India — Great Power?

This was written as a discussion over whether or not India is or can become an international great power. It’s labeled as a rough draft and I think it became much longer (and acquired references!), but I can’t find any other versions. :/

India’s Political and Military Strength

The Republic of India was born in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi, and its initial foreign policy followed that path through the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement. Eventually conflicts with Pakistan pushed the country to heightened militancy and an ever-closer relationship with Russia, but then the Cold War ended and India’s economic reforms started paying off big-time. Since then, India has become increasingly influential due to its nuclear capabilities, status as the world’s largest democracy, and large economy — the world’s fourth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and 12th largest by exchange rates.

Historically, India has not been a large player in the international system since its independence from Britain. This is thanks largely to its history as a colony, which led to its founding the Non-Aligned Movement, a large grouping of states which claimed official neutrality in the Cold War and promoted national sovereignty of even new states. The first departure from this attitude came in the 1970s as part of the ongoing (usually diplomatic, sometimes military) conflict with Pakistan, when India invaded the eastern partition of Pakistan and helped create the independent state of Bangladesh after a civil war. The United States’ subsequent unfriendly attitude towards India (as the USA was enjoying a close relationship with Pakistan at the time) pushed India into tilting toward the Soviet Union. India also tested a nuclear weapon during this time period, displaying their latent power, but the country opted not to continue its tests until 1998. Lastly, India had its closest brush with dictatorship since, when the perennial Prime Minister Indira Gandhi talked the President into declaring a state of emergency and subsequently began authoritarian campaigns and politics that seem straight out of Star Wars. The experience ended when Indira called elections and lost horrifically; she returned to office in the early eighties but avoided most of the authoritarianism she’d tried before. Civil unrest led to her assassination, at which point her son Rajiv succeeded her. He implemented a series of reforms to improve relationships with the United States and open up India’s markets, which led to its beneficial telecommunications and computer economies today; unfortunately the immediate benefits weren’t visible to most Indians and unemployment was a big problem. Throughout the nineties internal politics were turbulent but peaceful (for the government; there was some sectarian violence) and the economy was liberalized; externally India finished developing its nuclear bomb and was put under sanction by the USA and Japan.

Today, the government continues to work on economic growth but has stopped privatization as communist and socialist parties gained influence; it has begun and continued programs to help the country’s poor and oppressed; it has signed treaties with the USA for help with nuclear parts and no longer is under sanction; it is attempting a new and promising peace with Pakistan; and it is quickly growing in every economic indicator while inequality actually falls. The people are more united than they have been in decades and they have new clout in the international system due to their nuclear weapons, remarkably friendly relations with most other powers, economic prowess, new ability to move some attention outward, and the fall of the Cold War blocs.

Militarily India has also undergone a transformation. In the early years of independence, India’s military was capable of unifying the many small holdings and countries surrounding it, but little else. But by 1962 it was still weak enough to dramatically lose in a Himalayan border clash against China (initiated by China — India still acted under a peaceful non-aggression policy at this time with respect to most countries), which led to significant reforms and increased attention on the military (which included doubling its manpower). This enabled India to fight off Pakistan in a number of conflicts and was undoubtedly part of the discussion when India intervened and helped create Bangladesh. Additionally, the reforms led to an emphasis on domestic production of military technology, probably due to India’s insistence on non-alignment. Today, India maintains relatively peaceful relations with all nations except Pakistan, and even there it seems to be moving towards peace. India has the third largest active military in the world and spends 20-22 billion dollars/year on its military, placing it roughly 8th in military expenditures. It has working nuclear weapons and builds its own tanks, ships, and missiles — short-range missiles and a ballistic model with a range of 3000km, which is capable of reaching most of China. India currently buys most of its aircraft but is working on development, and also buys a variety of other equipment (including some things that it can build).

At this point in time, India does not have the political or military power to be considered a superpower. However, it has shown determination in working toward that goal and seems domestically willing to assume such a mantle. Its lack of an intercontinental nuclear missile capability and current inability to home-build a complete military force remove it from that arena (as it is incapable of projecting power at will). India’s current research indicate it will achieve both of these capabilities in the near future, though, and when combined with new international respect due to its expected economic prowess and equality, India will probably achieve superpower status by 2050.