India: despite its limitations, an emerging power
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India is at the same time an interesting and important actor, theme, and geographic space for the rest of the world because of its internal characteristics and its location in the global order. This article analyzes its role in the international system, the regional and continental configuration, the vulnerabilities in the field of security, the problems of development and globalization, as well as its political, social, and cultural dynamics. Despite its many limitations, it would be prudent to characterize this South Asian nation as an emerging power, with capabilities and intentions to shape the international system.

Is India important? Why does the rest of the world care about what this South Asian nation does, what it experiences, and what goes on inside? If India is interesting and important, whether as an actor, theme, or geographical space, this is due to its internal characteristics and its location in the world order. India is a global emerging power and a regional power based on the Eurasian surface. It is a state with nuclear weapons and border conflicts, which is heavily dependent on weapons imports and is a recurrent victim of terrorism. It is a rapidly globalizing developing economy, increasingly driven by technology, albeit with many shortcomings in terms of its energy needs. It is a liberal democracy that was strengthened in a pluralistic and multicultural social environment. It is an ancient civilization, but it maintains a high degree of violence and internal division. It is a country that has given rise to a wide, varied, and extensive diaspora, and which also has an impact on the global ecosystem.

These are some of the reasons why India matters to the rest of the world. In this article, the factors that contributed to its rise and the obstacles it faces are analyzed. In the following sections, its role in the international system, regional and continental configuration, security vulnerabilities and problems of development and globalization, as well as political, social, and cultural dynamics, will be examined.

Size, prestige, and systemic role

India is an extensive country. Only China surpasses it in terms of population, and only Russia, Canada, the United States, China, Brazil, and Australia in terms of territory. The awareness of its size is at the root of the continuous efforts to achieve strategic autonomy. In this context, non-alignment was an attempt by an extensive, albeit fragile, postcolonial state to maintain political autonomy in a bipolar world. His bet was for an original foreign policy that was both prudent (from a realist perspective) and ethical (from a normative perspective). India is too big to fall under the security umbrella of any other power.

Even when India was a weak state, its size ensured that it was treated as a middle power. That is a country that was in the special category of states that lack the ability of the great powers to shape the system, but whose resources, size, and geopolitical role prevents the great powers from ignoring them. While middle powers may not have the ability to challenge the way great powers regulate the international system, they are powerful enough to defy any attempt to force them to behave against their will. Currently, with the increase in its power, India is already a rising middle power – what we call an emerging power. Over the years, India’s foreign policy has shown a dichotomy between theory and practice; his ideological opposition to institutionalized discrimination in world governance did not stop his pragmatic will to seek the best possible deal in the international system. This foreign policy stance, although at first sight, it may seem hypocritical, is inspired by the nature of the international system itself, formally based on sovereign equality, but in practice traversed by deeply rooted and deeply unequal hierarchies of power. The emergence of India is directly and causally linked to the country’s desire to transform its prestige into greater influence in the international political system, which is manifested in the desire to occupy a permanent seat on the Security Council, with the right to veto.

The regional and continental dynamics

In South Asia, India is clearly the regional power: its population, GDP, and military expenditure are three times that of all its neighbors combined. In this context, it is not surprising that India is a status quo power at the regional level. However, South Asia has neither internal peace nor external cohesion. On the other hand, the role of India at the regional level is severely questioned by some of its neighbors, such as Pakistan. In reality, for India, the region is not a launching pad, but an anchor that it must drag – and this constitutes a serious challenge for its politics. New Delhi cannot take off globally if its neighbors maintain their current susceptibilities about their neighborhood performance.

But why have its neighbors been so persistent in rejecting Indian influence? Several explanations are plausible. In the Pakistani case, its obsession with trying to match India, a country seven times its size, is surely rooted in questions of ideology and identity. However, we could also explain India’s regional situation in terms of its own misguided policies. In particular, Indian officials have seldom understood a simple but profound truth about politics: regional power is the means; regional leadership, is the goal. And of course power, by itself, does not automatically turn into leadership; in fact, it can become an impediment. This is due to the fact that regional power is based on the distribution of military capabilities, which generates all kinds of preventions; on the other hand, regional leadership tends to attract neighbors to a coherent regional project. Therefore, regional leadership is a condition that can only be achieved through concerted political initiatives.

India’s low performance in socio-economic development, both in absolute and relative terms, is another explanation for its lack of regional leadership. While none of their neighbors can challenge their regional dominance, they are unwilling to cede leadership in the region to India. But that situation is changing: India’s economy is growing and becoming a dynamic part of the global economy. Therefore, close ties can become a more attractive policy option for their neighbors.

