The Evolution of India's Strategic Culture and U.S.-India Ties


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In partnership with the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University

When: Nov 5 2014 - 2:30pm until Nov 5 2014 - 4:00pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

The Evolution of India's Strategic Culture and U.S.-India Ties

An Asia Pacific Seminar featuring:

Mr. Sarang Shidore
Visiting Scholar, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin

The Evolution of India's Strategic Culture and U.S.-India Ties from East-West Center on Vimeo.

Mr. Sarang Shidore outlines in detail the significance of Modi's victory in terms of India's strategic culture.

The framework of strategic culture emphasizes the effects of history and ideas in shaping the security orientation of a state. It thus complements the traditional analysis of state behavior based on a balance of power, threat, and interdependence. The Indian state's evolution in the international system, with the United States as the world's leading power, has undergone marked shifts since its independence nearly seven decades ago. As a state and civilization acutely self-conscious of its normative contributions in history, India exhibits several characteristics in its foreign policy that can be best understood from a strategic cultural framework.

During his presentation, Mr. Sarang Shidore outlined the three trends that have been prevalent throughout India's strategic culture. For each paradigm, he had a catchphrase that accurately described the basic principles of that paradigm. The earliest paradigm that has been present throughout India's strategic culture, though it is less influential today, was moralism. Mr. Shidore described moralism as "India is a post-colonial, developing country." Under moralism, which reached its zenith from 1947 (India's independence) through the 1970s, emphasized non-alignment, anti-colonialism, "third world" solidarity, and nuclear disarmament. The use of force was put on the backborner, while engagement with allies through diplomacy and economic self-reliance were paramount. He also gave concrete examples in India's policy decisions during that time period and beyond that showed the influence of moralism, including support for anti-apartheid movements in the 1990s despite the decline of moralism as a driving factor in India's strategic culture. 

Even when moralism was the dominant paradigm, however, there were cases in which the use of force was deemed necessary such as responding to the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in 1947-48 and the amalgamation of holdover princely states and the Portuguese colony of Goa. The shock induced by the war with China in 1962 led to a slow rise of realism over the next few decades. Like realism in the West, realism in India followed the conclusion that power was the currency of international politics Mr. Shidore warned of classifying India's realism too closely with that of the West however, as there were major differences including India's wariness of alliances, its emphasis on strategic autonomy, and a regional rather than global scope of action. 

The final paradigm that Mr. Shidore discussed was neoliberalism, which came into the fore in India's strategic culture in the 1980s. Under this paradigm, in which India described itself as a "liberal market democracy," adversaries were incentivized through trade and investment and emphasis was placed on private sector as well as economic growth. Neoliberalism did not rule out the use of force entirely, rather it saw its usefulness as defense preparedness to protect India's economic gains. As such, Mr. Shidore argued that neoliberalism and realism have often been present in tandem within India's strategic culture. This could be seen in policy initiatives like India's second defense modernization in the 1980s, the first reformist budgets and, most importantly, in India's outreach to the United States following the end of the Cold War. 

The thawing of relations with the United States, particularly the breakthrough after 1999, was driven largely by the neoliberal-oriented transformation of elite and middle-class opinion, but was also aided by Indian realism and its concerns with the rise of China. India's votes in the IAEA regarding Iran's nuclear program and the discourse about the vote in the Indian public sphere were a telling sign of neoliberalism gaining traction in India's strategic culture.  

As his final point, Mr. Shidore argued that the tilt towards Indian realism in the new Modi administration must account for the realities of India's domestic constraints and an international system in which interdependence and markets still dominate . Thus a mix of neoliberalism and Indian realism may be expected as a framework that guides the policy of the government. In terms of specific policy priorities, selective liberalization in some sectors of the economy such as energy and manufacturing coupled with an emphasis on indigenization, a third military modernization, and enhancing foreign aid, could be some of the key areas of action from the government.  

 For more images, please visit the album for this event on the East-West Center's Flickr page. 

Sarang Shidore is a Visiting Scholar at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he co-led a project on strategic futures at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi. IDSA is funded by India’s Ministry of Defence. He has published and presented on Indian strategic culture and grand strategy. Mr. Shidore's research interests also extend to energy/climate security in Asia.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Sarah Batiuk
Phone: 202-327-9755