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Analysis of India's Potential in the New World Order

Info: 5434 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: International Relations



Dramatic changes at the global level have initiated a process of reorientation of the power distribution and emergence of new powers in international politics. The changes initiated with the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR ), the unification of Europe in pursuit of an identity of its own ,a sharp decline of communism has set in a process of transition in world affairs, the sudden and consistent rise of asian countries mainly China, India & ASEAN Bloc, emergence of resurgent Russia and establishment of new economic power blocs like the G20, BRIC & RIC. The emergence of USA as the sole super power and its global war on terror have changed the security scenario for all and sundry. The existing obscurity has given rise to new opportunities, new speculations and new considerations regarding power distribution. A gradual shift from a geo-political world order to a geo-economical world order has come to stay. There is no doubt that any future order would have the considerations such as comprehensive national power to incl 'Economy' and the power it wields albeit indirectly, at the centre of any international power game.

Global shifts happen rarely and are even less often peaceful. The transfer of power from west to east will dramatically change the context of dealing with international challenges. In the early 20th century the imperial order and the aspiring states of Germany and Japan failed to adjust to each other. That led to wars which devastated the better part of the world. The coming shift in power will have a greater impact globally and will require assimilation of diverse political and cultural systems. Today's rising powers seek redress of past grievances, are proudly nationalistic and want to claim their rightful place in the comity of nations. Asian rise in economic terms will translate into greater political and military power, thus increasing the potential damage from conflicts. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has noted that- "In the next two decades China and India will undergo industrialisation four times the size of the United States and at five times the speed...For the first time in many centuries, power is moving East." Blair added that "In this new world, we must clear a path to partnership, not stand off against each other competing for power. The world...cannot afford a return to the 20th century struggles for hegemony."[1]

India being a part of this evolutionary and revolutionary strategic & economic process needs to apprise herself of these changes and redefine: if required, her goals and objectives to emerge as a ' reckonable force ' from the present mesh of contradictions and complexities. The term reckonable force can be redefined as a ' regional power ' when one views India's prospects vis-à-vis her size, geo-strategic location, abundant natural resources, size of economy and military capability. The Indian nation is not just a nation, but a subcontinent. Being a subcontinent not only in size, but by its population which is in excess of One Billion, sets it apart in a World with a total population of a little above Five Billion means that in every Five Human being on Earth one is an Indian. It is on record that the Indian Armed Forces is the Fourth Largest in the World. India has since the past Twenty Eight years been exerting her influence in the South Asian sub-region. Thus India has functioned for over half her period of independence as a regional power in the literal sense. It is instructive that given the New World Order in which the US is about the only Super power, it is pertinent that in order to maintain the Balance of Power, that Nations like Brazil and India with a long period of History devoid of expansionist propensity, should emerge as a Super power to enhance the balance of power in the South Asian sub-region, and the World in general.

The Indo-Pak conflict of 1971 leading to the emergence of Bangladesh, peace keeping operations in Sri Lanka, quick repression of an attempted coup in Maldives, deployment of Indian navy in Gulf of Aden and the enhanced engaegemnt and involvement of India in various international forums both on strategic & geopolitical stage provide ample evidence that India possesses many of the attributes of a regional power. The emergence as a knowledge based economy and as a Human resource powerhouse, make India a force to reckon with today and strong & vibrant economy in future. In the recent past, India enhanced role in plethora of world fora and the Indo-US Nuclear deal and subsequent ratification by Nuclear Suppliers Group & IAEA. However, in some areas like all round economic development, poverty, population explosion, literacy rates and foreign policy to some extent, India is lacking at the moment. For India to emerge as a regional power, these unfavourable areas need critical attention and reappraisal. "The Indian economy is growing at an average rate of 8 per cent a year. Most Indian and foreign observers are confident that India will sustain this tempo of growth in the near future, and will go on to become one of the world's leading economies and a global political power in 2020. A few voices draw attention to the tremendous economic, political and social challenges facing India that the country must overcome before it can lay claim to being a world power" [2].

