Geopolitics By Another Name: The Indo-Pacific Reality, for ISPI, 1 February, 2019
Link here to download book:
Geopolitics By Another Name: The Indo-Pacific Reality, for ISPI, 1 February, 2019
Link here to download book:
With Jyotsna Mehru, National Interest, 18 November, 2018
The rise of Asia has thus far been characterized by the rise of a powerful China, which looks intent on rebuilding the regional order to suit its interests. However, it is not the only rising Asian power. India, another great Asian power—a nuclear power with 18 percent of the world’s population and nearly 8 percent of global GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP)—is watching China’s moves carefully. Spending large amounts of cash across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) on a number of strategic ports, China is wooing many states that have traditionally looked to India for leadership. There seems to be uncertainty in New Delhi on how to respond to this, and to some, it is yet more evidence that India must develop its foreign and security policymaking structures. Currently, the argument goes, India’s elites are struggling to discern both the trends that affect India and to lay out good policy options to deal with these trends. As a result, India’s foreign policy apparatus seems to just muddle along, unable to make grand strategy, much less, implement it.
To some, the underdeveloped nature of India’s foreign policymaking structures has deep roots. Bharat Karnad, an Indian international relations scholar and think tanker, argues that this stems from India’s geography. Encircled by vast seas and the towering Himalayas, it has been somewhat insulated from the world, and while Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, sought to change that, his promotion of nonalignment seemed to institutionalize India’s detachment from global affairs. This policy allowed New Delhi to abstain from making a choice between the two camps of the Cold War and left a long shadow on India’s foreign policy, which became characterized as strategically reticent and ambiguous. As recently as 2012, foreign policy elites and scholars were once again discussing reviving the policy in the book, Non-Alignment 2.0, which sought to identify the basic principles that would guide India’s foreign and strategic policies.
Despite this Nehruvian legacy, there are signs that India’s elites want to reform the old institutions and engage more assertively with the world. To outsiders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks like the highpoint of this reform movement. Intent on positioning India in a leading global role, Modi has made more than eighty visits abroad in only four years. He has developed strong relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Pacific islands, and has begun investing in Central and West Asia as a means of balancing China’s growing footprint there. His Indian Ocean outreach has reaped some remarkable results: experts claim that India’s infrastructure development plans in the Agaléga archipelago in Mauritius will significantly enhance its military presence in the region.
Despite these encouraging signs, it is clear that reforms of India’s foreign policy apparatus and political culture will also need to take place. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has a problematically understaffed diplomatic corps—only an eighth the size of the United States’—but interestingly, it has also long struggled with excessive red tape: its many secretaries, additional secretaries and joint secretaries lead area or issue-based divisions, producing uncoordinated, ad-hoc, status quo-leaning policies. While the MEA’s website proudly lists the hit Bollywood films its diplomatic missions screen globally, it lacks a clear policy strategy document explicitly laying out India’s national interests and core values, an essential tool for coordinating the work of and giving shape to the fragmented agencies of the MEA. The lack of such a strategy document means that India’s foreign policy really just becomes a never-ending tussle between nonalignment and restraint on the one hand, and pragmatism and power projection on the other.
In terms of developing a strategic culture, India may soon follow the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and others in developing a national security strategy policy document. This new document, drafted by the newly-established Defense Planning Committee (DPC) is reportedly ready to be scrutinized at the highest level. According to Bharat Shakti —a military blog—a number pivotal positions are being considered, including three deputy national security advisors, a military advisor, an empowered National Security Council with a revamped strategic policy group, and a better funded secretariat. Furthermore, a MEA-run think tank, the Centre for Contemporary China Studies, will be following and assessing Chinese power across the military, economic and political spectrums.
As the international system becomes increasingly complex, it will be important for India’s leaders to provide coordinated advice to the executive. Like other powers, this will mean improving relations between the military and the civilian bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defense (MoD)—the latter having relatively less expertise on military issues despite having considerable decisionmaking powers. This situation is analogous to that which took place in Japan vis-à-vis the civilian and uniformed parts of the Japanese MoD during the 2000s and is an important aspect of coordinating national security strategy.
