chapter  4
18 Pages

The grammar of sea power: India’s maritime doctrine and strategy

History, traditions, and culture predispose India toward a policy aimed at benevolent – as Indians see it – regional primacy in the Indian Ocean region. Such a policy will be deeply maritime in nature, owing to geopolitical factors and South Asian strategic geography. Even a defensive-minded Indian grand strategy could take on an offensive cast as Indian national power grows, the Indian armed services correct the material shortcomings that have plagued them since independence, and strategic circumstances change, perhaps to India’s detriment. Having made the case that Indians look to the Monroe Doctrine as a model for their regional policy and strategy, and having ventured a hypothesis that the “Free-rider” paradigm best describes India’s stance for now, we now test that hypothesis against empirical evidence. What insights do the doctrine and strategy statements New Delhi has published in recent years provide? What is the likely trajectory for Indian sea power in the coming years and decades, and what factors might deflect Indian policy toward the “Constable” or “Strongman” variants of its Monroe Doctrine? K. M. Panikkar bemoaned Indians’ indifference to the sea, but he may have overstated his concerns in his zeal to spread the gospel of sea power.1 Since independence, Indian Navy officials and a handful of naval analysts have been thinking and writing about the part maritime power plays in New Delhi’s foreign and national security policy.2 Today they are intent on a “naval forward strategy” that, logically speaking, could extend eastward into the South China Sea and the Pacific Rim, southward to the Cape of Good Hope or even the Atlantic Ocean, and westward as far as Suez. As Adm. Rakesh Chopra observes, India’s “national security philosophy” is increasingly predicated on forward defense of the subcontinent – including at sea.3 “India is concerned about the presence of extraregional powers and their impact on the stability and security of the region,” adds Vijay Sakhuja.4 Holding potentially menacing sea powers at a distance requires operating farther and farther from Indian shores. The extent to which such views represent a unified, influential body of strategic thought remains a topic for debate. On the whole, writings on the part of senior naval officers have been sporadic or proprietary – that is, customer-driven. Navy officials think and write in the context of internal Indian government deliberations, but such debates and documents are seldom made public – helping

account for the opacity of which Stephen Cohen complains.5 At times, outside analysts, often retired flag officers, debate these issues in the opinion pages of Indian newspapers, but their views rarely seem to have much impact on Indian government decision-making, particularly as regards budgetary matters and the use of maritime assets. This is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of Indian maritime strategic thought or the vibrancy of Indian strategic debates. Rather, outside factors have limited the impact of those in the maritime professions on the shape of their own services and their functions within Indian security and defense policy. Since its inception, the Indian Navy has suffered from a lack of resources relative to the other armed services (discussed in more detail in Chapter 5). Now look at the navy’s budget in absolute terms. Until the early 1990s, when Indian economic fortunes took a significant turn for the better, the overall top line for the Indian military has been limited by fiscal realities as well as competing political priorities. As described in Chapter 2, furthermore, the security mindset of India’s post-independence political elite remains largely continental, with either China or Pakistan as the object of primary attention.6