Realism calls

India needs to induct realism and balancing in its foreign policy.

If recent rumours on the Chinese internet are true, then Chinese armed forces and PLA are planning a string of Navy bases all around Asia. The highest concentration of these planned PLAN bases would be in and around India. While this piece of information is hard to confirm, going by the history and careful and selective leaking of information on Chinese internet and media by the communist administration, this may well be true. Ironically the same day, I read another piece in a reputed Indian English daily, urging India to follow the “middle path” with regards to China and Japan dispute in the Senkaku islands. That’s not the only one, other reputed newspapers also urged India to play it cool, to be skeptical of the “Dogs of war”, and continue the detached, rudderless foreign policy, which, other than on rare resolute occasions, is deeply symbolic of our country for the last fifty years, the last year being particularly disastrous.


The interminable dross that is churned out from both sides of the spectrum, one espousing utter non-violence and dialogue in the face of any humiliation, and the other proposing war at every corner and turn of history. What is obvious in this binary of ideological debate between the left-liberals and neo-conservatives of Indian foreign policy, is the absence of a Realist foreign policy prescription. India being the land of Kautilya, (who is considered the one of the oldest Political Realists in the field of International Relations) conveniently discarded Realism from the national consensus.

There are two types of states, the “power maximisers” and the “security maximisers” in International arena. The expansionist, revanchist, and revisionist powers generally fall in the former category. India falls in the second category, as we have given up our short lived interventionist tendency since the return of IPKF in 1989. Yes, we do have soldiers under the United Nations, in Congo, and our Navy patrolling the Somalian coast, in coordination with other navies. China, as the preponderant growing and expansionist power of our time, falls in the former category. Chinese expansionism is now limited to mercantilism and economic expansion, but soon with the growing clout, it would not be limited and peaceful.  China would inevitably prove to be dangerous and revanchist, and there would inevitably a clash (hot or cold) between the two hegemons, a rising China and an ageing United States of America.

Now, China faces, a “security dilemma” in the field of International Relations which every rising hegemon faces. The more defence capabilities China increases (for either power or security maximising reasons) the more insecure the small states around it would feel. Eventually they would want some other global power to come and balance China, which would lead China to militarise even more as a balancing act against the other great powers. This is where India should come in. We need to understand, that India alone is incapable of taking on China. We lack the economic fundamentals, the military parity, the political will and backbone, and most importantly an underestimated but hugely important aspect- discipline as a nation. We are much too diverse and democratic to have a forced singular identity and character. Our decision making is often haphazard, time consuming and chaotic.

India needs to enter Realism and balancing. We need to ‘bandwagon’ with other great powers and it can be multidimensional. We need to have a defence treaty and cooperation pact with Japan. Shinzo Abe, a friend of India proposed the formation of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, United States and India as a league of Asia-Pacific democracy, and a counterbalance to China. We should benefit from technology transfer from Japan, and have military and intelligence cooperation. Vietnam forms the second leg of this balancing act. We should also speed up and sell BrahMos missiles to Vietnam, and secure a permanent berthing right and base in South China Sea. Singapore and Philippines are also interested in defence co-operation with India. All these countries are wary and watchful of Chinese expansionism and revisionism in South China Sea. We should provide them with a friendly hand. Also, the advantages of military training and selling hardware to these countries are more than we could perceive now. If there is a clash in South China Sea in the near future, then we could get an opportunity to fathom and monitor the actual performance of Chinese armed forces against our weapons systems. China never fought a war since 1979. We should be ready and in a position to observe Chinese PLA and compare it with factual data. An opportunity that would be foolish to lose, in case of a war in our near Eastern flank.

Finally and most importantly, we should actively start engaging economically and militarily with the “Anglosphere” of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and United States. Given our history with these countries, we can identify with them than most other developing societies across the globe. But as I said in this essay a month back, the time for dithering is finally over, and we need to choose a side. India never walked alone, even during the heights of the Cold war. We took help from Kennedy to fight the Chinese, and we sided with Soviets from 1971 to 1990; we were never truly non-aligned and it is impossible and absurd to be so in this ever globalised and interconnected world. If we need to choose sides, it is prudent to choose the one with a liberal democracy and a shared commonwealth legacy.

An old man from Athens told us roughly two and a half thousand years back that nations, like humans pursue what they solely perceive as their self interest, sometimes with judgement and rationale, sometimes without. If we discard the wisdom of Thucydides, we do so at our own peril. The greatest “Game of Thrones” in Asia is already on, and we are part of it; whether we want it or not.

Photo: Laura Blankenship