While these reforms may improve civil-military relations, it would be worrisome if they—by making a powerhouse out of the national security advisor—put the final nail in the coffin for the oft-repeated and oft-dodged recommendations to appoint a chief of defense staff or at least a permanent chair of the chiefs of staﬀ committee. It is unclear whether these reforms will have a substantial impact on the state of jointness in the Indian Armed Forces. According to a recent report published by Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), despite being ranked fourth globally in Global Fire Power Index Rating , India lags behind sixty-six other countries when it comes to joint operations by its various services, making India dangerously ill-prepared for conflict in the cyber, special operations, and intelligence and information domains.
Crucially, as recent debates over the creation of integrated theatre commands have shown, the lack of jointness has impeded the modernization of the combat potential of the armed forces by pushing the services into unhealthy competition over funds. The integrated defense staff has started producing joint military doctrine—although it is a necessary step in coordinated defense planning, the doctrine is considered to be generalist, theoretical and army-centric in nature. In fact, the scope and impact of the integrated defense staff headquarters vis-à-vis the “babudom” (bureaucracy) of MoD itself remains unclear. Additionally, while India has recently decided to formulate tri-service agencies to handle domains in modern warfare, it is reflective of a wider silo-driven approach to jointness which—as Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College London points out—only makes these different bodies push their own agendas when it comes to threat perception and force management.
In order to deal with a world in which economic and trade issues are increasingly securitized, India needs confidence and clarity-of-purpose. It is clear that it requires institutional reforms at all levels of India’s foreign-defense apparatus, which will hopefully pave the way for coordinated, agile approaches toward global trends. India needs a strongman—or woman—who, while keeping India’s attractive democratic qualities intact, is able to take the powerful civilian bureaucracy head-on and cut through its elites’ confusion about India’s identity to formulate a clear Indian grand strategy. This would require a cleanup of its foreign policy and defense institutions: A Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Movement) of another kind.
India will also need to continue building up the think tank and educational sectors, so as to provide that next generation of leaders. While New Delhi has seen a welcome growth in the number of think tanks and research centers, studies have shown that international relations as an academic discipline remains fairly underdeveloped in India : very few universities offer undergraduate programs in international relations, and there is a general lack of a well-knit national academic community and a vibrant international relations-related publishing culture. Therefore, the hesitance to discuss and debate foreign policy issues beyond Pakistan can be seen in the student body. Whatever the case, India can and will create the tools for its own grand strategy.
As India goes to polls next year, it must face a number of troubling questions: What kind of a power is it, and what kind of power is it willing to be?
The National Interest, with Rob Clark, 17 August, 2018
As India celebrates seventy-two years of Independence from the British Empire this week, a grand historical milestone for the ancient nation, it is notable to see the Royal Navy sailing in India’s waters once more—however this time it comes as an ally to India to sail together in an increasingly troubled world.
Pulled from its forty-two-year involvement in the European project, the United Kingdom has begun a major re-think of its global posture. What does Global Britain mean? Where might it best orient itself in relation to a growing Indo-Pacific region, where trade, rising powers, and naval grand strategies reveal a region that is increasingly a central part of the global economy and political center?
Stretching from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean is vital to international trade and commerce, with 50 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade passing through every day. It is a global market that the United Kingdom cannot afford to ignore. The global significance of this region has seen many vested naval powers transit this ocean to maintain their own interests.
But rather than coming as an imperial trading power—as it once did—the Royal Navy is coming to the region under a liberal democratic trading nation. The United Kingdom seeks to uphold an open and inclusive rules-based order, an order where all have rights—not simply great powers. And this commitment is more than just rhetoric.
Over the past year, London has committed to three separate missions across the Indo-Pacific region. HMS Albion, Sutherland and Argyll have all made their way through the Indo-Pacific region this year to carry out sanctions enforcement against North Korea and to conduct freedom of navigation operations to counter the growing Chinese naval activity. These missions have revealed the role the Royal Navy will play in a Global Britain strategy.
