With her economic, multilateral and perceptual horizons expanding courtesy of burgeoning international trade relations, India appears set to in?uence the nature of global affairs. Just as other powers have risen, it is the principles of the top-tier powers that have, more often than not, gone on to shape the values of the wider international system.
Given her relations with various institutions and other great powers, it appears that India will remain invested in promoting a multipolar system that eschews hegemony and endorses a more equitable world order. Core principles of progress, peace, development and justice will further inform such a worldview. In turn, India clearly benefits from her policymakers’ gradual embrace of the global liberal economic order, and all the gains in trade, growth and investment it brings. New Delhi thus respects the current world system and does not wish to be a revisionist great power.
Although India is currently converting her economic wealth into military prowess, it appears to be in a largely benign and defensive manner that is intended to protect trade and energy security interests. Such usage protects her domestic aims vis-à-vis modernization and development, and supplants her claims to international great-power status. Therefore, if her broad foreign goals can be ful?lled (and suitable international recognition of her status adequately received), India would be considered to be a mostly satis?ed great power concerning her international standing.
As India continues to rise, however, her leaders and policy makers will be increasingly challenged as to whether she is a responsible great power – that is, a state willing to make sacri?ces for the greater global comity through the use of her national capabilities to help resolve international disputes / con?ict. Such responsibility could involve (military) intervention in other regions and other states, which would present considerable principled dif?culties for India’s leaders, given their historical propensity against interfering in the affairs of others and their colonial past.
While evident, dynamic and sustained, India’s current trajectory is by no means guaranteed, marking out her present status as an uncertain great power. Although projected to be an economic behemoth whose might will be converted into commensurate diplomatic and military capabilities, there are obstacles to ful?lling this ascribed role. These include quelling many separatist, insurgent and terrorist threats; combatting corruption to ensure that economic gains reach all sections of Indian society; and facing internal environmental damage that causes mounting unrest.
Here is worthwhile reminding ourselves of Nehru’s still-applicable observation that ‘so long as we have not solved most of our own problems, our voice cannot carry the weight that it normally will and should’. From this basis, and even more fundamentally, we must ask does India wish to even become a great power? Faced by a raft of internal challenges, and the uncertainties, risks and potential losses associated with having a more outward looking, activist and (basically) unfamiliar foreign policy stance, can New Delhi realistically fulfil a major global role in the 21st century?
These, and many other, paradoxes / tensions inherent to India’s contemporary international affairs are confronted in my recently published Indian Foreign Policy volume.
Chris Ogden is Lecturer in Asian Security at the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews. He is also a Senior Research Associate with the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) in London.