"Indians have always known that their nation has the potential to be significant power in a way in which citizens of nations with smaller populations do not. Nehru himself , for all that he emphasized the benign nature of Indian power, was clear in his mind that India, with its vast population, 'will always make a difference in the world... Fate' , he said, 'has marked for us big things'."[3]

"Thus we need always be mindful of the developments that are occurring behind the veil of regional instability that is drawn across India's rise to power. If that veil were ever to be drawn back, the world might witness the quite sudden advent of India onto the wider Indian Ocean stage as a significant pan regional player. That is not to say that India will quickly overcome the organizational and internal political difficulties alluded to above ; it is to make the point, rather, that as far as India's Indian Ocean region is concerned, its power potential is very high when viewed in comparative terms. In this sense, it would be quite wrong to set India against the powers of the northern Pacific and to judge its power potential according to those standards."[4]

Statement of the Argument

A country's role in the international system is not a random occurrence or a result of an accident; but is basically a function of its power position in the international hierarchy. To have a 'Subject Role' in international politics is to be a part of the power structure and the inner circle that makes vital decisions about the fate and destiny of the international system and the nations within it. The 'Object Role' nations are at the receiving end of the decisions made by the subject role nations. A third in-between category is that of an independent centre of power. These nations do not have the leverage to influence the course of the international system as a whole, but do possess enough capability to have, within a given configuration of power, a considerable degree of autonomy and the capability to resist the application of unwelcome and forced decisions. While subject nations have global influence, independent centres of power are often dominant or pre-eminent in a certain region. They may, therefore may also be referred to as 'Regional Powers '. Typically a subject nation resists the emergence of a regional power; for to accommodate others to a similar role is to diminish one's own power. The tendency is to extend one's own power and exercise domination over others so as to reduce the emerging regional powers to the status of a mere object nation.[5]

India gained pre-eminence in South Asia in the aftermath of the Indo-Pak war of 1971 but more recently with the steady economic growth, growing international stature and active interaction and involvement in various world forums have made it an independent power centre (regional power) in South Asia. With the recent changes in the world politics and diffusion of power, countries with regional prominence have come to possess a great capacity for asserting themselves. In this context, India has the capability and the potential to be elevated to the status of a regional power. An analysis of various factors in the light of international power structure would facilitate the prognosis of the status India is likely to achieve by 2020 AD i.e. Regional Power.


To assess India's potential in the new world order so as to forecast the prospects of India emerging as a regional power in South Asia by 2020 AD.

Justification for the Study

'Ever since gaining independence in 1947, India has moved slowly but steadily towards its role as a regional power. Historically, India has been the seat of famous ancient civilisations. It invokes memories of past greatness, though episodic; and of epochs of creativity, not only in Philosophy and Literature but also in Science and Mathematics. The fact that the last several centuries saw India under alien rule only makes aspirations in the restoration of greatness all the more deeply felt'[6]. Today, with the rapid economic growth and military stature, India's influence in South Asia in particular and the world in general, is beginning to emerge and being felt by all and sundry A study of various factors that would aid India's emergence, as well as various impediments that retard this process merit analysis. India is a fast & steadily developing country and today stands among the top few industrial nations in the world and has a rapidly growing industrial & service sector. Although poverty, illiteracy and health deficiencies are some of the vexing problems, yet only few nations have larger pools of trained professionals, scientific, technological and executive talents than that in India.

