India Will Not Become a Great Power by Loudly Proclaiming its Intentions

Review of my book — “Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ by Shivshankar Menon, National SEcurity Adviser,January 2010 to May 2014, published Nov 22, 2015 in ‘The Wire’ and accessible at and reproduced below.

When Bharat Karnad asked me to speak at the launch of his latest book, Why India is not a Great Power (Yet), he knew that we have not always agreed on issues, to put it politely. He told me that I figured extensively in it and that I may not like what I saw. He was correct. I did not like what I saw about myself in the book; nor did I recognise myself in it.

Nevertheless, this is an important book which raises and discusses issues of primary importance to India’s foreign and security policy – issues which deserve much more serious discussion and examination than they have received so far in the country.

Karnad’s argument is straightforward, familiar to his friends and stated clearly in the Introduction. It is that independent India is a reticent state, has consistently underperformed and has consistently declined as an independent player in the international arena. This is primarily because of its over-bureaucratised and super fragmented system of government, the hollowness at the heart of its defence, its hard power deficit, and its lack of vision or, as he says, that it may be a “strategically dim-witted lug”. He thinks that India’s China policy in particular is pusillanimous.

Fortunately, international conditions for India’s rise couldn’t be more propitious. For India to be a great power, Bharat says, we should embrace the following agenda:

Choose sides in dyadic situations: siding with the United States against China; with Russia against China; with South East Asia, East Asia and Australia against China; and, Iran, Russia and China against the US and its allies in West Asia. As a result, India will be the regional and international balancer in two formations, a ‘middle-Asian quadrilateral’ and a ‘security diamond’ of India, Japan, the US and Australia.

Define its security perimeter in terms of an Indian ‘Monroe Doctrine’, and assume the role of gendarme in the area bounded by the East African littoral, the Caspian Sea, the Central Asian republics, South East Asian nations and Antarctica; and, cobble together a pan-Asian maritime security system on China’s sea border.

Incentivise India’s immediate neighbours, including Pakistan, with generous economic terms that plug into India’s economic and industrial engine, establishing India’s economic preeminence to complement its role as security provider.
Build up strategically-oriented, conventional military forces able to take the fight to China in Tibet and the distant seas, and to prosecute expeditionary missions from Subic Bay to Central Asia to the Gulf, and establish foreign military bases in Vietnam, Central Asia and Mauritius
Reorient her military effort from Pakistan to China, forming two additional offensive mountain strike corps.

Erect a consequential private sector led defence-industrial complex.
Resume thermonuclear testing, and place nuclear munitions at Chinese points of ingress along the border with China.

Prosecute a tit-for-tat policy with China, nuclear arming Vietnam as payback for China arming Pakistan.

Karnad concludes by saying that unless there are drastic changes, Great Power-lite is all that India can realistically hope for.

Just this summary will give you an idea of the sort of robust , assertive and thrusting policy that the author wants, and of the host of issues that he raises and considers in this book. There is much that can be said on its military aspects, on what Karnad has to say about India’s military infirmities and strengths, the hollowness of hard power and how it is configured and used, and on the alleged lack of vision and plans for its use.

In the limited space I have, I would rather focus on what the author says about India as a great power. There are two main aspects to this. One is what is a great power. The other is why and how India should become one.

What a great power does – and doesn’t do:

Bharat Karnad defines what separates a great power from others thus:

“With a modicum of economic strength, and natural attributes of size, population and location apart, what separates great powers and would be great powers from the rest are a driving vision, an outward thrusting nature backed by strong conviction and sense of national destiny and matching purpose, an inclination to establish distant presence and define national interests within the widest possible geographic ambit, the confidence to protect and further those interests with proactive foreign and military policies, and the willingness to use coercion and force in support of national interests complemented by imaginative projection and use of both soft power and hard power to expansively mark its presence in the external realm.”

And yet, has it really been so in history? I do not think so. This is a description of how empires or hegemons behave as they wane: of the British Empire at the end of the 19th century and after the Boer War, of the US since its moment of unmatched preponderance just after World War II, of Rome after Marcus Aurelius, of the Qing after Qian Long, and so on. And frankly speaking, what happened in history when they did adopt such policies? Did they arrest or significantly postpone their decline? The record is mixed. The most successful at managing decline were the British. Others who followed the kind of assertive policies that Karnad advocates before they had built the power base to sustain it saw their relative position decline rapidly. And some saw calamity – as did Wilhelmine Germany and militarist Japan, which chose to stress adventurist power projection and said so.

