Analysis & Opinions - Future of Diplomacy Project

India: Quiet confidence in deterrence

| Nov. 28, 2017

“It was inevitable. Two ancient civilizations in the same area would jostle for preeminence, power and influence in the region,” said Arjun Subramanian, [INSERT TITLE] about China and India’s relationship opening a conversation with Faculty Director, Nicholas Burns on November 28, 2017. “Modern China is growing at a rapid pace but India is not worried about being left behind.”

China’s strategic territorial concerns include disputes and insecurity all along its periphery. India and China have long had a border dispute, particularly in Ladakh Region. China has been moving that border westward into Indian territory by developing new roads and increasing troop numbers on that border. In Doklam Plateau, China’s dispute with Bhutan’s border threatens to divide Indian territory. This area saw a standoff in August 2017 that had the international community worried. “The Indian army is constantly guessing where the next stress point on a border will be, but is not overly concerned,” Subramaniam said, given that historically the relationship between the two had been one of “quiet restraint.”

Indian civil and military leadership, however, were not naïve, he noted. They recognized that China is a much greater military power and that current China-Pakistan cooperation was not in India’s best interest. Despite U.S. overtures, India does not seek out alliances to buffer itself from these neighbors, preferring partnerships.

“India is always most comfortable with partnership, over alliance,” he said. Subramaniam pointed to India’s historical legacies and preference for progressing steadily and slowly in its foreign policy responses. In the UN Security Council in 2011-12, India had demonstrated what Subramaniam called “strategic autonomy,” often voting in line with China and Russia and counter to a surprised U.S.

“The U.S. gets impatient,” Subramaniam explained.  “India cannot wish away China’s presence and it’s very important in our strategic calculus. What’s the point of an alliance? Will the U.S. help in a firefight with China on the border?,” he asked.  “India does not need the U.S. It is building up capability.”

Still, as the Indian military builds capacity, ramps up its spending and “plugs capability gaps” it works alongside the U.S., though not in a formal alliance. The Indian Air Force runs exercises with the U.S. military and Japanese military. In 2015-2017, the U.S. Armed Forces engaged with its Indian counterpart more than any other country in the world, even NATO; putting in place Standard Operating Procedures and interoperability. Partnership with the U.S. was natural, he noted.  “As the oldest democracy and the most populous, the U.S. and India certainly share common values.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Burns, Nicholas.“India: Quiet confidence in deterrence.” Future of Diplomacy Project, November 28, 2017.