India, as a nation is about over half a century old not considering her ancient and erstwhile status as one of the oldest civilisations. In this period of her independence, she has exhibited character and pedigree. She was instrumental to the creation of the Non Aligned Movement in the cold war era immediately after independence and show her aspiration of emerging as an independent power centre in world polity. She has on the issue of Nuclear Non proliferation taken a consistent stance even though this posture has met with the ire of the developed world has not deterred her. This attitude was demonstrated by her refusal to sign the CTBT and also the NPT. It is on record that it took her more than a quarter of a century to carry out a follow up nuclear test. This could be placed at the doorstep of the fact that her good neighbours China and Pakistan have continued to arm themselves with these offensive weapons. India in her nuclear policy states that she would abide with the principles of no-first strike, nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of that policy. And to continue to advocate for a ban on nuclear weapons like the type achieved on Chemical and Biological warfare weapons and the ban on use of land mines. These stated positions have recently been understood and appreciated by the entire world polity and the Indo-US Nuclear deal and its subsequent ratification at Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) & International Atomic Energy Asssociation (IAEA) have largely vindicated Indian stance on these issues. The engagement and involvement of India in G8, BRIC, RIC, ASEAN, IBSA in the geopolitical arena. The positions on WTO & Climate change are also a case in point for growing stature of India on world stage.

The Information Technology (IT) propels the world of technology in the present scenario. In this field, India has demonstrated outstanding abilities and progressed leaps and bounds in various facets, be it hardware or technology or software development. In the Silicon Valley of American, it is reported that 60,000 Indians operating there could collectively boast of assets worth more five hundred billion dollars. This is no mean achievement and the corresponding effect on India is the collateral development of the Asian Silicon Valley in Bangalore, Karnataka. In the field of IT, the Indian nation has arrived on the regional and the world stage. For this simple reason, her Engineers, Scientists, Doctors and Technologists are being sought across the globe. This is not to talk of the influence of Indian business houses and management gurus, in the entire world more so in the developing world, where they command an imposing stature in the fields of Textile technology and Pharmaceuticals. India's stature as an IT & Knowledge base powerhouse is a major factor in its rise at the world stage. India is a single democratic political entity, though slightly marred by mass/ public development issues and religious & regional strife's varying from state to state. In view of the existing fluidity in the Asian region following the global paradigm, shift in the power distribution and the present status of India, an attempt to foresee India's evolution as a regional power in South Asia by 2020 would be relevant.


The scope of this paper would be limited to analysing various factors governing the emergence of India as a regional power in South Asia by 2020 AD. India's performance as an independent state would be given a brief overview along with her present status in the region.


To analyse the future, it is essential to critically evaluate India's power potential as well as the impediments en-route. India has inherited a volatile, ethnic, religious and social mix that generates strong cross-currents of tension between the states of the region and added to this are the domestic under-currents of religious fundamentalism, communal tensions, demand for autonomous/ independent states and inherent problems of a multi-lingual and multi-racial society.

India's quest for the regional power status in this turbulent environment is underwritten by an increasingly open and vibrant economy and a 'Military - Industrial' complex that stretches deep into the bureaucratic structure of the nation. However, India's attention has been primarily focused more on the problems associated with nation building and its immediate neighbourhood and, than on the Indian Ocean region, let alone the world. It is ironic that while on one hand, it is the problems of the neighbourhood that have largely driven India's military build up, on the other hand it is these very problems that continue to limit its strategic reach. It is this combination of a drive for a great power status and intensifying regional and national problems that pose a number of questions about India's future. This paper endeavours to understand and answer some of these questions.

Source of the Data

The source of the data are the various books in the college library, various magazines and articles written by various people from time to time. Internet was extensively used for collection of data, various study reports and articles. Bibliography is attached at Appx A.


The colonial powers that ruled India for centuries apparently visualised her potential and attempted to undermine it through a process of gradual disintegration. Formation of Pakistan is one vivid example of such designs. After independence, the citizens of India have displayed remarkable resilience to destructive forces. Despite impediments like poverty, corruption, ailing bureaucracy and population explosion, India has made significant progress in various fields to incl Education, Manufacturing, Knowledge based industry, IT, Space Technology, Pharmaceutical Industry. Today, India ranks among fastest growing economies of the world and IT & Knowledge based industry powerhouse.

