The American precedent for Indian strategy
Strategic culture and national identity are malleable things, and can lead different people to different conclusions about proper policies, strategies, and courses of action. In what direction will Indian identity and culture prod New Delhi? “India’s quest,” declares C. Raja Mohan, “is not for primacy in the region. It wants to ensure for itself a weighty role in the future balance of power arrangements in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific regions.” Accordingly, “New Delhi is unlikely to make an attempt to regain the hegemonic role of British India in the Indian Ocean region.”1 For Mohan, primacy seemingly equates to the heavy-handed dominance enjoyed by Great Britain during its imperial heyday. New Delhi, he claims, has no aspirations in that direction. An outside analyst, Manjeet Singh Pardesi, takes a warier view of India’s bid for regional and world eminence, asking whether “a rising India will repeat the pattern of all rising great powers since the Napoleonic times by attempting regional hegemony”2 (our emphasis). Pardesi concludes from his survey of Indian history, philosophy, and strategic thought that New Delhi will in all likelihood fashion an “offensive realist” grand strategy, seeking power as a means of dominance.3 In an essay elucidating India’s 2007 Maritime Military Strategy, former Indian Navy chief Arun Prakash pleads with Indians to keep it “etched in our minds that should a clash of interests arise between India and any other power, regional or extra-regional . . . the use of coercive power and even conflict remains a distinct possibility”4 (our emphasis). Such Kautilyan-sounding statements lend credence to Pardesi’s notion of a forward-leaning India that increasingly inclines to hard power solutions to regional challenges. Who has it right? Can India’s maritime future be extrapolated from an investigation of the subcontinent’s long, turbulent past? Or is history “more or less bunk,” as the American industrialist Henry Ford famously proclaimed? In recent years, scholars and practitioners of international affairs have lavished their analytical energies on China’s rise to great power and the reordering of Asian politics it seems to portend. But while the rise of India has commanded far less attention, it could ultimately prove equally consequential for regional and world affairs. There is a counterintuitive hue to these developments: the sea now figures prominently in the foreign policies of both prospective Asian titans, land powers that for centuries deliberately shunned seafaring pursuits.