Peter Gordon has noted how “modelling all countries and peoples as if they were America-in-waiting has led to any number of false predictions and ineffective and misguided policies.”

Where does India stand on the historical curve of power? She is still rising, putting in place the sinews of power and accumulating it. She is certainly not in the ranks of the declining or mature great powers who have followed the assertive policies Karnad urges.

During the period of their rise, the great powers went through long extended debates on their role abroad, avoided external entanglements where possible, concentrated on building up their internal strength, and projected/cultivated the myth that they acted abroad only reluctantly or for moral reasons. The US invoked freedom and human rights, but intervened in Europe in the two World Wars only after the old established powers had knocked each other out. The British even claimed to have acquired two empires in a fit of absent mindedness! None of them declared their purpose and goals in the terms that Karnad uses. Deng Xiaoping’s 24 character strategy of keeping one’s head down etc. sums up the approach adopted by successful rising powers through history.

The reason for this is simple. Existing power holders do not share power easily or unless they are forced to by external circumstance and shifts in the balance of power. It is a declared goal of US policy to prevent the emergence of peer competitors in the world. And yet the paradox of power is that precisely those balance of power strategies that Henry Kissinger so assiduously learnt from Metternich and Bismarck have enabled the rise of China to a position where she can actually consider herself a strategic competitor of the US, despite their economic interdependence.

Should India therefore adopt Bharat’s prescriptions? Certainly not as declared policy.

What India has been doing

As for his detailed policy recommendations, some of the more eye-catching ones are likely to be controversial and seem unlikely to be adopted, while others are actually part of the government of India’s practice though not presented in the same fashion as Karnad does for their effect on China.

More assertive ones – like military bases abroad, providing security in Central Asia and Antarctica, thermonuclear testing and force projection – sit ill together with his assertions about the hollowness of Indian military power and the defence procurement system, and are subject to divided opinion among our own forces, as he acknowledges in the book.

The book recommends that India declare an Asian or Indian Monroe Doctrine. An Asian ‘Monroe Doctrine’ of sorts was suggested at last year’s CICA Summit in Shanghai by the Chinese president when he spoke of “Asia for the Asians”. The idea sank without a public trace. No other Asian government has picked it up. Instead, their actions since have consolidated their considerable external balancing to China’s rise – witness the India-US Joint Vision Statement on Asia-Pacific Security in January 2015, the Japanese Diet passing laws permitting the deployment of Japanese forces abroad this month, the increasing defence and security ties among countries on China’s periphery, and other developments.

As for the book’s other prescriptions, it is hard to see how some differ from the practice (not the rhetoric) of successive governments of India. For instance, he speaks of the need to make the extra effort to involve Pakistan in our regional integration. That is precisely what the previous government did, when it came closer than ever before to neutralising the issues that divide us while opening up economic and other links with Pakistan. That the effort did not succeed was due to internal developments in Pakistan, not for want of trying here. Karnad is right in saying that our primary strategic focus should be China, not Pakistan.

Without entering into a polemic, it was precisely the period of the UPA, which the author decries as a lost decade, when India shifted strategic focus from Pakistan to China, when India’s nuclear weapons programme and deterrence were fully operationalised, when India accumulated economic power at an unprecedented rate with GDP growth rates unmatched by any other Indian government/decade, when the government decided to raise the mountain strike corps which Bharat wants more of and strengthened the posture along the China border, and so on. The verdict on this period’s work will come when India finds that she needs to turn to her economic sinews to support and sustain her military and political quest as a great power.

I do believe that “speak softly and carry a big stick” is likely to be a more productive policy to deal with the consequences of China’s rise and the other changes we see around us. What this book seems to suggest is to “shout loudly and brandish whatever stick you have, whether big or not”! The chapter on the infirmities and strengths of the armed forces suggest that Karnad thinks we have a pretty weak or useless stick. Frankly, the best judges of the size and quality of the stick are the professionals themselves.