In the past sixty years after independence, India has acquired great maturity and realism in the management of its strategic environment albeit with considerable pain and sacrifice. India's posture has been based on a realistic assessment of its capabilities. It projects a defensive, progress oriented stance rather than an expansionist or a hegemonistic stance. India has continued to follow and propagate the ideology of non-alignment and is now on the threshold of coming out of its shell to play an important role at the world stage as a Global player if not as atleast as a major regional player. The case in point of the growing stature and understanding of the Indian nation has been- 'The nuclear agreement, which followed three weeks later, calling for the separation of India's nuclear facilities into civilian and military, and bringing India's civilian facilities under international safeguards in exchange for nuclear energy cooperation, demonstrated the growing strategic convergence between the US & India. Domestic political considerations have come in the way of the Indian government operationalising the nuclear deal. That notwithstanding, the deal was widely welcomed in India because it opened the doors for India to participate in civilian nuclear commerce with members of the NSG while allowing it to retain its nuclear weapons programme despite being outside the NPT.' [7]


Contemporarily, India enjoys a leading status in South Asia. Militarily, she has displayed her potential either in a direct conflict, coercion or allaying any belligerence by its potential adversaries. Birth of Bangladesh, intervention in Sri Lanka & Maldives, Indian Naval involvement in Gulf of Aden are a few indicators that India has acquired a great measure of the regional hegemony.

'Power status takes into account an ideological or political role and above all the economic health of a nation. Regional hegemony or dominance implies the existence of local military pre-ponderance and the availability of non-military instruments of pressure, including economic coercion. Studies of strategic power in the world politics commonly assign to India the status of a middle power of some regional significance, but little more'[8]. 'A nation state such as India, by virtue of its size, resources and geographical location, finds herself a power in regional terms whether or not it seeks the label and despite the fact that all its capabilities for regional dominance are not yet fully exploited. India's current pre-eminence over its neighbours, however, is so substantial that its position has been recognised by the entire world, and implicitly so by all South Asian states as well.'[9]

'Recent years have witnessed a steady growth in India's power, based upon a strong economic performance. According to the World Bank, 'India's per capita income is now higher than China's and some reports put its rate of economic growth above China's in real terms. This increase in the underlying growth of the economy is what has underwritten India's substantial growth in conventional military power. By virtue of its military growth, India has acquired , by default, a ' Maximalist ' position that would enable it to have a strategic reach throughout the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, with the prospect of a declining role for the superpowers in the region, India's growth in military capability is likely to leave it stronger in relative as well as absolute terms. The erstwhile Soviet Union is no longer a major factor in the Indian Ocean and the ' peace dividend ' in the world politics may eventually lead to a reduced presence on the part of the United States.' [10]

'While India's emerging role is well acknowledged in the world, there are clear limitations both upon the current extent of India's power and upon the rate at which that power will accrue. With India, it has been very much the question of " WATCH THIS SPACE " .'[11]


Geo-Strategic Location.

India shares its borders with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. It has close proximity to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Therefore, in South Asia, it has to directly interact with many neighbours. Strategically, India lies astride the Indian ocean, flanking the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Malacca. It lies across the routes from West Asia to South-East and East Asia and dominates the world trade routes. Therefore, the dominating position of India and its island territories would enable it to control the sea lines of communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and consequently the world trade.

Natural Resources.

'India has abundant natural resources. Its soil varies greatly from region to region. It is alluvial in the northern plains, sandy in the western desert, black in the Deccan Plateau and coarse in the hilly terrain. Each type is suitable for a particular group of crops. There are areas where trees grow on their own. They form the source of timber, pulp, resin, lac, gum and cane. India's hydro-electric and coal reserves are massive. Oil exploration is limited but off shore potentials suggest a great amount of self reliance. India's Thorium reserves are large. It's known reserves of Iron ore, which represent 10% of the world's total and those of a wide range of other minerals suggest that India has the potential for a relatively independent economy.'[12]

Human Resources.

