India’s Strategic Culture and Model of International Behavior

China International Studies | 作者: Sui Xinmin | 时间: 2014-06-25 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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by Sui Xinmin


I. Debates about Indian’s Strategic Culture


Debates over India’s strategic culture originate from the report “Indian Strategic Thought”, drafted by the Rand Corporation in 1992. After analyzing the influences of geography, history, culture and British rule (otherwise known as the Raj) on Indian strategic thinking, Dr. George K. Tanham, the author of the report, concluded that India has long been plagued by a lack of strategic thought. Tanham also argued that throughout most of its history, India has been on the strategic defensive. The pioneering research and conclusions of the Rand report shocked the Indian strategic and academic communities and sparked fierce debates that still linger today. These debates, which center around the question of whether India possesses a strategic culture, can generally be summarized as follows:


1. Rodney W. Jones and “composite strategic culture”

From this academic perspective, India’s strategic culture is like a mosaic, not monolithic. But still, when compared to most contemporary nation-states, it is more distinct and coherent than many of its peer nations. This coherence is due to its substantial continuity and contemporary symbolism of pre-modern Indian state systems and the Vedic civilization that still have an impact on today’s society, even though they date as far back as several millennia. The composite strategic cultural perspective has been embraced by a majority of Indian social elites.


2. Debates over the origin, processes and attributes of Indian strategic thought

Harjeet Singh upholds the theory of geographic determinism, believing that India’s geography has caused it to lack a unitary sense of “Indianism.” India’s extraordinary history is intimately tied to its geography. Because it lies at a focal point in the Asian landmass, India has always been susceptible to outside invasions and plundering. But its geographic insularity has also allowed it to survive depredation and then adapt to and absorb many of the people who entered the subcontinent. Its vast territory, complicated internal structure and strong cultural tension have helped it avoid long, continuous rule by any single empire. The subcontinent’s self-integrated geography and political diversity remain its basic attribute. India’s political and strategic cultural history can be encapsulated by the ancient fable telling the story of four blind men touching an elephant. Gautam Das responded to Dr. George K. Tanham with two main points. First, in the view of Das, a central logical fallacy in Tanham’s study, which falsely assumes that India is a monolithic political entity, negates Tanham’s conclusions. “No matter how profound Tanham’s interpretation, it suffers from one central fallacy that negates most of his conclusions […] The geographical India, or loosely speaking the ‘Indian sub-continent,’ as it has been described, was a region made up of various kingdoms at different times, and a few political empires. At times there was more than one empire in India, each ruling a different region. Therefore, in the absence of any political India before August 1947, it is futile to talk of ‘Indian strategic thought.’” Second, in Das’s opinion, a review of India’s strategic culture should not only be limited to the period of the British Raj; rather, the influences of other political entities in India’s history should also be taken into account. In fact, Tanham argues that “the lack of a monolithic political entity in India has caused its lack of strategic thought and forward planning,” but in the process of his analysis, he neglects the influence of non-mainstream political entities in South Asia. Compared with his first argument, Das’s second argument seems to get right to the point – there is no denying that political entities in the subcontinent have all exerted a certain impact on India’s strategic thinking at different times, and that its strategic cultural diversity has to a large extent developed from these conditions.


3. Focusing on the study of contemporary Indian strategic thought

In the view of Kanti Bajpai, India’s strategic culture has long been dominated by the worldview of the modern country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. But the situation is changing, with Nehruvianism, neoliberalism and hyperrealism now competing with one another. Obviously, the three major academic schools and varieties of Western international relations – namely, constructivism, neoliberalism and realism – are transplants in India’s contemporary strategic thinking ecosystem. Bajpai neither puts forward an independent framework for strategic cultural analysis nor defines the relationship between India’s strategic culture and its international behavior, and these may be the greatest defects in Najpai’s study. Jaswant Singh partially agrees with Tanham, but in Singh’s opinion, due to a strong social awareness but a weak sense of national identity, India lacks a strategic culture that is centered on the Indian state, and its national concept is less strong than China’s. According to Singh, average Indians do not care who rules the state, as long as the country’s basic social structure is in tact. It is a mistake to confine strategic culture to the scope of military – strategic culture does not originate from military alone but is a product of numerous interactive factors such as civilization, culture and social evolution.

K. Subrahmanyam endorses Singh’s viewpoint, believing that these are Singh’s largest conceptual contributions. Regrettably, in his book “Defending India,” Singh displays some obvious inconsistencies within his viewpoint. In the very beginning of the book, Singh pushes back against scholars who limit strategic culture to the culture of war, but afterwards he gets stuck in this very logic.