What India must do next:

I am convinced that India will be a great power if she continues on her present course. This will not be through her soft power. Here Bharat Karnad is right, though he sets up a straw man – saying that there are those in the establishment who think so. I have never heard anyone responsible saying so or professing this peculiar belief. Nor will it be by others giving great power status to India, through some mysterious process of entitlement or accretion. Nor will it be through a variant of Bismarckian policy, which – despite all of A.J.P. Taylor’s and Henry Kissinger’s efforts to convince us otherwise – was a much simpler task than that facing Indian policy makers. (Bismarck had to deal with one continental system, which by its nature was a zero sum game. We have to deal with a complex continental system containing the rise of China, and simultaneously with an equally complex maritime system which is a positive sum game.) Instead, I believe that India will be a great power through building her own strength and capabilities and continuing to show wisdom and good sense in her choice of engagements abroad.

To me, the idea of a “responsible power” is a red herring. It is only a way existing power holders use to encourage conformity with their wishes and preferences.

Why am I sure that India will be a great power, despite all the limitations that Bharat Karnad mentions in his book? Because it is in India’s interest to be a great power. And this brings us to the purpose of power. Why should we want to be a great power? Theoretically it could be argued that like post-war Japan until recently, or Australia and Canada, we should be satisfied with concentrating on our own economic development and leave security to others. India cannot accept that for a simple reason. India, as Karnad says rightly, cannot rely on others for its security. Its interests are unique, whether economic, political or security – a function of its unique history, geography and culture. If we wish to abolish mass poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and disease and modernise our country, (or, as Gandhiji said so much more elegantly, “wipe the tear from the eye of every Indian”,) we can only do so by becoming a great power, with the ability to shape the international system and environment to our purposes. India is and has been an anti-status quo power, seeking to revise and reform the international order since Nehru’s day. That we have not succeeded is evident. That we need to be a great power if we want to have a chance of succeeding is also apparent.

There is also a chapter on what sort of power India should be which bears reading. This is something on which there can be and are legitimate differences among Indians. But I agree with Karnad that we are not clear yet in India about this concept. To me, the idea of a “responsible power” is a red herring. It is only a way existing power holders use to encourage conformity with their wishes and preferences. If you conform, you are labelled “responsible”, if not you are “irresponsible” or a “rogue”. We should worry less about the labels and the attempts by the world to fete us as a great power, and more about our own accretion of hard power and influence.

So, in sum, I find myself in agreement with Bharat Karnad on the goal of India becoming a great power but differ with him on the timing and the route, on how and when that will occur.

This is a book that anyone with an interest in India’s foreign and security policies should read, and read critically, and think about. You don’t have to agree with all that it says. I certainly didn’t. But I do hope that it sparks the debate in our country on these issues that we so urgently need.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Japan, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Vietnam | 2 Comments

A nation that aims low and hits lower

Reproduced below is the review of my book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ by Air Marshal BD Jayal (Retd), former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern and South-Western Air Commands, Indian Air Force, published in the Telegraph (Kolkatta) Nov 13, 2015, and is available at

A nation that aims low and hits lower

Brijesh D. Jayal

WHY INDIA IS NOT A GREAT POWER (YET) By Bharat Karnad, Oxford, Rs 875

The study is a factual narrative-cum-historical analysis based on extant literature and interviews and discussions with politicians and senior civil and military officials involved in decision-making in the last few years. According to the author, this, in effect, acts as a sort of a post-mortem on the performance of what he terms as, “the lost decade” in terms of economic reforms and strategic outreach of the last government. As such, it is also a primer for the new government on what not to do.

The author identifies the criteria that separate great and would-be great powers from the rest and is of the opinion that India can have a huge impact if it thinks and acts big; its foreign policy is friskier; its armed forces are organizationally sprightlier and strategically geared, and the defence budget is used judiciously to secure capabilities for distant contingencies and to meet China’s challenge, rather than to fight yesterday’s wars with a lesser foe (Pakistan). For the present, India has all the attributes, but is not a great power.

In the context of what kind of great power should India aspire to be, the author notes that India believes that it will secure a great position of power by goodwill and deft diplomacy unlike others, who have done so by sheer will, strategic vision and show of force. It is the troika of absences – the absence of a national vision, of the political will to realize it, and of the understanding of the utility of hard power – that has kept India down.