Human resources are of paramount importance in any economy. A human being comes not only with a mouth and a belly for consumption, but also with two hands to work. The adverse effects of unchecked population growth cannot be ignored; however, given the right direction and awakening, the population can be utilised constructively. A large young population helps to boost demand by providing an extensive and growing market for industrial products. It can lower wages, increase profits and output, encourage industrial development and open employment avenues. This is borne out by the fact that numerous MNC's are investing huge sums of money to tap the cheap Indian labour and the immense ready market.

Economic Base.

Till recently, multiple restrictions on private business co-operation and the goal of achieving economic self reliance had shackled the Indian economy by hindering unprejudiced co-operation from industrial nations. With the adoption of a liberalised economic policy, an extensive economic relation is now growing. The new economic policy lays greater emphasis on private enterprise and intensified competition for dynamic industrial progress and mordenisation. Prospects for a substantial upswing of economic growth seem to be favourable now.

India has huge reserves of important raw material and a large domestic market. It also has a large group of entrepenures and managers experienced in organising and managing industrial enterprises under difficult circumstances. Given the improved setting for entrepreneurial activities, the large number of scientists and engineers, some of them highly qualified professionals, trained overseas or with practical foreign experience, could be of immense benefit to the country[13].

The expectations of economic development are based on an economic policy that is yet in its infancy. For long term stability the creation of a congenial atmosphere for foreign investment is necessary. Our focus would have to shift from development of industrial sector to the improvement of institutional framework for long term development. Greater efforts to improve social security are needed to cushion the effects of intensified industrial competition and to open up new possibilities for the impoverished classes to take a share in the economic development.

Science and Technology.

India began to develop its capabilities in science and technology soon after independence. However, the overall programme while impressive compared to that of other poor countries is inadequate and poorly organised in relation to the country's potential and requirements[14]. Of the total research and development in the country, only 25% is used to promote innovation in industry and agriculture, while the major chunk contributes to development in areas like atomic energy, space programme and defence equipment.

The latest thrust to uplift the economy has renewed the vigour in the sphere of science and technology also. The private sector has shown great promise to measure upto the national requirements and a healthy competition with other nations can be seen specially in areas like computer software and electronics. Numerous institutions are doing some original and promising research in various fields.

Political System

India's political system was initially dominated by the small urban elite comprising leaders of the nationalist movement and an elitist civil service. At the state level, elected representatives wielded impressive influence in directing benefits to their constituencies and acting as channels of complaint and pressure within the bureaucracy. The system moved rapidly to broaden its base of support by bringing the bulk of peasantry into the system and also by including small business and trading interests. The evolution of such a system from the authoritarian colonial rule was accompanied by tension and uneven progress.

India had managed to operate a complex ; constitutional, federal, parliamentary and party dominated political system with remarkable effectiveness. India's manifold diversity and communal problems often raise the spectre of disintegration; these are common to a nation - state building process that the developed countries experienced a century ago. In the Indian democratic set-up, its people have displayed a great amount of maturity in preserving their rights. Any display of authoritarianism by a democratically elected government has met with stiff opposition. A vivid example is the imposition of emergency in 1975 by Mrs Gandhi and her subsequent electoral defeat in 1977. The emergency and the general elections of 1977 were a test of democracy, equivalent in significance to a social revolution[15].

A seemingly large section of illiterate electorate is well aware of it's might and is critical of the people who represent them in higher offices. India has managed to solve or at least contain major disputes on language policy and regional autonomy. At the same time religious, caste based and even communist organisations have been brought in and operate in a largely peaceful democratic institution. India's political leaders have shown a firm resolution in making of both foreign and defence policies. The military also operates under political direction. Inherent stability is provided to the system by the presence of well established institutions like judiciary, banking and stock exchange.