Over the past three decades, China – a historic foe of New Delhi – has forged strong political and economic ties with almost all of India’s neighbors in South Asia. Unlike India, which did not present a viable regional vision or invest much in this direction, China has built an incentive structure for each of the South Asian countries, the result of which has been to maintain India in a regional context that goes against their interests and ambitions. At the same time, India is encouraging bilateral cooperation, as is evident in the free trade agreement with Sri Lanka, and investing a lot of diplomatic energy in sub-regional bets, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. (BIMSTEC) and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC). The notion of an ‘extended neighborhood’, which includes Central Asia and Southeast Asia, is another new concept that India’s regional policy is experimenting with.

As power in Asia and the Indian Ocean, India has a geostrategic location. In addition, the shift of the global center of gravity from the Euro-Atlantic zone to the Asia-Pacific is increasing the global weight of India, as well as that of other major Asian states. Asia, unlike Europe, continues to live in the era of political modernity. In other words: the main political engine throughout the Asian continent continues to be the territorial and sovereign State, in the process of improvement. While China’s rise is creating a sense of insecurity across Asia, India is unlikely to get involved in efforts to contain Beijing. The country is too big to be a member of the US security community. However, neither can it be part of an Asian alliance against the West, for the simple reason that such an axis would be led by China. Fortunately, New Delhi does not have to choose between US global hegemony and Chinese mainland hegemony. It could even actively work with the US and China to build a new cooperative security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. This could fill a real void: unlike Europe, Africa, and the Americas, Asia lacks institutions of continental reach. And in this context, many positive results could emerge from an “Asian Helsinki process” that would lead Asia to a more cooperative structure.

Security Vulnerabilities

There are four different, though interconnected, issues that pertain to security and are closely related to India’s future prospects: nuclear deterrence, unstable borders, dependence on arms imports, and terrorism. Let us analyze, first of all, the nuclear question. India’s nuclear weapons program came into operation in the late 1940s, was partially revealed in the mid-1970s, and only came to light in the 1990s, half a century after the process began. Nuclear weapons alone do not make India an emerging power. However, many nations, particularly China, started to take India seriously only after its open nuclearization in 1998, but this nuclear capability presents several challenges. The first, and arguably the most important, concerns building deterrent relations with Pakistan and China. The second objective is to insert the country’s de facto nuclear capability into the world’s nuclear architecture as a nuclear weapons state (NWS). Third, it would be in India’s interest to consolidate its role as a positive force on global nuclear issues. Perhaps the most important initiative could be to actively promote global nuclear disarmament, a topic that has attracted history leading movement in recent years: for the first time in US realist politicians calling for nuclear disarmament1.

The second weak point in Indian security concerns land borders, many of which are in dispute. The boundaries vary enormously from a geographical point of view as they include the mountainous terrains of the Himalayas, the marshes of Kutch, the Thar Desert, the lowlands of Terai, the crossed river plains of Punjab and the arboreal mangroves of the Sundarbans Delta. India needs to decide which borders it should strengthen and which it should relax. For example, one way to counter the influx of millions of Bangladeshi citizens would be to establish a system of work permits for resident aliens.

India lives in a difficult neighborhood. Therefore, ensuring the supply of weapons to its combat forces remains a central concern of the government. The national military industry is not sufficient to cover its needs, and military research and development programs have been characterized by delays and deficiencies of all kinds. Thus, the country acquires expensive and sophisticated foreign weapons systems in order to maintain a certain pace of military modernization.

Finally, India has suffered more terrorist violence in recent decades than any other country. Between 1994 and 2005, 11 people were murdered per day, on average, in terrorist attacks or counter-terrorist actions. In the last two decades, most terrorists entered from Pakistan, which forced the Indian army to devote most of its attention to internal security operations. Many analysts assume that Pakistan’s actions are solely linked to the Kashmir dispute, but the ultimate goal of the neighboring country’s asymmetrical war is to limit Indian power to such a size that Pakistan would be more comfortable.

The problems of development and globalization

Deep-seated socio-economic deprivations still affect large parts of the population and make the lives of hundreds of millions of Indian citizens a perpetual struggle for survival. This is the dark side of India’s rise and explains why the needs of the rural poor are a top trade policy concern. On June 30, 2008, negotiations on the Doha Round collapsed in Geneva when Trade Minister Kamal Nath repeatedly put the brakes on attempts by developed countries to expand the access of their agricultural products to the growing Indian market, saying: “I come from a country where 300 million people live on 1 dollar a day and 700 million people live on 2 dollars a day. (…) It doesn’t take a genius to decide between subsistence measures and commercial interests»2. Underdevelopment also manifests itself in inadequate infrastructure, whether ports, airports, bridges, roads, electricity, sanitation, schools or hospitals. Failure is not limited to physical infrastructure: six decades after gaining independence, India has yet to create public education and health systems.

