Since the end of the Cold War, the United States underwent
major strategic reassessments of its capabilities and geopolitical
reach around the globe. As the threat of a single force -- the U.S.S.R.
-- receded and then disappeared altogether, new challenges arose.
One such challenge was the relationship with several countries that
began to gain clout and importance on the world's political, military
and economic scene. While Washington's attention has been fixed
on the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China, a country
somewhat neglected by U.S. policymakers steadily gained in importance
and has the potential of being one of the world's major geopolitical
players -- India.
During the Cold War, India's interests and aspirations were largely
subordinated to the strategies of its chief ally, the U.S.S.R. The
checkerboard pattern of the Cold War alliances placed democratic,
though socialist-oriented, India in the Soviet camp, while the U.S.
supported its rival, Pakistan. India's relationship with the U.S.S.R.
did not preclude it from pursuing its own policy towards China,
with whom it fought a losing conflict in the early 1960s, or towards
Pakistan itself, which was defeated twice and finally dismembered
by India in 1971.
Its Cold War alliance gave India access to much-needed industrial
and military technology. While home to the world's second largest
population after China, India has remained backward and underdeveloped
for decades after its independence due to the policies and approaches
of its successive governments. While each government has attempted
to enrich the state through various political and economic means,
these developments have been hampered by the near-monumental task
of lifting its people out of poverty through ways that would be
acceptable to all strata of the population.
After 1991, as the U.S.S.R. fell apart, India's policies were no
longer strongly tied or connected to any one country. Since that
time, it has aggressively pursued its own independent agenda. And
while Washington policymakers were keenly aware of the developments
on the Eurasian subcontinent for decades, they "suddenly" discovered
India in the post-1991 world as an energetic and driven country
with the full potential of becoming a major player in world affairs
in the coming decades.
India's future rise to prominence will not be a result of a Cold
War-style alliance, but the culmination of several factors that
will allow it to harness the full potential of the country. First,
its emergence as one of Eurasia's chief economies will be both a
combination of its economic improvement and the sheer numbers of
its population. Since the late 1980s, India's economy has started
on the slow, but inevitable, path towards marketization. This ongoing
endeavor will take many more years to complete, as India's economy
has been structured in order to grant the government a major decision-making
role. This has inevitably given rise to a plethora of protectionist
laws and subsidies, which now stand in the way of full market-oriented
economic reform. Such a protectionist economy now employs hundreds
of millions of people, and Western-style reforms and restructuring
will affect them in profound ways. Still, India is slowly proceeding
with market reforms, and these initial efforts are producing necessary
India's well-educated, young population has embraced state-of-the-art
computer and information technologies, making their country one
of the most important high-tech hubs in the world. Its information
technology and computer companies in Bangalore have been named as
the world's second Silicon Valley. These companies and their founders
had a major part in the high-tech and Internet boom in the United
States in the late 1990s. While they are earning India its much-needed
currency, this success is mostly limited, as the rest of the country
lags far behind -- nearly a third of India's population still lives
below the national poverty line.
In 2003, the Economist did a comparative study of India and
China, and although it concluded that, for the time being, China's
state-sanctioned market policies are far ahead of India's in terms
of internal development and foreign direct investment, India has
the potential to economically catch up to its large neighbor. Its
middle class, soon to number in the hundreds of millions, is growing,
and its consumer needs are contributing to domestic economic growth.
This might generate its own set of problems, as the growing consumer
demand will push the country's natural resources to the limit.
For now, increased demand for foreign investment and technical expertise
means that the United States stands to benefit from this trend,
though certain detriments to this relationship can be generated.
English-speaking India is a destination for many jobs currently
being outsourced by the United States, an issue that might figure
prominently during the November presidential elections. Nonetheless,
while India's full economic recovery is years away, the conditions
already exist for this process to bear fruit in the near future.
India's second contribution to its rise as a regional and global
power is its military establishment. Already, India has one of the
world's largest armed forces. Its indigenous military development
is producing the desired results, fielding everything from tanks
and armored vehicles to jet fighters and advanced naval vessels.
The Indian Navy already has the largest presence in the Indian Ocean
after the United States, and fields an aircraft carrier, which allows
it to extend operations beyond its immediate landmass. Having fought
several wars against Pakistan, India's current military is twice
as large as its rival.