Future political crisis no doubt loom large, but this can only be expected considering the country's social and economic metamorphosis. The durability and resilience of the Indian democratic system indicates that not only would it continue in the coming years but would also gain more strength and experience.

Military Capability.

Since their debacle in the 1962 Sino- Indian conflict, the Indian Armed Forces have come a long way. Today India possesses adequate defence capability to look after her interests. India is able to produce diverse military items such as small arms, field and anti-aircraft recoilless guns, howitzers, support electronic items, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and naval missiles, armoured vehicles, supersonic aircraft, helicopters, anti-submarine frigates, fast patrol boats and missile boats[16]. It has also demonstrated Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) technology. In space science, India is amongst the world leaders. All this has been achieved at a moderate expenditure of 3% of GNP per annum.

Nuclear Potential.

Having successfully exploded its first nuclear device on 18 May 1974; India has continued to maintain a stance of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes alone. However, the potential of India to develop a nuclear bomb cannot be denied. India's nuclear structure is quite diversified. Beginning with the construction of Asia's (outside erstwhile USSR ) first nuclear reactor in 1956, India has acquired the following major facilities[17]:-

Half a dozen nuclear research reactors, all but one built without foreign assistance or participation.

The ability to design and construct from equipment manufactured indigenously one 500 MW nuclear power station every second year.

The competence to fabricate all sensitive nuclear instruments, fuelling assemblies, special alloys and materials, fissile plutonium and thorium from its own processes and plants.

  • Asia's first indigenously constructed variable energy cyclotron.

Numerous other nuclear activities and support facilities, isotope production, mines, medicines, seismic arrays, fissile U-223, extraction processes, fusion, uranium enrichment research and so on.

Openness and Resilience.

Except for the brief period of emergency, India has had an open society with an active press and an intellectual community. Indian political and economic affairs are subject to constant criticism. Critics find information on India more readily available than for China, Pakistan and several developing countries. In addition, there is a constant flow of constructive criticism from internal sources. Viewed and used correctly, this criticism provides important inputs for betterment. Indian resilience is a widely recognised phenomenon. Many hostile designs to covertly disintegrate India became ineffective owing to the conciliatory approach of the polity. Factional and religio - ethnic conflicts can only be expected in a country comprising of people with widely diversified religious faith. The phenomenon of sporadic flare ups is likely to continue in the coming decades too. At the same time, India would be able to absorb such irritants and continue its march forward into the 21st century.


South Asian Strategic Environment.

"The gridlock imposed by the Cold War over South Asian relationships meant that an unprecedented number of lethal weapons were introduced into the region in the 1970s and 1980s. The Cold War also contributed directly to the introduction opf technology associated with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.the most obvious example was the case of Pakistan. Because United States needed Pakistan as a front line state in its efforts to dislodge the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, Washington turned a blind-eye to Pakistan's nuclear activities and continued to supply it with sophisticated conventional weapons throughout the 1980s. Similarly, the close relationship that developed between China and Pakistan under the structure of the Cold War assisted the transfer of ballistic missiles, ballistic missile technology and possibly also nuclear weapons technology between the two."[18]

The strategic environment in South Asia has been remarkably conflict laden; characterised by wars or hostile relations between neighbours, especially between India and her neighbours. Despite this history of war, nations do engage each other in peaceful competition as well as in a large amount of outright co-operation. " The changes in the Indian foreign and security policy since the end of the Cold War have been rapid and radical. They have taken place as a reaction to the perceived rather far reaching changes in the global and regional security environments. The growing problem with terrorism, in terms of domestic, Kashmiri and international terrorism, manifested itself in attacks in major Indian cities, the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight and the attack against the Indian parliament. Moreover, the exponentially growing power of China, its strategic assistance to Pakistan and the sudden disappearance of the Soviet backing to balance China's growing global and regional power resulted in a feeling of encirclement and

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