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India Adopts a New Assertive Geostrategy for the Twenty-First Century

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Writer: Vassilios Damiras Ph.D. (ABD)

Following India’s independence in 1947, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated a foreign and defense policy that was based on principles of socialism and remaining uncommitted to the Cold War disputes. Eventually, this specific policy led to India becoming the founding and leading member state of the Non Aligned Movement in 1955. This approach was described by various diplomats and scholars as noncommittal, neutral, and immoral. It placed India to collaborate in bilateral global commitments only in crisis that were neutral.

Later on, the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 came as a shock to the Indian political elite, as the Russian Federation did not carry the same international clout and not longer provide the kind of military support to India in various international fora that its predecessor Soviet Union did. The new post communist Russia did not accept the barter of goods and materials for military hardware as the Soviet Union did.

In 1991, India faced an economic crisis due to growing trade deficits and increased capital expenditures in the 1980s that resulted in a serious and critical reduction in foreign exchange reserves. The India government decided to liberalize its economy. This economic policy of liberalization had a psychological effect in a very area in India. Thus, the defense establishment started looking to U.S.A. for military aid and technology. Indian political and military elites perceived that a strong military relationship with the American military establishment could create the conditions for India to become a major power.

Hence, in the twenty-first century India’s defense establishment is undergoing a serious and dramatic transformation as it modernizes its defense capabilities. India systematically seeks a “strategic partnership” with the United States of America. The diplomatic courtship started under President Bill Clinton continued under President George W. Bush and furthered under President Barack Obama with his latest trip to India.

On specific terms, the Indian political establishment wants to expand its economic influence in the Indian Ocean basin and beyond. This cataclysmic transformation includes a shift from an emphasis on the former Soviet Union/Russia as the main supplier of defense materials to a pro-Western base supply and an increasing emphasis on India-U.S. relations.

The rapid warming of the diplomatic relations between India and the United States over the past decade is proving to be a serious and significant, yet very challenging, new relationship. The new opportunity for tens of billions of U.S. dollars in defense related sales will open up new business venues for both countries and establish strong bilateral relations.

In addition, the U.S. defense technologies have important applications to domestic counterterrorism; these sales also expand beyond the defense establishment to law enforcement and border control challenges. Despite the tremendous new opportunities, U.S. policy makers need to keep a few crucial things in mind as the Indo-U.S. defense relation moves into new and uncharted territories.

The Indian diplomatic establishment to a lesser extent will look to the United Nations as a way of forming global consensus on multilateral issues and challenges that do not affect adversely India’s national interests. At the same time, New Delhi will fiercely protect its own domestic and bilateral issues such as, counter terrorism measures, the conflict in Kashmir, and the Indo-Chinese troubled relations.

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