Tanham’s essay sparked numerous responses, debates and counter-theories, driving India’s strategic self-reflection and spurring the formation of a security decision-making mechanism. Nonetheless, from an academic perspective, none of this research has transcended Tanham’s essay, in that people have tended to conduct research within Tanham’s research framework. Critics, especially in India, claim that as a neophyte on the India issue, Tanham “could not possibly think deeply about such a profound subject.” But at the same time, “some of the criticism has been tinged with embarrassment, because there was so little in the way of Indian writing on the subject before George had the temerity to tackle it.”

Moreover, owing to the scarcity of literature and the evolution of Indian history, it is also reasonable for Tanham to focus his study on geography and the British rule because India inherited many British practices, even after the British withdrawal. With regards to research on post-Cold War Indian strategic cultural research, it is openly debated whether it is appropriate for Bajpai to simply apply Western international relations theories to an analysis of India’s strategic culture, even if these same analyses are within the definitions put forth by scholars like Jeffrey Legro and Elizabeth Kier.


II. Forms and Efficacy of India’s Strategic Culture


With regards to the question of how India’s strategic culture is able to exert an impact on its strategic choices and international behavior, the “strategic cultural paradigm” conceptualized by Alastair Iain Johnston is able to offer some valuable reference points. First, there is the assumption that the strategic environment constitutes the central paradigm of a strategic culture, comprising the role of war in human affairs, the nature of the adversary and the threat assessment, and the efficacy of the use of force. Second, based on the acceptance of the central paradigm, a set of operable policy preferences can be enforced in order for time to be deduced. Obviously, the focus of this strategic cultural theory is the culture of war and the efficacy of the use of force.

Due to its simple framework and explicit logic, this focus meets people’s expectations – namely, that a country’s strategic culture can explain its security behavior. But the theory neglects the non-war factors of the strategic cultural system.

Strategic culture is made up of a country’s worldview, judgment of subject-object relations and model of behaviors based on that country’s geography, history and economic and political development. Interaction among these symbols can forge a collective national identity distinct from other countries, while also limiting the social and cultural environment of its strategic decisions. Just as John Duffield framed this question, a country’s security culture is formed by the strategic preferences of the entire society and political elites on some policies and actions that are different from other countries.

This theory aims to introduce the mentality of decision-making analyses to an exploration of India’s strategic culture and international behavior. Importantly, it views strategic culture as a kind of environment to induce decision makers to raise security concerns and aims to offer basic grammatical norms, judgment situations and revelation motives and put forward choices for strategic decision-making.

Hence, this paper sets strategic culture as an intervention variable and, through decision makers’ internal strategic culture, tries to exhibit these variables in the process of the assessment of the national security environment, definition of security interests, as well as strategic preferences and choices. In reference to Alexander George’s logic of dichotomy used to analyze belief systems, this paper will also try to define the forms of India’s strategic culture from philosophical and instrumental dimensions.

The philosophy behind India’s philosophical strategic culture mainly includes: elements based on spirituality of religious beliefs and mysticism; the concept of India as a natural endowment; international hierarchy, the Indian worldview related to its religious beliefs and the caste system; the concept of equality between God and truth, the latter elucidated by Mohandas Gandhi; and the tenet that the truth is the source of force and action. In spite of difficulties to identify these qualities, the influences of these philosophical strategic cultural forms are far-reaching. Instrumental strategic cultural forms include views that India is a Republic with freedom of belief, ideological diversity and secular democracy; that India is a big power in an unequal international order and that global multi-polarity will benefit India’s national interests; that India is an advocator and enforcer of non-alignment; and that India is under the modern influences of the ancient Mandala geo-strategic thinking and the heritage of security strategic thinking from the British-Indian authorities.

The powerful “magnetic field” of social culture formed by strategic culture cannot be transcended by any social players and cannot penetrate into their modes of thought and influence their decisions and activities. Correlation between India’s strategic culture and its strategic choices and security behavior is reflected by the fact that the “magnetic field” of social culture produced by India’s strategic culture has more or less framed the direction and scope of the country’s international strategic choices and security behavior.


India’s Strategic Culture: Towards an Offensive-Defensive Composite


Indian society has long been dominated by a paradoxical psychology. On the one hand, its unique geographic location has cultivated a sense of safety among Indians, but the South Asian subcontinent has repeatedly been exposed to outside incursions and rule. Thus, the first belief cultivates a sense of pride and self-confidence while the latter ignites a sense of anxiety and sensitivity over national security. Nevertheless, the relatively strong absorbability and adaptability of Indian society has caused such a paradox to reach a kind of balance and gradually develop into a defensive strategic cultural orientation. It is difficult to evaluate India’s strategic cultural orientation merely from a single dimension.