After decades of autarkic development, the Indian economy was rapidly becoming integrated into the global economy. When the country opened up in 1991, the fear that Indian companies would be inundated with products made by foreign competitors was widespread and palpable. This fear was exemplified by the so-called ‘Mumbai Club’, an informal group of some of the most prominent tycoons, who banded together to protect the interests of local businesses from foreign predators. Two decades later, it is evident that many Indian companies are competitive on a global scale in many sectors and markets. They are often part of the predators in the global jungle of mergers and acquisitions. While domestic demand is the engine of two-thirds of the economy, many Indian companies, particularly in sectors such as information technology and pharmaceuticals, are increasingly oriented towards foreign markets.

But, without a doubt, globalization creates a series of new vulnerabilities through exposure to the problems of the world economy. While some voices in Indian public life promote a return to autarky, most politicians and opinion-makers recognize that the country can no longer be separated from the global economy. However, the task of protecting the national economy from the world’s toxins has become a major responsibility for economic managers. They must be alert to understand, and agile to respond to the challenges and opportunities that emanate from the world economy.

Technological limitations and energy dependence

The Indian industry has historically opted for labor-intensive production, which took advantage of the large rural population, with little training and generally underemployed. However, in recent years technology has become an important aspect as well as a weakness of its economy. India is now a technology-producing economy in many important sectors, including cutting-edge ones such as biotechnology and nanotechnology.

However, the dynamism of these areas must be balanced with the country’s persistent dependence on technology in many other economic sectors, from agriculture to aviation. In a globalized world, technology cannot germinate in a single country in isolation. The twin imperatives of accessing technology and leveraging India’s technological strengths pose several challenges for the country.

After its 1974 nuclear test, India suffered several restrictions on technology imports as a result of the multilateral non-proliferation architecture. However, after the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US in 2008, technological isolation ended, and today the country participates in major international scientific projects, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) and the European Council for Nuclear Physics (CERN) Large Particle Accelerator. The technological capabilities of certain sectors, such as space science, are now recognized on a global scale. The first Indian lunar mission, Chandrayaan 1, launched in 2008 and whose work was carried out in polar orbit around the Moon, carried three European Space Agency (ESA) payloads, two NASA payloads, and one payload. of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. On the other hand, certain Indian technology brands such as Biocon, Infosys Technologies, and Suzlon Energy are among the world leaders in their respective fields. But the university sector’s lack of global competitiveness is a major obstacle to India’s technological competitiveness.

Access to energy represents a critical aspect of this vulnerability: India has a huge population with a low socioeconomic base, which is rapidly growing and modernizing. In fact, it is the sixth-largest energy consumer in the world and exhibits one of the highest energy growth rates. According to the Planning Commission, the country’s total primary commercial energy needs are forecast to increase from 403 Mtoe (millions of tonnes of oil equivalent) in 2006-2007 to 2,289 Mtoe in 2031-20323. According to the International Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Indian electricity demand will rise by an average of 5.4% a year between 2004 and 2030, the fastest-growing electricity demand worldwide. . Electricity generation will increase from 669 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2004 to 2,314 TWh in 20304. But at the same time, in 2005 estimates indicated that 487 million Indians (44.5% of the population) did not have access to electricity. Energy shortages, both in cities and rural areas, are becoming a key governance issue that could have an impact on the country’s internal security.

Coal-fired thermal power plants generated 69% of electricity in 2004, and the share of coal is estimated to remain unchanged in 2030. India has huge coal reserves and therefore has no external dependence on this fuel. The situation is quite different in relation to oil and gas: oil imports, which were 69% in 1980, dropped to 44% in 1990 thanks to coordinated efforts to increase domestic production. But given the rapid growth of the Indian economy, they are expected to reach 87% of demand by 2030 at the current rate5. Energy dependence has a direct macroeconomic impact: the additional bill arising from rising international oil and gas prices between 2002 and 2005 it was equivalent to 3.1% of India’s GDP and 22% of its total exports during that period6. Therefore, Indian oil and gas companies have expanded their exploration interests and activities in the Asia-Pacific region (Myanmar and Vietnam), Russia, Latin America (Colombia, Brazil, and Cuba), the Middle East, and North Africa (Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Oman, and Qatar) and Africa (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon)7. In the coming years, India will carry out all viable energy operations: the construction of gas pipelines and nuclear reactors, the diversification of oil supplies, an overhaul of coal-fired power stations, and investment in alternative fuels and renewable energies. The frantic search for energy will undoubtedly be a priority interest in Indian activities.

