Look before you hop

Issue 15 - Jun 2008

Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs

In 1979, Stephen P Cohen wrote a book titled India: Emergent Power? In 2001, he wrote a new book, this time without the question mark. Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express once wrote that “many Indians see him as being overly friendly to the Pakistanis. Many Pakistanis similarly say he has flipped to India’s side. Cohen, however, has written landmark books on both armies and loves them.”

Pragati spoke to Dr Cohen, who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, on several issues centred around India-US relations.

A little excerpt:

You wrote your book about India being an emerging power in 2001, seven years ago. Do you have a different view today?

Yes, I’d say that the military side of that emergence is less likely than I thought it was then. I think that the Indian strategic community is hopelessly unstrategic. As long as Pakistan was the only threat it was easy, policy was on auto-pilot. When you multiple threats (China, Pakistan), when you have opportunities, when you have America as a potential partner, potential rival, when you have a domestic security problem much larger than Pakistan or China, then it requires more careful thinking. I don’t see that emerging.

The Indian political community is too domestically focused and I can see it becoming more so. When coalition governments come to power they can’t care about strategic and military policy.

So India is going to continue to expand much faster economically than I thought it would, but it will be a limited military partner for the United States.

It will be even more crippled by the self-inflicted wound of its dysfunctional educational system. That’s something that nobody imposed on India, that’s India’s choice.

India’s cultural power is going to grow. India has always been a cultural superpower. The bhangra is now in American high schools. And there’s Indian films. That aspect of India’s influence is going to continue to grow. And its very impressive.

Note: This interview will be also be made available in a special podcast. Check back soon.

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