The sudden and rapid rise of Mahanian strategies among Asia’s powers has seen sea lane security re-emerge as a major geopolitical issue after three generations of U.S. naval preponderance. The most active driver of change in the Indian Ocean has been the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Far from its traditional sphere of influence of the first island and second island chains, the Chinese navy has rapidly established itself as a naval power in the Indian Ocean, and beyond into theMediterranean Sea . Beijing has done this by developing blue-water capabilities and a port strategy that secures its Beijing’s trade routes and energy supply line from the Middle East.
The emergence of China’s blue-water navy and greater power projection has complimented China’s long-term grand strategy of becoming the Asian hegemon, an ambition not lost on India’s ruling elite. Beijing has sought to ensure that “all roads lead to China,” with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Maritime Silk Road projects. Furthermore, China has encroached upon the territory and neighborhood of the region’s fastest-growing power—India—developing economic dependencies with nearly all of New Delhi’s neighbors.
As powers that are dependent on Indian Ocean trade routes, liberal democracies like Britain and India (and others) will have to learn to manage relations with Beijing. This will include balancing some of China’s more predatory behaviors such as the debt diplomacy.
The Royal Navy and Indian Navy will also have to learn to operate in close proximity to the PLAN, which has rapidly up-scaled its presence in the Indian Ocean, with recent estimates indicating a presence of at least fourteen PLA Navy ships throughout August 2017, including SSN class nuclear-powered submarines, with that number rising throughout 2018. There have already been positive examples of recent UK-Sino naval cooperation, including the arrival of two PLA Navy frigates in London last year for a ‘goodwill’ visit. It is precisely from these exchanges that the Royal Navy—respected for its long traditions—can impart best practices and norms to the still-young PLAN. Possible areas of planned cooperation might take place in the anti-piracy missions and with humanitarian responses to natural disasters.
As the Indo-Pacific once again takes center stage in global politics, we will see China and India each attempting to stamp their influence on the international order. This does not have to be confrontational, of course. As part of a wider Anglo-American security alliance which helped construct the current global order, the UK has a vested stake in seeing that these changes abide by the current norms underpinning the rules-based international system. This includes respect for national sovereignty, freedom of navigation, and free trade.
As Global Britain approaches the Indian Ocean, it will work closely with all navies, including the Indian Navy and the PLAN. No doubt, it will work more closely with some more than others. And, of course, it will have to ensure that its resources match its ambition. Should Beijing’s quasi-imperial approach toward the Indian Ocean continue, the UK and other European powers will begin to lend their support to the India-Japan-US-Australia Quad.
Regardless of geopolitical trends, the Royal Navy will seek to support joint naval drills and uphold the maritime principle of freedom-of-navigation. Bolstered by its own bases in Duqm and Singapore, the Royal Navy will seek to cooperate with all, including the United States, Australia, Singapore, and India. Global Britain as a philosophy will promote a collaborative approach toward Beijing while aligning carefully with like-minded friends and allies
Hindustan Times, Prasun Sonwalkar, May 27, 2018
Britain needs to focus on the Indo-Pacific region to avoid being caught between two worlds– not quite a European power nor a global power – post Brexit, a leading think-tank has said .
To do this, Britain will need to go to Asia by sea, even if it may remind many of its erstwhile empire built mostly through its naval power, a study titled Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific by the influential Henry Jackson Society says.
The analysis by John Hemmings has been released in the context of the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when, for the first time, the phrase “Indo-Pacific” was mentioned in an India-UK defence statement on future plans of the Royal Navy and Indian Navy.
The report says: “Despite the threats and challenges on the UK’s periphery like Russia and the Middle East, the fact is the future of global trade, global geopolitics, and global power are trending toward Asia and the UK must go there or risk being left behind.
“There are also trends in maritime trade and maritime security that mean that if Global Britain is going to go to Asia, it must go by sea. While such maritime arguments sound like a Britain harking back to a glorious past, in fact a Global Britain that renews its naval and maritime commercial capabilities will one that is preparing for a prosperous and engaged future.”