The political, social and cultural dynamics

If we consider the origin of the civilization of Harappa (2600 BC-1900 BC), the history of India spans about 4,600 years. But why is its antiquity relevant to the analysis of contemporary India and its interests? A deep sense of age-old certainty and civilization pervades most Indians, especially those with formal education. During the liberation movement, the cultural unity of the country, as demonstrated most strongly through the generations in the constant practice of pilgrimage, was the essential antidote to Winston Churchill’s presumption that India was not a nation but a term. geographic, such as the equator.

Indeed, India is socially plural and, by definition, constitutionally inclusive. Anthropological Research’s monumental People of India project has meticulously identified, located, and described the existence of 4,384 communities8. According to Rochana Bajpai, «India has one of the oldest and most extensive regimes of minority rights in a system of government committed to the norms of liberal democracy». Of the various socio-political and socio-cultural aspects that may have an impact on India’s rise, the most important is the democratic experience. Indian democracy has survived for more than six decades and today it is expanding and deepening: social groups that have been on the fringes of society enjoy access to political power for the first time. While a more inclusive society is in the process of being created, there is also a deep cynicism among citizens towards politicians and politics. Other important political factors are the federalization of power in contemporary India and the establishment of coalition politics as a new political norm in the formation of national governments.

Indian society is also extremely violent, with deep internal fissures. It is home to three violent political groups10. First, the ethnic movements that have prevailed since independence in 1947 along the country’s peripheries. Second, at least since the 1960s, leftist groups have been operating on different terrains with greater or lesser intensity, challenging both the persistence of feudal land structures and modernist development projects. Finally, right-wing groups that emerged since 1980, resulting from the social dislocation and income inequality that accompanies the state modernization project – and which, to a certain extent, are a global phenomenon. However, the last type of violent fissure can also be attributed to Pakistan’s deliberate policy.

India continues to arouse suspicions of maintaining battle lines drawn on the basis of extremism and cultural exclusion, as seen in Samuel Huntington’s concept of the “clash of civilizations”. With the world’s most numerous Sunni and Shia populations after Indonesia and Iran respectively, India’s internal social peace depends on its fierce resistance to any outside alignment that targets any religion. This factor explains, for example, why India is willing to maintain strong ties with both Israel and Iran.

Finally, over the past decade, the government has put in place a proactive policy to restore Indian migrants’ ties to the country. This initiative began with the creation of a High-Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora that presented its report in December 200111. This new policy of extraterritorial incorporation marks a clear break with the past when India showed little interest in pravasi, that is, people of Indian origin who are citizens of other countries. How can this radical change in policy be explained? The first factor is religious-cultural: the Hindu affirmation in the national territory and the diaspora have been simultaneous and mutually reinforcing12. The second factor is economic: Indians residing abroad sent remittances of 24.6 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2005-2006, which represents 3.08% of GDP (to get an idea, exports from the software sector brought 23.6 billion dollars to the country in 2005-2006)13. However, the last factor – politics – is perhaps the most important. The government realized the impressive influence that pravasi can exert on the policy-making process in their countries. The pressure exerted by Indo-American organizations in the USA is, without a doubt, the most important example of this influence14. Nor is it an extravagant idea to consider the prospect of future Indian military action to avert the persecutions of the prevasi, such as those that have taken place in recent decades in Uganda, Burma, and Fiji.

Conclusion: the purpose of power

In this article, we analyze India’s strengths and weaknesses at the national, regional, and global levels. In the end, it would be prudent to characterize the country as an emerging power, despite its many limitations. However, as India rises and becomes a state with the capabilities and intentions to shape the system, the world will ask itself: what will India bring to the table? All great powers have important capabilities; however, they have very different views on the type of international system they should support.

