February 15, 2008Foreign AffairsgeopoliticsIndiainternational relationspower projectionSecurityUnited States

On the front foot

When will India step out?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Captain Bharat Verma’s latest opinion piece in the Indian Defence Review (available online on Rediff) covers a lot of ground. He advocates a muscular approach to internal security and purposeful geopolitical power projection, through a mix of carrot and stick’.

One point he makes is that India can only be a great power if instead of being an inward looking nation, New Delhi’s footprints extend outwards”. That’s an important one. Unlike European states or China, India has historically never been an expansionist power. The territorial ambitions of Indian emperors have generally been limited to the Indian subcontinent. It is easier for states with an expansionist historical tradition to appreciate the value of power projection.

In its reluctance to get on the front foot, India, in some ways is like the United States. During a recent conversation, C Raja Mohan noted that the British government had to mount a public information campaign (including employing MI6) to get the United States to enter the Second World War. It took America almost four decades—from around 1900 when it acquired the capacity of a great power to the 1940s when it entered the war—to shoulder its share of global responsibility’. President Woodrow Wilson might have been instrumental in establishing the League of Nations after the First World War, but the US Congress refused to let the deal go through. The US too, until that time, had an inward looking culture. It took Pearl Harbour for that to change.

Perhaps it is to be expected that like the US, India will take time to get onto the front foot. Let’s hope it won’t need a Pearl Harbour.

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