Mentioning the so-called “quad countries” of India, Australia, Japan and the United States, the report sees much potential for Britain to engage closely with the group in the context of China’s growing presence and plans in the area, including the Belt and Road Initiative.
Hemmings writes: “Britain and India are developing robust security ties across a broad range of ties; I suggest that the Indian Navy and the Royal Navy – who are brothers with a common history and common traditions – could do so much more together, both bilaterally, or in conjunction with India’s other partners: France, Japan, the US, and Australia.”
Besides the existing strengths in India-UK ties, the report says that Britain could work with Japan to financially support India’s desire to match China’s infrastructure projects. It also sees the potential to develop a UK-India-France trilateral maritime cooperation.
The report specifically recommends that Britain offer diplomatic support when key states – such as India, Singapore, or Japan – come under pressure within the region. It also calls for the utilisation, along with India, of the Commonwealth to bolster democracy with other states in the Indo-Pacific such as the Maldives, Fiji, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.
It also calls for the UK investing in Asian language programmes at British universities, particularly focussing on Hindi, Japanese and Chinese.
RUSI Commentary, with Tanya Sen, 24 May, 2018
Nearly eight months after the Doklam border stand-off, the leaders of Asia’s two largest powerhouses met for informal diplomatic talks, in what seemed to be an attempt to reset their bilateral relationship. Thus far, media in both countries has presented the meeting as a great success, citing new diplomatic beginnings and lauding the pragmatism of their respective leaders. The apparent thawing of diplomatic ties echoes the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai narrative of the 1950s and comes after the two countries reached a record trade value of $84.4 billion in 2017. Yet despite the public hyperbole and the evident enthusiasm of China’s state-run media, it is not clear that one meeting can overturn the structural drivers of Indo-Chinese competition.
China and India are both focused on restoring their status as great regional and even global powers following periods of imperial predation by European states over the past two centuries. They are both heavily influenced by social, economic and political theories that are rooted in Western intellectual trends. Still, such similarities are trivial in the face of structurally-driven competition. With large territories, massive populations and expanding economies, both have the ability to shape their regions along with areas further abroad. Consequently, their rivalry is fed by the desire for dominance over the other – something that is best explained through a realist lens. The deeper explanation is the status of insecurity that results from the security dilemma, whereby both countries are constantly looking to gain a competitive advantage in terms of regional accommodation, and the future global order. This justifies the fears of Indian leaders that they may be lagging behind China in this grander global race.
The old non-alignment orientation is falling out of favour with Indian policymakers for this very reason. While this decades-long policy has been a defining model in Indian politics in the past, Prime Minister Modi’s state visits and multilateral engagements point to a departure from India’s non-aligned ways, towards multi-alignment that better fits today’s global order. Yet despite this shift, India’s grand strategy seem to lack clear direction. For, while India might be equipped with the resources, it lacks the strategic mobilisation needed to rival China’s own assertive vision.
The concerns and suspicion have steered India towards the adoption of an odd hedging relationship with Beijing that is by now familiar with scholars of Chinese foreign policy. Nearly every country must determine the trade-off between economic reliance on China and concern over its ambitions; Australia’s prime minister summed up this dilemma last year, by saying that Canberra’s China policy was based on ‘fear and greed’. In response to this conundrum faced by many others, Indian policymakers are identifying key partners to offset Chinese power. The most notable of these is Japan; after all, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the pioneer of the Indo-Pacific concept. His proposal for the creation of a Quad – an informal four-nation strategic dialogue encompassing Japan, India, the US and Australia – was revived in 2017 after laying dormant for around a decade. India’s efforts seem to be overshadowed by the setbacks in its way, many of which have been present for a large part of its political history.
