China Sea. Hollande's presence is expected to have a similar result, particularly given that it is the world's fourth largest arms exporter.

India has demonstrated that it has partners in multiple international camps. Some observers expected this year's guest to be either Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif or perhaps even President Putin, to re-emphasize India's historical orientation toward non-alignment. Thus far, Modi has signaled that India will remained non-aligned, but with the world's most important arms exporters. In choosing Hollande this year, India may be shedding the strategic ambiguity that has long characterized its foreign policy, and starting to take steps that will ultimately result in it becoming a greater power in our G-Zero world.

As the second-most populous country in the world and its largest democracy, and having a young, energetic and impatient population that yearns to join the ranks of the world's leading economies, India has all the basic prerequisites to become a Great Power, at least in its own region. Yet, for decades it has failed to live up to its potential, the result of a sclerotic government bureaucracy and extremely diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic composition. Having been founded on an anti-colonial platform, its founders' distaste for imperial misadventures led to its membership in the Non-Aligned Movement, and modern India has historically been more interested in scolding Great Powers for hubris or exploitation than joining their ranks. Further, its post-independence poverty and self-defeating statist bureaucracy made it impossible for India to project power beyond its immediate periphery. For decades, the Indian political and military class have remained obsessed (to the point of paranoia) about threats from Pakistan, twisting its entire geo-strategic architecture towards its northwest neighbor, hobbling any inclination to look elsewhere for geopolitical opportunities.

Though the Indian government had made small overtures aimed at opening up to the world since the 1990s, its strategic reorientation has accelerated dramatically since the election of Narendra Modi in 2014. New Delhi had, over time, become unnerved by a substantially more powerful and assertive China, which did not share India's democratic values and was eager to make its presence strongly felt in India's backyard. The Indian government began to more fully appreciate its relative lack of strategic options, brought on by years of neglect. Modi swiftly began to patch up relations with India's immediate neighbors, notably Sri Lanka, with Modi becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the island in 28 years. He has been acting with remarkable calm and resolve to improve ties with Pakistan, recently making an unannounced stopover in the country on the occasion of Sharif's birthday. Modi has also made his presence known in Myanmar, where he has made clear India's interest in being 'in the room' as the new democracy evolves.

This has all afforded Modi the diplomatic space to begin to look farther afield for partnerships with other powers who support the idea of a more regionally-powerful India, and he has done so with enthusiasm. Obama's presence at the Republic Day Parade was the start of a year of intense Indo-U.S. friendship, which saw a reciprocal visit by Modi to the U.S., a renewal of a nuclear agreement between the two states, and a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter to New Delhi, during which the U.S. indicated a willingness to transfer sensitive aircraft carrier technology to the Indian naval program. Coming on the heels of the Bush Administration's 123 Agreement, which enhanced India's civil nuclear program, Indian/U.S. relations have never been stronger.

At the same time, India began strengthening regional ties with Australia and Japan, who share India's concern about China's regional ambitions, and formalized procedures for joining them in recurring naval exercises in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with the U.S. Think tanks in New Delhi now write openly and regularly of the need to counter China's growing presence, and the threat posed to Indian interests by Beijing. That said, India clearly still desires to keep more options open than closed.

It should be remembered that Modi also visited Russia and China last year, which, along with all his other travels, has already made him the most-traveled Indian Prime Minister in history. There was a good deal of speculation that Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin might be Modi's honored guest this year, making clear to the world that India was still a swing player, not beholden to any single camp. Modi is hedging his bets, however -- in essence extending hands of friendship to a wide variety of potential partners while keeping a clenched fist behind his back. India's historical political, economic and military ties to Russia remain firmly intact. Its growing defense budget continues to source a good deal of materiel from Russia, and the two countries have ambitions to achieve a trade relationship worth $30 billion by 2025.

Modi used Hollande's visit to very publicly sign a deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (beating a Russian proposal for Sukhoi jets), as well as extend a 2006 defense cooperation agreement, and, in a historic first, invited a French contingent to march with Indian troops in the event. The message was not ambiguous. So while India's strategic architecture remains small for a country of its size, the task of transitioning to Great Power status remains enormous, and the possibility for its derailment remains real. Much remains to be done.

Modi has, however, made clear by his repeated overtures to a series of strategic potential allies, that India is and wants to remain at the table. India's new strategic thinking is coming into focus. For the first time, it is reasonable to imagine that a contingent of the Indian Brigade of the Guards could march down the Champs Elysees during Bastille Day. Modi's message is clear: the days of strategic ambiguity will remain, but there is no ambiguity about its long-term economic, political, and military ambitions. While India is not Russia or the U.S. in terms of its global reach or strength, it is, apart from China, the emerging country with the most potential to achieve Great Power status this century. It will take a great deal of concerted reform, persistent effort, and devoted financial and military resources to achieve that, but Modi has set India on that path.

*Peter Marino is an international political analyst specializing in Northeast Asian affairs and international political economy. He produces and hosts the global politics web series Globalogues. Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and co-author of the forthcoming book "Global Risk Agility and Decision Making" (Macmillan, May 2016).

Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and co-author of the forthcoming book “Global Risk Agility and Decision Making” (Macmillan, May 2016).

For Country Risk Solutions' web site, please click here.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt



This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.



Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."
Aug 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Climate change is real, and it is a problem. According to the IPCC, the overall impact of global warming by the 2070s will be equivalent to a 0.2-2% loss in average income. That’s not the end of the world, but the same as a single economic recession, in a world that is much better off than today.  The risk is that outsized fear will take us down the wrong path in tackling global warming. Concerned activists want the world to abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But it will mean slowing the growth that has lifted billions out of poverty and transformed the planet. That has a very real cost. "
Aug 20th 2019
EXTRACTS: "It is no exaggeration to say that Johnson has lied his way to the top, first in journalism and then in politics. His ascent owes everything to the growing xenophobia and English nationalism that many Conservatives now espouse................Johnson has chosen a government of like-minded anti-European nationalists. His principal adviser, Dominic Cummings, was described by David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister from 2010 to 2016, as a “career psychopath.” Cummings is, alongside Johnson, the most powerful figure in the new government; he is an unelected wrecker who earlier this year was ruled to be in contempt of parliament. Fittingly, if depressingly, he now is masterminding our departure from the EU with or without parliamentary approval."
Aug 19th 2019
EXTRACTS: "Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation.................It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I've been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different."