The author discusses in some detail the systemic constraints, which include a passive-defensive mindset, narrow perceptions of national interest and a strangely diffident view of India’s capacity to impact the external world. He concludes that the Indian government, the military and the policy circles are habituated to aiming low and hitting lower.

He points out that it is in India’s interest to make sure that the international system trends towards multipolarity so that India is not swamped by China in Asia. He also feels that Indian diplomats, scarred by the 1962 military defeat, are fearful of leading a collective security scheme in Asia, such as an Indian Monroe Doctrine to keep China in its place. He deals in depth with the geopolitical scenario and argues that a coalition of littoral States can blunt China’s aggressive posture. He also discusses the States that are pivotal to India’s interests.

According to the author, India overemphasizes its soft power with little attention to the hard-power deficit. At the heart of this infirmity are flaws in what he terms, the software component of hard power, namely the absence of a strategic vision, political will, credible threat perceptions and appropriate strategy and plans. Consequently there is little clarity in India about the kind of power it should be and considerable confusion about the role that hard power can play.

From the military standpoint, the chapter on the military strengths and weaknesses, has many messages, primarily with regard to organizational weaknesses, resistance to technology-related transformation, reluctance to unified command and integrated forces and a general preference for short-legged weapon platforms, tailored for short tactical operations such as those against Pakistan. For nuclear deterrence to carry weight, a case is made for the resumption of thermonuclear testing, revising and introducing opacity into the nuclear doctrine and the placement and public announcement of atomic demolition munitions to counter China’s itch for map changing, and thereby transferring the onus of tripping over the nuclear wire to China.

Allied to the above chapter is a vital discussion on the fatal weakness of the Indian armed forces, that is the dependency on external sources, which itself will prevent the achievement of a great-power status. The author suggests a revisit to an ambitious proposal to completely reorder the defence sector that was drafted for the first National Security Advisory Board, as a part of the first Strategic Review, which called for dividing all defence related research and development and manufacturing under two leading private sector firms.

Finally, the author covers the severe internal barriers of a corrupt and malfunctioning administrative system that runs on “silo based” decision-making and a foreign service resistant to the idea of hard power as hindrances to progress. Undoubtedly, both will need a radical overhaul.

The author notes that the young and aspiring India is different from the past and may now be impatient for India to become a great power. He closes on a mixed note. He sees the prime minister, Narendra Modi to be more direct in addressing adversaries, in the exercise of power and more confident about India’s place in the world, but sees the national vision and appreciation of hard power still missing. Moreover, rather than remaking the system, the prime minister is relying on the same old establishment to deliver on a new agenda. India would then have missed yet another opportunity.

In the field of geopolitics and national security, the author offers refreshing and innovative prescriptions that will prepare the ground for India to move towards its legitimate place of power and influence in the international community. Many in the Indian establishment, however, would be tempted to view these as hawkish and would want to bury this very incisive analysis through such clichéd stereotyping. This soft State mindset is precisely what this book highlights and attempts to redress. It should add greatly to the debate amongst both policy makers and practitioners on ways to steer India to its rightful place within the international community. If as a result, the policy makers and practitioners shed old mindsets and think innovatively, a new beginning can be made. Equally, it will be studied with great interest by the international community that sees the obvious potential of a rising India, but must wonder at its reluctance to exploit it.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Japan, Military Acquisitions, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 2 Comments

Crouching dragon, kneeling tiger

The esteemed defence analyst for the ‘Business Standard’ Ajai Shukla’s review of my latest book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ published Nov 21, 2015 is reproduced below. It is accessible at, and also on his ‘Broadsword’ blog (at

Followers of this country’s strategic and security policy know well that to read Bharat Karnad is to imbibe the most hawkish Indian world view and perspectives outside the Sangh Parivar. Over the years, Karnad has steadfastly advocated staring down China (India’s real rival, he asserts), ignoring Pakistan (irrelevant to a major power like India), developing, testing and deploying thermonuclear weapons (the final arbiter of power), establishing military bases abroad in areas like Central Asia (to outflank China and Pakistan) and a muscular, outgoing foreign policy (a la Israel) that tells any antagonist that she messes with India at her own peril.