As the two powers rise in the same region, attempts by China to secure its energy supplies by land and sea inevitably involve Pakistan. This competing set of regional interests can also be seen in China’s ‘String of Pearls’ relationships with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and even the Maldives, all of which traditionally lie within India’s sphere of influence. China’s ‘all-weather friendship’ with Pakistan is a continual irritant to relations with India. The truncated power asymmetry acquired by Pakistan, with immense support from the Chinese, has ensured an enduring rivalry and the encirclement of India. The Indo-Pakistani conflict has long dominated India’s foreign policy, and constant contestation in India’s immediate neighbourhood has prevented it from taking on a leadership role in South Asia. Finally, the lack of an alternative Indian grand strategy to non-alignment works against its own power ambitions. On one hand, India is keen to be taken seriously as a world power. On the other hand, Indian foreign policy elites seem stuck between contrasting narratives of India as a developing power or India as a superpower. This confusion over India’s power acts as a drag for its policymaking elites in reshaping a new grand strategy for dealing with China.
China, by contrast, has been quick to identify its rival’s weaknesses and even quicker to develop and realise its foreign policy ambitions. Such has been the rate of China’s successes in its Belt and Road initiative, that India’s lack of organisation means that it seriously risks adversely affecting its primacy in its own back yard. While this hedging approach might be the most politically expedient method for dealing with Chinese manoeuvres, it is holding India back from creating its own alternative vision for the region. So, while the rapprochement with China may be part of this hedging approach and might appear to be enough to relieve short-term tensions, structural factors will continue pushing the two Asian giants in opposing directions. And none of this will substitute for India’s need to wake up to the perils on its periphery, by developing a more robust foreign policy community and seeking a clearer strategy for its region.
The weight of the global economy is going to Asia, it is going by sea – and the United Kingdom must act now if we are to build a truly Global Britain, according to a new report from The Henry Jackson Society.
Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific notes how the future of both the economic order and the rules-based international system will be decided in the Indo-Pacific. China’s growing naval power, its militarisation of sea lanes and its Belt and Road Initiative indicate not only a power determined to become wealthy, but one determined to set the rules of the coming age. However, many of China’s Asian neighbours seek to defend rules over power.
With Britain looking for new opportunities abroad in the wake of Brexit and the economic and demographic realities pointing east, the report argues that the UK must reinvigorate its partnerships with historic allies in the region, not least India and Japan – while also redeveloping new “special relationships” with Commonwealth countries such as Singapore.
The report highlights that:
While endorsing the ‘cautious engagement’ approach of Prime Minister Theresa May to China, the report recommends that Britain should:
Standing up for the rules-based international order in the face of the challenge from China should also involve:
Read the full report here.
Observer Research Foundation, with Tanya Sen, 4 May, 2018
British civil servants responsible for the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London breathed a sigh of relief seeing India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk down the aircraft stairs. Waiting alongside the High Commissioner to greet Modi was Boris Johnson and a retinue of senior officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There had been a lot riding on Modi’s attendance; after all, the leader of India represents more than 50 percent of the Commonwealth’s total population. It is as much an Indian endeavour as a British one, in that sense. Certainly, London’s diplomatic corps were out in style to greet leaders from 53 countries and to explore the future prospects of an institution — the Commonwealth — that might be a key plank in Britain’s global posture. Modi’s attendance was crucial to the event, and given the fact that no Indian leader had attended in 10 years, his acceptance was a significant message to London. Back in India, the media portrayed Modi’s attendance as an effort to step up its role across global forums. While the overall summit has been judged largely a success, the real significance is where an emerging India stands in relation to a Global Britain.
Modi’s attendance was crucial to the event, and given the fact that no Indian leader had attended in 10 years, his acceptance was a significant message to London.
Brexit is occurring at a not⎯auspicious time. The current international political order is in flux, perhaps the victim of its own success. As this ORF paper notes, it is a “period of unprecedented global structural changes and shifts in balance⎯of⎯power equations.” While some have portrayed this as “the rise of the rest,” this has evolved into a more traditional binary — with the rise of China and India falling into geostrategic, Mahanian patterns over the future of what is now being called the Indo⎯Pacific. The New Great Game is manifesting itself in both maritime and naval interconnectivity — and the implied control of sea lanes and ports — and in “development diplomacy.” Xi is redrawing the map of the Asian landmass with the Belt and Road Initiative, while securing China’s energy and trade routes through a ‘String of Pearls’. India, surrounded — and some might even say “contained” — by China’s grand projects, is wary of Beijing’s ambitions in its near⎯abroad. Are these projects built to extend Chinese power or diminish India’s? Of late, view from India has pointed toward the latter of these two options.