India has not yet understood that it needs to articulate an attractive and distinctive vision of world affairs from which other states and societies can benefit. At the moment, many countries and people only see India’s negative footprint on the commons: as it develops, the South Asian giant will become a major energy consumer and emitter of pollution. However, it also suggests that an important niche is opening up in world politics and that India would be in a position to fill it. The fragility of the planetary ecosystem is about to replace terrorism as the international problem of our times. It is also increasingly obvious that the logic and dynamics of sovereign territoriality, as they are currently configured, cannot face this existential challenge that, by its very nature, goes beyond state borders. One way to mitigate the tragedy of the commons is through the evolution of a new form of guardianship, which worked well after the Second World War during the historic process of decolonization. Guardianship is a component in the search for an «ethical foreign policy» and a fundamental aspect of the notion of «responsibility to protect». The concept of trusteeship has deep Gandhian roots and could be a ‘natural’ component of Indian foreign policy. The central idea of ​​Gandhian tutelage is that we, as individuals, institutions, and groups, are immersed in something greater than ourselves. We may be on the cusp of a transformation of world politics, in which the common good ceases to be an altruistic aspiration and becomes a selfish interest for reasons of pure survival. This paper may have been written specially for India.

  • 1.George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger e Sam Nunn: «A World Free of Nuclear Weapons» em The Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2007, p. A15; G.P. Shultz, W.J. Perry, H.A. Kissinger e Sam Nunn: «Toward a Nuclear-Free World» em The Wall Street Journal, 15/1/2008, p. A13.
  • 2.Anthony Faiola e Rama Lakshmi: «Trade Talks Crumble in Feud Over Farm Aid» em The Washington Post, 30/7/2008, p. A01.
  • 3.Planning Commission: Integrated Energy Policy: Report of the Expert Committee, Nova Déli, agosto de 2006, tabela 2.4, 18.
  • 4.International Energy Agency (iea): World Energy Outlook 2006, iea, Paris, 2006, pp. 138 e 518.
  • 5.Ibid., p. 101.
  • 6.Ibid., p. 300.
  • 7.Ministério de Petróleo e Gás Natural: Annual Report 2006-07, Nova Déli, 2007, pp. 121-124.
  • 8.Kumar Suresh Singh (org.): People of India, Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutá, 1992-2003.
  • 9.R. Bajpai: «The Conceptual Vocabularies of Secularism and Minority Rights in India» em Journal of Political Ideologies vol. 7 No 2, 6/2002, p. 179.
  • 10.Varun Sahni e Shamuel Tharu: «Subversion, Secession and the State in South Asia: Varieties of Violence» em Itty Abraham, Meredith Weiss e Edward Newman (orgs.): Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia, United Nations University Press, Tóquio, 2010, p. 168-204.
  • 11.Report of High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora, agosto de 2000, disponível em, acessado em 30/10/2007.
  • 12.Steven Vertovec: The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns, Routledge, Londres, 2000.
  • 13.Muzaffar Chishti: «The Rise in Remittances to India: A Closer Look» em Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute, fevereiro de 2007,, acessado em: 22/11/2007.
  • 14.Mike McIntire: «Indian-Americans Hone their Lobbying: Nuclear Deal Offers A Test of Their Sway» em International Herald Tribune, 6/6/2006, disponível em, acessado em 28/10/2007.
  • 15.Grupo Intergovernamental de Especialistas sobre a Mudança Climática: «Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers», Quarto Relatório de Avaliação,, acessado em 10/1/2008, pp. 1 e 6.
  • 16.Ramendra Nath Chowdhuri: International Mandates and Trusteeship Systems: A Comparative Study, Martinus Nijhoff, Haia, 1955; H. Duncan Hall: Mandates, Dependencies and Trusteeship, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, dc, 1948; James N. Murray: The United Nations Trusteeship System, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1957; Charmian Edwards Toussaint: The Trusteeship System of the United Nations, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1976.
  • 17.David Chandler e Volker Heins (orgs.): Rethinking Ethical Foreign Policy: Pitfalls, Possibilities and Paradoxes, Routledge, Nova York, 2007.
  • 18.The Responsibility to Protect: Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, 2001,, acessado em 20/9/2007.
  • 19.M.K. Gandhi: My Theory of Trusteeship, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1970; v. tb. Archna Kapoor: Gandhi’s Trusteeship: Concept and Relevance, Deep & Deep Publications, Nova Déli, 1993; Vadilal Lallubhai Mehta: Equality through Trusteeship: An Alternative for Full Employment along Gandhian Lines, Tata McGraw-Hill, Nova Déli, 1977; J.D. Sethi (org.): Trusteeship: The Gandhian Alternative, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Nova Déli, 1986; R.B. Upadhyaya: Social Responsibility of Business and the Trusteeship Theory of Mahatma Gandhi, Sterling, Nova Déli, 1976.

This article is a faithful copy of the one published in the Nueva Sociedad magazine, September 2013, ISSN: 0251-3552

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