Both countries' acquisition and testing of nuclear weapons by 1998
has leveled the playing field in case of a war and has also focused
international attention on the subcontinent. While both India and
Pakistan are currently developing short- and medium-range ballistic
missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the initial scare
of the first nuclear showdown between the two states has passed.
There does not appear to be that great a possibility of both countries
exchanging nuclear strikes on each other's cities, though major
tension remains between the two over Pakistan's support of militants
in Indian-controlled Kashmir. At present, each country maintains
a somewhat nervous finger on the nuclear trigger. To further dissipate
this tension, India has recently engaged in public reconciliation
moves, with its former prime minister traveling to Pakistan for
a series of high-profile sports events.
The Indian Air Force has recently demonstrated that it can be counted
among the world's top by besting American aircraft in a series of
joint war games. Its air power not only includes twice as many aircraft
as Pakistan's, but also is qualitatively better than the much-bigger
Chinese air force. India has hundreds of modern aircraft in its
inventory, including state-of-the-art Su-30, Mig-29, Jaguars and
Mirage 2000. It also possesses long-range bombers that are capable
of targeting most of China almost unchallenged. India maintains
this lead by purchasing high-tech weapons systems from Russia, and
augmenting them with domestically produced avionics equipment, as
well as with equipment procured from other countries. As India begins
to retire hundreds of its older aircraft, the modern replacements
will strengthen its already powerful and battle-proven reach over
the subcontinent and South Asia in general.
India has also been very active politically, strengthening its relationship
with Russia through economic and military cooperation. The purchase
of Russian military equipment is one of the ways India seeks to
expand its influence. It is also active in the Central Asian countries
through high-profile state visits and economic cooperation. India
has a great interest in oil- and natural gas-rich Central Asia,
and has expressed such interest in several pipeline projects that
would give it access to much-needed energy reserves.
During the U.S.-led war against the Taliban, India maintained a
limited presence in Tajikistan that allowed it to aid anti-Taliban
forces and monitor the situation in the region. Given the growing
Chinese and American influence in Central Asia, Russia might welcome
India to serve as a counterbalance. India's trade with Russia is
on the rise, and Indian economic presence and influence in Central
Asia is expected to grow in the coming years.
At present, India is far from being one of the Eurasian superpowers,
but all signs point to its coming emergence as such. The sheer numbers
of its growing population that now stands at more than a billion,
the expanding middle class, robust military establishment and the
country's increasing sophistication in high-technology are shaping
India as one of the rising political, economic and military powers.
This rise is inevitable and has profound implications for U.S. foreign
Unlike China, which is now seen by some U.S. policymakers as a potential
rival, the U.S. will be gaining a powerful ally in India. India
is the world's largest democracy and although its politics are often
driven by nationalistic demands, in general, it aspires to similar
democratic goals and principles as the United States. However, India
views U.S. support of Pakistan with guarded suspicion. On the one
hand, Pakistan gained pivotal importance to the U.S. in the "war
on terrorism." On the other, the Pakistani military supports its
own militants in Kashmir that attack India's security targets. It
will be all the more important for the U.S. to maintain a careful
balance between what it now regards as a short- to possibly long-term
interest -- Pakistan's fight against al-Qaeda -- and its possible
long-term objectives, such as India as a rising power with all the
Furthermore, in the emerging geopolitical picture, it is India,
rather than Russia, that can check the rising Chinese influence
in Eurasia, and Washington's closer cooperation with this subcontinental
power can help enhance its own influence. India's proximity to Afghanistan
and its own war against Muslim fundamentalists in Jammu and Kashmir
make it a potentially powerful ally in the global fight against
Most importantly, India's drive for greater power status is driven
by intense domestic sentiment, which has viewed the last five centuries
of foreign domination with growing contempt. It will not welcome
foreign influence that will be viewed as limiting its own potential.
In the near future, in order to strengthen its bonds with India,
the United States will have to structure its own policies with this
country on equal terms. Finally free from foreign restraints and
largely bound by its own domestic agenda, India stands the chance
of emerging as one of the main players in Eurasian and global affairs.
Report Drafted By:
The Power and Interest News Report