Extending India’s Strategic Outreach

Resurgent India is now at a breakout moment in its history and must reassert its historical primacy in Southern Asia. It should begin its strategic outreach by looking and acting outwards in ever-growing concentric circles. In keeping with its growing comprehensive national power, India must use 'smart power' to fulfil its responsibility to provide leadership in the region.

It is well known that India does not publish a document spelling out its national security strategy (NSS). There are numerous advantages in publishing it and, hopefully, the new Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon approve India’s NSS and it will be made public. The other great and rising powers regularly do so. When that happens, one of the important sections in the NSS will be India’s vision and policies for extending the country’s economic and military outreach in its area of strategic interest.

In the rapidly globalising, interdependent and wired world, isolationism is no longer a viable option. A peaceful and stable neighbourhood and a secure internal environment are essential prerequisites for unhindered socio-economic development and national prosperity. India must strike the right balance between brandishing the primacy of its comprehensive national power (CNP) in its regional neighbourhood exemplified by the muscular ‘Indira Doctrine’ of the 1980s and ‘engagement’ on a mutually beneficial basis represented by the conciliatory ‘Gujral Doctrine’ of the mid-1990s. 

Both primacy and engagement need to be backed by deft military diplomacy and pro-active defence cooperation. In its area of strategic interest, the best course of action for India is to work towards the establishment of a cooperative security framework in conjunction with its strategic partners and the stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region even if some littoral countries are unwilling to join the effort and prefer to go it alone.

Jawaharlal Nehru had advocated an ‘Asian’ Monroe Doctrine that was actually intended to keep foreign powers out, but also resulted in insulating India. Resurgent India is now at a breakout moment in its history. It must reassert its primacy in Southern Asia, particularly in the Indian Sub-continent. It should begin its strategic outreach by looking and acting outwards in ever growing concentric circles. In keeping with its growing comprehensive national power (CNP), India must use ‘smart power’ — combination of hard and soft power — to fulfil its responsibility to provide leadership in the Indo-Pacific region. 

India should do this by seizing diplomatic and economic opportunities and, in conjunction with its strategic partners, contribute to stability and security, uphold the rule of law, promote democracy and human rights. Though power projection is not an end in itself, it is a handy tool for ensuring peace and stability and keeping the neighbourhood pacified. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands in the Arabian Sea provide natural springboards for power projection and must be developed accordingly. The Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force will need base facilities for power projection, coercion and contingency operations. Agalega in Mauritius and Ayni in Tajikistan would be among those that are suitable. 

Simultaneously, as a status quo power with abhorrence for military alliances, India must maintain its strategic autonomy at all times. The real test for Indian statecraft over the next few decades would be to balance India’s engagement with China with its growing strategic partnership with the US. It must remain conscious of the reality that while China is a large trading partner, it will continue to be a military adversary as long as the territorial and boundary dispute with it is not resolved and, given its nexus with Pakistan, perhaps even later. The US may in future be a strategic competitor, but is extremely unlikely to ever become a military adversary. 

In the decades ahead, India’s national security paradigm and its influence in the Indo-Pacific and beyond will be underpinned by its growing economic strength. It will be critically important for the government to shape a peaceful and stable security environment so that economic growth can take place unhindered. 

The entrepreneurial spirit of India’s youth, its proclivity for innovation and its capacity to grapple with the complexities of design and development will provide the impetus for the rapid growth of India’s economy. The economy will be increasingly knowledge-based, research and development, technology and manufacture driven rather than being predominantly dependent on the growth of the service sector. To optimise the benefits of India’s demographic dividend — the largest youth cohort in the world, adequate time and effort must be invested in ‘skilling’ the youth and providing opportunities for growth.  

It is India’s manifest destiny to play a leading role in shaping the emerging polycentric world order with the confidence that comes from a growing economy, rising military power, unique demographic dividend and deep civilisational values. 

India must be unwavering in safeguarding its territorial integrity, ensuring the security of its citizens and acting pro-actively to contribute to stability in the Indo-Pacific. Even while coping with the threats of today, India must take the long view and plan to face up to the challenges of tomorrow through a strategy of national renewal. The national security mantra should be to deter future adversaries through the acquisition of overarching military capability backed by technological superiority and, if deterrence fails, to fight and win comprehensively on battlefields in every domain — land, sea, air, space and cyberspace, conventional and sub-conventional.  

India's military power should be sufficient to ensure favourable outcomes each and every time, i.e. the achievement of India’s strategic objectives. Only then will India count as a trustworthy regional power capable of providing leadership in moments of crisis and for conflict resolution; and, only then will India’s aspirations to play a global role in due course be viewed positively. 

If India continues to grow economically at a brisk pace and begins to act pro-actively to shape the environment and provide stability, there will be no need to hanker after ‘great power’ status or a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council — both are destined to come India's way.