A few lines from the first page of Karnad’s latest book sum up what he throws at you for the next 551 pages: “The United States did not become a globe-girdling country by staying behind the moats of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans nor Britain ‘Great’ by restricting itself to the Dover Strait; Czarist Russia obtained strategic weight by extending its reach to the Pacific; Prussia was a truculent Central European kingdom until Bismarck used the Prussian Army to unify the Germanic states and elbow Austria and France out of their pivotal position in continental Europe; and Japan would have remained a small group of islands in the Asian Far East but for the Meiji Restoration and the vigorous policies it sparked. Great power-wise, the twenty-first century is no different than the previous ages in that a combination of widely defined interests; an outgoing, agile, and proactive foreign policy backed by economic might and military prowess; and the ability and, especially, the will to power and the determination to use it still matters.”

Those who dismiss Karnad as a right-wing crackpot are usually guilty of focusing mistakenly only on his more outrageous suggestions (more on that later). In fact, Karnad brings to his work a wide-ranging reading of history -though some would contest his interpretation of it – a compelling and often elegant writing style, and an unapologetic drive to conclusions that do not seek shelter behind caveats. Karnad’s expertise straddles the fields of strategy, diplomacy, nuclear weaponry and doctrine, and, importantly, defence planning and warfighting. This raises him above the bevy of former diplomats and intelligence officials who lord it over India’s think tank community without any clear idea of the grey realm where diplomacy shades into military coercion. This perspective imbues Karnad’s writing with a certitude that comes out in sentences like: “The problem in a nutshell is that the Indian government, military and the policy circles are habituated to aiming low and hitting lower.”

Among thinkers who relish the notion of a non-aggressive, soft-treading India – and there are many such, especially in the US and in India – Karnad’s book will spark a fresh round of tut-tuting. His plans for boosting India’s power include abandoning nuclear “no-first use” and resuming nuclear testing; placing “atomic demolition munitions” (miniature nukes) at Himalayan passes on the Sino-Indian border to block Chinese invading forces; basing nuclear missile submarines in Australia, from where Chinese targets are conveniently at hand; and arming Tibetan and Vietnamese guerrillas to fight China. India’s grand strategy must be to “meet China’s challenge, rather than … fight yesterday’s wars with a lesser foe (Pakistan)”; and to implement an “Asian Monroe Doctrine”, in which India becomes the sole security custodian of the Indian Ocean and other regional waters.

This is disruptive stuff, especially for conservative New Delhi policy elites, whose strategy has traditionally accommodated international sentiments. Yet strategic thinkers should read Karnad’s prescription carefully, knowing they bookend India’s most provocative policy options. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi more inclined than his predecessors to assertiveness (though, so far at least, his policies are characterised more by continuity than transformative change), some of Karnad’s scenarios may well come to pass. A key former policy maker, the previous national security advisor, Shivshankar Menon, noted during the book’s release function in New Delhi that many of Karnad’s prescriptions were already part of the Indian government’s policy, excepting, of course, the most aggressive and eye-catching recommendations. For the author, of course, this is not nearly enough. He believes India’s “ambition void” is ensuring that the country “is proving to be its own worst enemy”.

After deploring India’s namby-pamby strategy and diplomacy in his initial chapters, Karnad moves on to an equally hard-hitting critique of India’s military planning, structuring and war-fighting plans. These later chapters – with titles like “Hard Power and the Deficit of Strategic Imagination” and “Military Infirmities and Strengths” – analyse in detail India’s defence forces and the military-industrial complex that should be backing it with weapons and material. Karnad laments that India’s navy, air force and, especially, army, “haven’t implemented systemic changes to make them capable of obtaining decisive results fast…” Milder observers have been irritated by this comedy of errors; the irascible author, predictably, tears apart the subject with relish.

Amid this carnage, Karnad raises key issues. He dissects the viability of India’s “theatre switching” strategy – or New Delhi’s option to retaliate against Chinese land strikes into, say, the sensitive Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh (where Chinese invaders would enjoy important advantages), by imposing a naval blockade on Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean (where the initiative and advantage would lie with India). Though this is a comforting thought for New Delhi policy makers, the author questions the viability of such a strategy: asking whether the navy could react quickly enough, and “is the sinking of a few Chinese warships and the apprehension of several merchantmen the equal of, and enough recompense for, the loss of valuable territory to China for good?”

