Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System
Strategic Analysis, 33:5, 781-782
Harsh V. Pant, Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, pp. 202, ISBN 0-230-60458-7
The book under review covers major issues of current debate so as to arrive at broader trends in contemporary Indian foreign and security policy. These issues include India’s relations with the United States, China, Russia, Iran, and Israel; civil military relations as impacted by nuclear weaponization-related developments; ballistic missile defences; and lastly India’s energy quest. Having written widely on strategic affairs issues, Harsh Pant has little difficulty in organizing the book into four sections on balance of power, the nuclear question, Middle East relations, and energy security. While the author acknowledges that the book is not inclusive, it does omit some pertinent areas such as India’s relations with its neighbours, in particular Pakistan, and the internal security sphere. Their inclusion would have helped bolster the author’s argument that India needs to come to terms with its rising power status ‘as much more than a “South Asian” power’. Pant is right that India’s image is acquiring an increasingly salient form and substance in international affairs. As an economy that is weathering the recession, India has acquired a changed profile and is stepping into the bigger league. This is most evident from the nature of the debates recounted by Pant. There is a strong introspective strain in all these debates, particularly the one that attended the Indo-US nuclear deal. The expectation that internal politics should not influence foreign policy is questionable since democracy by definition implies governance responsive to the larger national sentiments. Taking the state as a ‘billiard ball’ would result in an unsustainable answer to the question posed by the author: ‘What should be the trajectory of Indian foreign policy at a time when India is emerging from the structural confines of the international system as a rising power on its way to possible great power status?’
The author acknowledges the domestic brakes on policy makers when he says that ‘today Indian policy stands divided on fundamental foreign policy choices facing the nation’. It is true that India is under-prepared for the tryst. For this, it will first need to address other indices of national power, such as the human developmental index, expansion in Indian foreign policy activity, reshaping of its military capability, and desire for greater global influence. That these have been absent as polling concerns is not because, as the author puts it, ‘foreign policy issues do not tend to win votes’, but due to concerns of wider India being in the sphere of ‘low politics’. India needs to engage with the world in keeping with an internally directed national interest and only on sustainable terms of national power. With respect to the Indo-US entente, the author hopes for a strategic partnership of equals to be arrived at between the two largest democracies. Power differentials make this problematic and the direction of US hegemony raises questions about how a closer relationship will progress. His discussion of civil-military relations in light of weaponization is perhaps the first academic look at the issue. The expectations of militarization have not been proven in light of the Indian experience but the issue will bear watching in the future as all elements of the nuclear triad will be in place by the middle of the coming decade. In his discussion on the ‘Middle East conundrum’, the author admits there are ‘no easy policy choices’, given the need for balancing Indian interests in Israel with those in the rest of the region. This, he feels, will be possible once India can ‘find its own balance between domestic imperatives and its national strategic interests’. Pant believes that eventually India will come closer to the US position on Iran. He also sounds the alarm bells with respect to energy security bringing to the fore a possible conflict with China over access to global energy sources. Pant’s coverage of the debates is very informative and he has indicated where he stands on the issues raised.