India’s pursuit of becoming a global power may cause it to abandon its “backyard” interests
International Business News – In his book “The Indian Way: Strategies for a Turbulent World,” Indian Foreign Minister Su Jaisheng writes that India’s grand strategy should be “to (promote) national interests by identifying and exploiting the opportunities presented by global contradictions” and “to maximize the benefits gained through as many relationships as possible maximize.”
With this aim in mind, India is expanding its international political power and seeking to develop relationships with major powers. However, this may be at odds with its regional interests and its own strategic autonomy.
In the early years of independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was very determined to ensure that India stayed out of the big power competition. He was an advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the principles of which were agreed upon at the Bandung Conference in 1955.
Indeed, India maintained a non-aligned position during the Cold War; it shifted to strategic autonomy after the end of the Cold War. By hedging strategic risks and developing relationships with major powers, it sought to ensure that the regional balance of power was in its favor.
For example, India has forged a role in the Pacific for itself by developing a strategic partnership with the United States and joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. It also recently joined the US-India-Israel-Arab Four-nation Mechanism (I2U2), a multilateral partnership focused on the Middle East. At the same time, India wants to maintain strong relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In addition, India is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS countries – both institutions that include China and Russia. New Delhi has a long history of close relations with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War.
India has upgraded its relations with all the great powers in the global arena. However, do these relations serve India’s national interests, especially the interests of the Indian Ocean region?
The Indian Ocean is one of the important channels for trade, commerce and energy. It is lucrative to have naval access and influence at the throats of this region, including the Straits of Malacca, Hormuz and Mandeb.
India regards this region as its sphere of influence and knows its advantages in controlling it. As the scholar Donald Berlin puts it, New Delhi “sees the Indian Ocean as its backyard, and sees India as the region’s leader and dominant power as both a logical and a worthy one”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his general thoughts when he declared that the Indian Ocean region “is a top priority of our country’s policy.”
India aspires to be the regional hegemon and sees itself as the ultimate regional security provider. Just as the United States, as a regional hegemon, will not allow partners or adversaries to try to exert influence in the Western Hemisphere, India also believes that it should have the highest authority in the Indian Ocean region.
However, the deployment of naval power by some major powers – whether strategic partners or competitors – has weakened India’s position in the region.
The Australia-UK-US Union (AUKUS) poses a challenge. India does not welcome the potential deployment of nuclear-powered submarines by another actor in the eastern Indian Ocean region. Last year, New Delhi opposed U.S. “freedom of navigation” operations in its exclusive economic zone. France also has interests in the region as an important partner of the French-speaking countries Madagascar and the Comoros.
Russia’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean region is also worthy of attention. In 2020, Moscow announced plans to establish a naval logistics center in Sudan. Last year, Russia participated in two international naval exercises in the Indian Ocean region: one with Iran and the other a multilateral exercise led by Pakistan.
Middle powers such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan have also sought to expand their presence in the region.
The military deployment of several countries in the Indian Ocean region poses an obstacle to India’s strategic objectives, while the growing influence of New Delhi’s partners has given competitors an excuse to strengthen their own military deployments.
Indeed, the military deployment of Indian partners runs counter to India’s ambitions. When India is not the only power in the region, it cannot play the role of a security provider. Not only is its status diminished, but its capabilities are also in question.
In the process of overstretching its power in pursuit of the illusory goal of becoming a major player in the world, India may thereby discard its interests in its so-called “backyard” and jeopardize its strategic priorities.