A strategically and militarily educated reader will both enjoy Karnad’s book and be exasperated in equal measure by the certitude of his pronouncements. Even so, as one of the first studies of India’s security dilemmas to include a keen study of the military apparatus and the industrial backbone that undergirds it, this book will find a place in every strategic scholar’s library.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Australia, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Japan, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | Leave a comment

Daniel Markey of CFR on the new Karnad book

A take on my new book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ by Daniel Markey,former member of the US State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and now Head of Research at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, was published in the ‘Asia Unbound’ blog of the NY-based Council on Foreign Relations’ and is available at It has been reproduced by ‘National Interest’ on its ‘Buzz’ site, at: The Markey piece from CFR site is reproduced below.


Thinking About Armed Confrontation Between China and India
by Guest blogger for Daniel Markey
November 18, 2015

As I was researching and writing the latest Contingency Planning Memorandum for CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, “Armed Confrontation Between China and India,” one of my top priorities was to avoid overstating the probability of the contingency. Throughout most of my conversations with Indian, Chinese, and U.S. policy analysts, I found a striking consensus about the relative stability between these two giant Asian neighbors. This was reassuring, but also slightly surprising given the lingering suspicions and growing competition between New Delhi and Beijing.

Then I started reading a new book by Bharat Karnad, Why India Is Not a Great Power (Yet), and quickly observed that nearly all of the avenues by which I thought a China-India conflict might conceivably emerge (land border skirmish, Tibetan protests, India-Pakistan standoff, and maritime disputes) were also areas where Karnad believes India should pursue far more aggressive policies. The one exception is Pakistan, where Karnad suggests India should principally deploy economic incentives to overcome longstanding hostilities (an approach he recommends for all of India’s smaller neighbors).

Karnad, a professor of National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, is unusually strident in his call for India to play an opportunistic power-balancing role in Asia without signing up to either Washington or Beijing’s agenda. He expects that India will never find the United States to be a reliable strategic partner and that China will inevitably represent India’s chief security threat. To chart its own path, India will need to play a more opportunistic and reckless game quite unlike anything we have seen in its history since independence.

Karnad’s prescriptions go well beyond garden variety calls for “nonalignment” or greater Indian “strategic autonomy.” He proposes that India needs to take provocative measures if it wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, and in particular, to “strategically discomfit” China. To these ends, he argues for steps such as mining the Himalayan passes between India and China with atomic demolition munitions, arming China’s neighbors like Vietnam not only with Brahmos cruise missiles but nuclear weapons, and actively bankrolling and assisting an armed uprising in Tibet. Each of these steps would undoubtedly make an armed India-China confrontation more likely and more dangerous.

Quite unlike Karnad, my Contingency Planning Memo assumes that the U.S.-India partnership holds significant strategic value to both sides. As a consequence, I argue that Washington should stand by New Delhi’s side in the unlikely event of an armed confrontation between India and China, even at the risk of heightened U.S. tensions with China. To be clear, however, I also assume that India will not unilaterally pursue the sorts of policies that Karnad advocates and I suggest that Washington’s interest in backing India should apply only to defensive security measures.

These competing perspectives are worth considering because India has important strategic choices to make as its material power grows. I suspect that if India becomes more confident in its partnership with the United States, it will be less likely to pursue risky foreign policy positions. Karnad’s India, on the other hand, with growing power and ambition but deeply insecure about its relations with Washington and convinced of the China threat, would be far more likely to emerge as a dangerous new wild card in the international system.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 5 Comments

Audio record of Carnegie book event Nov 12

The Carnegie event in Washington to launch my book –‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ featured an introduction by Ashley Tellis, a presentation by me followed by a panel discussion featuring Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation, Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Rossow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The audio recording is available (and sorry for the earlier misplaced URL) at:

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 1 Comment

“Indian Machiavelli”!!

‘Breaking Defense’ covered the US launch of my book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ at Carnegie in Washington, DC, November 12. The story is accessible at and is reproduced below.
‘Indian Machiavelli’ Urges Confronting China
on November 12, 2015 at 4:40 PM

WASHINGTON: Forget Gandhi and satyagraha. India needs to be more strategically assertive and take China on, a longtime national security advisor to New Delhi said today. And if the US doesn’t like it, then “screw you.”

But Washington should like a more aggressive India, said the American-educated Bharat Karnad, because it’s the only thing that can hold the line against a rising China.