Strategic culture is first and foremost a product of natural geography and human history, thus bearing the nature of stability and continuity, and at the same time carrying realistic political, economic and social demands. Seen from the history of interaction between the subcontinent and the outside world, it is reasonable to assume that India’s strategic culture has maintained a defensive posture. Nonetheless, the so-called “strategic defensive culture” argument will ultimately lose its legitimacy and is at least partially false if the diversity and interaction of internal political entities of the South Asian subcontinent and its socio-cultural pluralism and complexity are taken into consideration. The reasons are as follows:


1. The diversity of India’s political entities negates its unitary strategic cultural inclination.

Before 1858, there had never been a real and complete political entity in India, and the strategic thoughts of different indigenous empires that existed at different times, such as the Kalingan, Chola, Maratha, Gujarati and Punjabi, and Bengali strategic thoughts, also exerted a certain impact on India’s strategic thought.  For example, Cholan strategic thought included overseas military conquest into the Indian Ocean and the colonization of what is today known as Indonesia. Unlike Chinese strategic thought, which adopted the “Great Wall-to-keep-out-the barbarians” mentality, Punjabi strategic thought evidently did not include a continuous defense of the Indus river-line to prevent armed incursions from the Pathan-inhabited trans-Indus mountains. Kalingan military thought encompassed overseas expeditions across the Bay of Bengal for conquest in modern-day Malaysia. Central Indian strategic thinking evidently allowed the southern Rajputs to concentrate and defeat an Arab invasion at the Battle of Navsari in 738 CE (AD) in what is today modern Gujarat.


2. Significant influences of the Moghul Empire on India’s strategic culture

First, the governance concepts and political tactics of the Moghul rulers caused the changes, chaos and even conflicts in Indian ideology and social identity that extend to the present day. For example, diametrically opposed policies adopted by Moghul emperors Akbar and Aurangzeb plunged the Indian social identity into chaos. Akbar’s rejection of India as a Muslim state divided the Muslim community, while the opposite measures taken by Aurangzeb on the same question also resulted in the division of the Indian society.

As matter of fact, in spite of maintaining opposite policies, both emperors shared the same purpose of dealing with Sikhs and Rajputs, and even Hindus suffered from suspicion and discrimination. This is without a doubt a contributing factor behind the Indian-Pakistani partition and the contradictions and conflicts among different religious groups that persist today. Hence, India’s political elites have never dared to ignore domestic social security when devising strategic plans.

Second, the Moghul heritage is not just preserved through the magnificent Taj Mahal and countless mosques. It also exerts influence through the delicate changes that it brought to India’s original military thoughts, which have produced far-reaching influences. The Vijayanagara Empire, which is regarded as a traditional representation of India, even failed to go beyond such a historical logic. Seen as the last bastion of Hinduism, the Vijayanagara Dynasty is believed to represent the religion and culture of the ancient Indian state and shoulders the mission of protecting India’s traditions from being destroyed by the torrents of new concepts and forces.

However, more and more literature has shown that the Vijayanagara Empire is far from being the defender of India’s traditional social culture, instead serving more as a spokesman for drastic changes in India’s political and military organizations at a time of social and economic turbulence. During the sixteenth century, the emperor of the Vijayanagara no longer viewed defending Hinduism as a paramount mission, and neither did other satellite states.

They were not intoxicated with the power of elephant soldiers any more, instead depending on cavalry, which the Muslims excelled at, along with various other military innovations, such as the royal fortress system commanded by Brahman military officers, Portuguese and Muslim artillery mercenaries, infantry made up of non-farmers or non-woodcutters as well as the career light cavalry commanded by lower-level military officers. These serve as a typical example proving how India’s concept of war, military thought and the offensive and defensive strategies were altered. The vicissitudes of ideological concepts and war instruments inevitably influence India’s strategic cultural connotations and orientation.


3. The military power and socio-cultural resources in the sub-continent have not always been on the passive defensive

Against the backdrop of relatively frequent large-scale foreign incursions and conquest from the north and India’s preemptive attacks or expansions in different directions, the military power of the sub-continent has not always been on the passive defensive. Just like the Dark Ages that heralded the advent of the Enlightenment, the “era of incursions” that India suffered similarly meant another form of expansion because “every incursion from Central Asian non-Indians was followed by the reverse expansion of Indians to Southeast or Central Asia.”

The emperor of Maratha, Shivaji, known for his cunning, cruelty and sagacity, built an independent empire and united with Golconda Sultan in the absence of the Moghul threat to launch a southward offensive attack against Bijapur. After succeeding his throne and maintaining his expansionist policy, Shivaji’s son led a 180,000-soldier army on a southward expedition to the Tamil region. With regards to India’s cultural diffusion and dissemination, this also started after the region began to suffer from outside incursions. The two processes, which crisscrossed with one another, have continued for more than 2,000 years. Political fragility and commercial as well as cultural prosperity have together formed another noticeable characteristic of India’s history.


