Ever since independence India has followed a policy of independent foreign policy and not aligning with either of the super powers during the cold war. India championed the Non Aligned Movement with like minded countries who didn’t want to have anything to do with the cold warriors. That didn’t stop India from aligning with the Soviets who provided weapons, investments in industry and political support with its clout and veto in the UN.
The cold war is long since over.Today Indian economy in nominal terms is as big as Russia’s and twice the size of Russia in PPP terms. Russia has struggled post cold war and its only relevance in the world is because of its military might and the thousands of nuclear weapons it has.
India since the cold war has opened up its economy which has led to rapid growth and a rising middle class consuming every kind of products. In spite of the recent slowdown of its economy, it is on the radar of every multinational company backed by their governments.
India’s military is getting stronger but due to lack of a strong domestic military industrial set up, India is the largest importer of weapons in the world.
India is located on the strategic sea lanes of the Indian Ocean through which more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits.India’s own energy security and trade depends on the seas. India with its growing naval strength has assumed a vital role in keeping the sea lanes safe. India is involved in anti piracy operations and regularly conducts naval exercises with many nations including with US for better interoperability.
In spite of this, India remains a weak state vis a vis the powerful US and China which with its big and growing economy and military has assumed greater role in world affairs. China’s rise is not as peaceful as it was made out to be. It now lays claims on vast areas in Asia including many islands in East and South China Sea and more importantly for India, it occupies Aksai Chin and lays claim to Arunachal Pradesh. China regularly intrudes into India and on every occasion India tends to downplay them blaming it on the difference of perception of the LAC.
Every country in Asia is wary of the Chinese. Countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia are under the protective umbrella of the US. India steadfastly maintains that it will not get into any military alliance with any country aimed at another country. This is read as that it will not get into any alliance against China to not send any wrong signals to China. This while China repeatedly violates India’s sovereignty.
India, having got rid of colonial power after 200 years of colonial rule was probably rightly averse to any military alliances during the cold war which would have required basing of foreign troops and equipment on its soil. Let us see what India’s independent foreign policy has meant and what it has to show for it.For all the sensitivities India shows about its sovereignty, it has vast tracts of territories occupied by its neighbors. Pakistan occupies large parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (73,000Km2 of Gilgit Baltistan and 13,000 km2 of Kashmir). Pak ceded Shaksgam valley (5800 km2) to China. China controls Aksai Chin (37,000 km2).
India’s two principle enemies have been Pakistan and China and have fought wars against them. India has been coy to any multilateral security framework to not appear to be against these nations,China in particular but these nations have regularly shown aggression against India regardless.
The other reason for India not getting into any multinational security framework like NATO has apart from not wanting to open its territory to foreign forces, has been the issue of getting sucked into foreign wars because of the treaty clause like collective defence. It is worth mentioning that during the entire Cold War, not once was NATO clause of collective defence invoked. No wars were fought by NATO. Throughout the Cold War the alliance made sure the stakes and consequences were too high to allow any escalation keeping the member states safe.
It is amply clear that as China becomes even more militarily and economically powerful, it will get more aggressive. Depsang like incident would not have taken place if India was part of a multilateral security framework. Its worth noting that while China intruded into India, it has not attempted the same in east Asia which is under US protection although it has done some needling to test the resolve.
There have been talks over the years about an India-Japan-Australia-Japan alliance with probably other smaller nations of Indo-Pacific region. It has not gone through as India has not given serious consideration for reasons I’ve stated earlier. India was on the other side of the ColdWar with the US and remains wary about US intentions. In the current situation it will make strategic sense for India to shed those inhibitions & forge an alliance with it. The gains will not only be on the strategic front but also on economic. India can get US investments in high technology & develop a good industrial base. India already has good relations with Japan with substantial investments from them.
Indian and US goals usually don’t converge on many world issues but India will have to find a middle ground over them for its own interests & security. India’s relations and dealing with Iran come to mind. This doesn’t mean India should be a lackey of the US. NATO members aren’t, not are Japan or Australia. A South Asia Pacific Treaty Organization is certainly possible.
This should be a mid term foreign policy of India going through 2030. India has to have serious about itself and frame short term and long term vision,goals and policy to achieve them.
If India doesn’t take urgent action in securing itself, it may well face a situation where it is forced to part with more territory or be forced to sign a treaty to forego its claimed territory after a war with China.