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India’s strategic position in the world today
Prime Minister Modi has been in office now for some fifteen months. From the outset, his determination to reset India on the world map has been noticeable. That’s what the international strategic community* is thinking of his achievements in this regard: From hindsight, it may well be seen as historic, when Modi skipped the Asia-Africa Summit in April 2015 held in Indonesia, with which the participating countries marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Non-Alignment Movement. India under Nehru together with all the global heavyweights of the Third World in the 50-ies of the last century had created that movement as an alternative for countries becoming independent and seeking their political and strategic way between the Western bloc led by the United States of America and the Eastern bloc led by the Soviet Union. The Non-Aligned had been the voice of the Third World for almost half a century. India’s Prime Minister is turning away from this role. From a “balancing” power, he seeks now for India a “leading” role in world affairs. In the Indian Ocean, his vision for the region focuses on defending India’s maritime territory and interests. For the promotion of the region’s economy and security, he is tying up with India’s maritime neighbours. In a wider context, he has agreed with the US President Obama on a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Spelling out the importance of “freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea”, he has found a consensus with the US as a strategic partner on the need to counter China’s expansionist strategy in the same region. Not unexpected for a BJP-led Indian Government, PM Modi has also perceivably hardened his position against Pakistan. The arch-enemy remains the arch-enemy and will have to reckon with a less indulgent Indian government. The tougher political language will be accompanied by tougher military reactions. Most noticeably, India has turned away from its traditional support for the Palestinian cause and has already started to change its voting pattern in the UN context in favour of Israel. Last February, the first ever Israeli Defence Minister visited India and a visit to Israel by PM Modi has been announced for coming months. The strategic direction is given: in a relatively new partnership with the USA, with a stronger determination against unfriendly or hostile neighbours such as China and Pakistan and with a stronger leadership in neighbourly cooperation across the sea, India under PM Modi seeks to establish itself as a global power of increasing relevance for the world. The one necessary means are military capabilities; they are being built up at a speed surpassing the economic growth of the country. The indispensable underlying economic substance, however, is not equivalent to the leadership’s aspirations. Modi knows that. Political thinking unbiased by political partisanship knows that too. The BJP, led by then opposition leader Modi in the elections of May 2014, won a parliamentary majority not just out of moral dissatisfaction of the people with the corrupt Congress Party, for decades seen and acting as the “natural party of government” in India, but positively with a clear democratic mandate to reform the economy. Modi’s government has, right from the beginning and at an impressive speed, started to tackle the almost impossible mission to reform India’s social and economic structures with legislative and administrative measures. A great deal has been accomplished; a lot remains to be done. The overall impact on sustainable economic growth is, therefore, still modest; the whole South Asian region lags behind its main global competitors. In addition to stalled reforms, domestic religious intolerance is rising again, as had been predicted by adversaries of the BJP, whose leaders still have to overcome the damaging reputation of being “communal”, i.e. Hindu-nationalistic and anti-Muslim. A strong democratic and secular India is in the interest of a predictable global order. The international strategic community would welcome any Indian leader who shares this objective and is still observing PM Modi at work.
28th September 2015 / Philippe Welti
* The International Institute for Strategic Affairs, IISS. Strategic Survey 2015. The Annual Review of World Affairs, London 2015