“A very strong, pugnacious India is going to help you guys in some sense breathe easy, which you won’t be able to do otherwise,” Karnad told me after his remarks this morning at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“How are you going to manage China? You can’t without India’s help,” Karnad continued. “They’re rivaling you and very soon… they’re going to take you apart, [because] you don’t have the resources anymore to have even 12 carrier task groups.” (The US currently has 10 carriers, with an 11th being completed, leading to potential gaps in carrier presence in key regions).

India can be particularly helpful in the South China Sea, Karnad said, where Chinese territorial claims overlap almost every neighboring countries’ and where Beijing is building bomber-capable airstrips on artificial islands. In fact, the South China Sea is the one area Karnad thinks the Indian government is being almost assertive enough already.

“The Indian government has finally found a voice,” he told the Carnegie audience I asked about the South China Sea. Just months ago, India signed a security cooperation agreement with the Philippines — the biggest target of Chinese provocations — and Indian warships regularly visit Philippine ports. India is building ties with Australia, Singapore, and Thailand. In addition, “we have a burgeoning relationship with Taiwan,” he said. “The Chinese seem to be aware of it and they’re getting increasingly worked up.”

Overall, “we are beginning, I think, to appreciate that we need to be more vocal and more visible in our support of the Southeast Asian nations who have in the past looked to India and been frustrated,” Karnad said. “We’re a lot more active now. That doesn’t mean we’re going to go full pell-mell proactive — we should — but we’re getting there.”

But, I asked Karnad after the panel, aren’t there limits on what the Indian navy can really do in the South China Sea? “They’re essentially self-imposed,” he said. For example, the military’s old “Far Eastern Command” was renamed the “Andaman Command,” after islands in the Indian Ocean, a mental pull-back from the Pacific. The command needs its old name back, a new attitude, and, on top of that, bases in Vietnam.

What about the Chinese? “The Indian navy is very confident that the Chinese aren’t there yet and won’t be there any time soon, for the next 15 to 20 years,” Karnad told me, “but we have to look beyond 15, 20, 25 years.”

True, the Chinese navy already has an aircraft carrier, he said, “but you know having a boat is not enough. You have to be able to integrate a carrier into fleet operations. That takes a long time. It took the Indian navy about 30 years.”

“As far as I know, no combat aircraft has actually flown off a sailing carrier, a Chinese carrier,” Karnad said. To the contrary, he said, Chinese pilots are still crashing regularly when they try to land on a simulated carrier deck ashore — something much shorter than a conventional runway but still far more manageable than the rolling, pitching deck of a ship.

Nevertheless, Karnad considers China the No. 1 threat to India in the long-term. It’s not Pakistan, with which India has fought at multiple wars, declared and otherwise. Pakistan lacks the economic base to sustain a military that can threaten its much larger neighbor, he argued. India would do better reaching out to Pakistan and reopening trade along British-era rail lines and co-opting Islamabad instead of confronting it.

“We fixate on the wrong threat… looking in the wrong way at Pakistan when the real threat is China,” Karnad told the audience at Carnegie. As a result, “you really do not have the kind of capabilities to thwart and deter China from the larger design of containing India.” Karnad’s referring to China’s so-called “string of pearls,” a series of agreements and investments in countries from East Africa to Sri Lanka to Burma.

Yet Indian strategists still focus on Pakistan, “which is not a threat, cannot be a threat, was never a threat….despite having nuclear weapons,” he said. Pakistanis are smart enough to know that the “exchange ratios” come out badly for them in a nuclear war, Karnad told the Carnegie audience, which didn’t seem particularly reassured.

Overall, the gleefully provocative Karnad got a lot of nervous laughter at Carnegie, with his American fellow-panelists smiling and wincing by turns. It was a fascinating view inside the mind of a leading Indian hawk.

His new book, Why India Is Not A Great Power (Yet), contains plenty of suggestions that are sure to give official Washington heartburn. India, he argues, should resume nuclear testing and abandon its doctrine that it won’t use nuclear weapons first, allowing instead for preemptive strikes. It should put nuclear demolition charges in the Himalayan passes to close them in case of Chinese invasion (the two countries have a decades-long border dispute that led to war in 1962). It should base nuclear-missile submarines in Australia, if the Aussies could be trusted not to share too much intel on the subs with the United States. It should arm Vietnam and Tibetan rebels against China.