The New Great Game is manifesting itself in both maritime and naval interconnectivity — and the implied control of sea lanes and ports — and in “development diplomacy”.
In response, India has turned East with its Act East Policy under which it is improving relations with countries like Vietnam that Beijing might view to be inside its own 9⎯dashed sphere of influence. Paralleling Beijing’s own tactics in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and others, New Delhi is using trade and diplomacy as a basis for these relations, and interestingly promoting Buddhism as a unifying element. In direct response to China’s apparent encirclement, India has also been working to become more active in its own maritime domain by initiating agreements and projects with its neighbours and allies. One major project, which might push Indian life into the Asian continent is the new International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) linking India, Russia and Iran by a land route through 13 countries. This year will mark the official operation of this trade route, potentially leveraging Indian soft power in the region. While the recent Xi⎯Modi meeting was designed to press the “reset button” on bilateral relations, structuralists will argue that the two Asian powers are bound to continue to compete as they rise.
No longer the great imperial power it once was, Britain has a delicate dance to perform in this grand sweeping maelstrom of events. Global Britain remains an aspiration, a dream, and perhaps even — a slogan for UK trade missions. But there is room for optimism as well as cynicism, given the UK’s own government language on the “rules⎯based order.” In freeing itself from the European continent, Britain’s primary concern remains Russia. But there is a genuine search for a new global role among London’s foreign policy elites. One saw this in the miles of red carpet rolled out for its historical partners in the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere. The dynamics in the Indo⎯Pacific are far away, but they remain of deep strategic interest to London because of the maritime and trading aspects. After all, many of the region’s newest powers are merely mimicking what Britain perfected over 300 years — the synthesis of great power strength through a maritime trading empire.
In the modern era, the Sino⎯Indian competition compels Britain to a certain posture. While China remains an important trading partner, its links to India are much greater, across the political, legal and civil sectors, and across peoples. Lest we forget, 1.5 million Britons are of Indian ethnic origin; the largest minority in the UK. The presence of such a strong diasporic network enriches cultural exchange, forming a ‘living bridge’ between the two countries. While there is a large scope of improvement in the areas of trade, business and economy, there seems to be hints of optimism pointing to the outlooks. Modi’s April visit saw the two agree to a new Tech Partnership and a Trade Partnership, with the motive of driving a 15 percent jump in trade. Given India’s population, its rapidly advancing economy and its growing importance in the world order, Theresa May’s government is only one of a long line of recent Prime Ministers who view the bilateral is punching below its weight.
While it is too early to tell, the possibility that over the next few years the Commonwealth might become an Anglo⎯Indian project, is now in the air. After all, if the UK gives a greater role for India, it becomes a tool for Delhi to exert a global leadership that it has yet to satisfy through BRICS and the SCO. For its part, by aligning with Delhi, London takes a major step into the Indo⎯Pacific as a strong partner to the rising power that respects democracy and human rights. It also enables the UK’s elites to refashion rhetoric around the rules⎯based order, into a framework for Global Britain. On the other, India would have to itself ‘a prospective forum for its power projection’ in which China is not a member. The India⎯Commonwealth Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Trade Summit hosted in 2017 is an example of the scope of integration the Commonwealth could achieve in the future should member countries be given a greater say. One cannot disregard the political scope of an institution with 53 member countries spanning five continents in today’s increasingly interlinked and complex world order. Britain and India are both in need of ways to further their foreign policy agendas and strengthening bilateral ties. As an international platform, the Commonwealth could play a pivotal role in the pursuit of their short⎯term and long⎯term strategic goals. To quote Modi, “Once we have decided to do something, we can go miles ahead.”
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