“It’s fascinating,” said Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Dan Markey. “[Would] an aggressive, even a pugnacious India….serve American strategic purposes?” he asked. “Right now I don’t have an answer. What I know is, it would make us profoundly uncomfortable.”

“A big part of why America has been so eager to partner with India… is because it sees none of that pugnacity or aggressiveness,” Markey continued. The idea of India as essentially peaceful made it possible for President George W. Bush to lift sanctions imposed on New Delhi for its 1998 nuclear tests and sign a deal on civil nuclear cooperation, for example. An India that stirred up trouble in its region, he said, could easily alienate Americans.

“It’s a complete rejection of a kinder, gentler India,” said Carnegie scholar Ashley Tellis, “the kind of India that seems to win praise, especially among Western audience.”

Western praise doesn’t count much for Karnad. “We hinder ourselves, hamper ourselves, trying to be a quote ‘responsible state.’… trying to gain brownie points from other states,” he told the Carnegie audience.

He was even blunter with me after the panel. “India should be disruptive in its policies. Screw the goddamn status quo in every way,” Karnad said. True, if India starts testing thermonuclear weapons, Washington will “go apocalyptic,” he acknowledged. “Who cares? We should say, ‘screw you buggers.’”

Karnad is writing as a kind of “Indian Machiavelli,” Markey said, “whispering in the ear of the Prince” with truths others don’t dare say. It’s “useful and provocative.”

That said, Markey went on, it’s unlikely the New Delhi establishment will take Karnad up on his suggestions. “Is it even remotely conceivable that the India that we actually live with could become the India you’re describing?” he asked Karnad. “My bet is no.”

But Indian policy is changing, even if not as radically as Karnad would like.

“Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi is moving in this direction,” said another panelist, former State Department and Hill staffer Lisa Curtis. “He’s pursuing a much more assertive foreign policy and a more courageous foreign policy than his predecessor, Manmohan Singh.” Modi has visited the US twice, hosted President Obama once, visited neighbors like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, and built up trilateral military cooperation among the US, India, and Japan.

The question is whether this movement will continue in a consistent fashion. “This is a book that I think in a sense reflects a lot of my frustration over the last 30-odd years in Delhi,” said Karnad, who’s advised the Indian prime minister’s office, foreign ministry, and armed forces over the decades. He notably served on India’s first-ever National Security Advisory Board, convened by the Indian National Security Council to draft a doctrine on nuclear weapons — which, Karnad grumbled, the politicians then threw out “for no reason I can fathom” in favor of a simplistic principle of massive retaliation.

“India has been lacking in strategic vision,” Karnad lamented. With constant turf wars among the 72 government departments and a deep-seated distrust of military professionals, he said, “all decisions are ad hoc….so we are shooting off in all directions without the kind of impact we should have had.” That is the fundamental reason, he said, that India has not realized its potential to be a great power — yet.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Defence Industry, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Iran and West Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries | Leave a comment

London preparations for PM

In London for the ECFR book event, stayed in the St Jame’s Court Hotel not far from Buckingham Palace and a Tata Taj Hotel property. For the last few days prior to PM Modi’s visit this hotel had its top floors taken over by his security working with London Metroplitan Police. some 60 of them are in the hotel, roaming the place.

The main event seems less the pro forma meeting with David Cameron than the Wembley Stadium occasion where NRIs are expected to do the by now usual –throng Modi, cry themselves hoarse, with the huge Gujarati community in the vanguard and, in particular, celebrating one of their own.

The cribbing heard is mostly about the modus operandi employed by the Ram Madhav-led effort to drum up local support among Indians. The effort reportedly started with Indian companies with UK presence and leading Leaders in the community getting letters soliciting views about what the PM needs to do and to say. This letter promised that the best suggestions could result in these persons being allowed a meeting with Modi. This generated much interest. But it was followed up with letters asking for donations to fund the Wembley event! Many called this a sneaky sort of thing, and has turned off many.

Dispassionate observers note that unlike the Xi Jinping UK trip Modi’s tour is generating little “excitement”. After Bihar elections, moreover, the Indian PM’s political stock has so plummeted many say the Cameron govt is wondering about whether the BJP can deliver anything at all on any commitments hereafter.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West | Leave a comment