4. The determinism of the heritage of the Indian civilization is a contradiction

The core concept of Hinduism, which advocates spiritual eternality, constitutes the cornerstone of the Indian social system and penetrates its philosophy, religion, literature and art. In practice, the concept breeds respect for sages and disrespect for politicians, putting more stress on civil rather than military affairs. In the view of Indian philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who is also the second Indian president, the importance of wealth and power has been recognized in theory, but it has not been enforced in practice and thus caused India deep harm.

Nonetheless, India’s domestic conflicts among different beliefs and ethnic groups have boiled to the surface from time to time and the use of force against other countries has been very common. Asoka’s doctrines are the main source of the non-violent ideology in which India takes pride, and Gandhi’s political philosophy was also deeply influenced by Asoka. In the view of K. Subrahmanyam, Gandhi’s ideological basis for a non-violent Indian government lies in his firm belief that India can become a non-violent state as Asoka once did, but this is not an instant prescription but an ideal and a long-term goal. Nevertheless, Gandhi’s code and practice of non-violence failed to take into consideration the worldwide reality of violence, whether defensive or offensive. When India is confronted with a threat from an aggressive country, a large-scale non-violent mass movement will fail to be efficacious and the use of violence will be unavoidable.

There is a phenomenon that cannot be well explained in Indian history. After defeating his last rival Kalinga, Asoka became aware of the smell of blood and cruelty and decided to abandon the use of force and turn to advocating tolerance and non-violence. Afterwards, it is stated that no one went to war. However, many local states were still at war at the time and finally ruined the Mauryan Empire. Who were these small states at war with? Asoka and Akbar sought religious tolerance and mutual understanding among ethnic groups, but religious conflicts have never ceased. As a result, the tolerance and non-violence advocated by Asoka are doubtful in practice.

Obviously, no single dimension and quadrant can explain the paradox of India’s strategic culture and international behavior and this can conversely prove the unreasonability of the argument for India’s defensive strategic culture, an argument based on India’s religious belief and Taoist thoughts. India’s strategic thought bears not only a trace of religious morality but also a realistic ideological connotation represented in the text Arthasastra, by Kautilya. Even the strategic outlook and behavioral practices in the name of legal codes cannot camouflage India’s realist nature.

Since war and peace are both eternal themes in India’s strategic culture, how did India articulate its attitude towards and preference for war? India’s strategic culture does not eulogize the act of war, but it approves the war of good against evil. Rigveda, the shastra, contains the most eulogistic poems, nearly 250 in total, on the God Indra, a quarter of its total poems. Ramayana and Mahabharata, two major Indian epics, both deal with wars and treat rivalries as natural and normal. In addition, Kautilya addressed the use of force in detail. While Gandhiji shunned the use of force and opposed violence in politics, he was politically steely and unyielding, and he accepted appropriate violence as being unavoidable in certain circumstances.

All these facts reflect India’s realist nature. In the view of realists, there is no space for morality and ethics. The heavy realist gene residing in India’s strategic culture is unable to deduce the fact that India has an offensive strategic preference, but it can negate the theory of the country’s defensive strategic preference. It can thus be concluded that India’s strategic culture is neither entirely defensive nor purely offensive, but rather a combination of both offensive and defensive initiatives.


Case studies of India’s strategic culture and international behavior


As mentioned above, this article does not believe there is a kind of functional relationship between India’s strategic culture and its international behavior, and instead sets strategic culture as the factor for India’s strategic decision-making and behavioral choices, which belong to a host of intervention variables. As the main carrier of strategic culture, India’s social elites and decision-markers have already absorbed the essence of its national strategic thought and thus exert an impact on New Delhi’s strategic choices and international behavior. Three cases will be singled out for analysis to identify correlations between India’s strategic culture and international behavior.


Case 1: Project of nuclear weapons and the minimum nuclear deterrence strategy

India’s nuclear development program started during its early independence period and became increasingly unequivocal in the mid-1960s. By taking advantage of the exceptions placed on so-called “peaceful nuclear tests” contained in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), India started the development of “nuclear weapons” in the name of peaceful nuclear development. It conducted the first “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974. India carried out several nuclear tests in 1998 at the critical juncture of the unconditional and indefinite extension of the NPT and the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CNTBT), escalating its nuclear competition with Pakistan. This not only worsened the regional security environment but also posed a challenge to the international non-proliferation treaty system. In 1954, India proposed the signing of an international pact to prohibit nuclear tests, but if New Delhi’s early nuclear policy displayed a tinge of morality and idealism, then its program of nuclear weapons development in the name of “peaceful explosion” marks an instance of savvy, realistic maneuvering.

India maintains that all five United Nations Security Council permanent members are nuclear powers and their big-power status has been internationally recognized. Thus, as a big country that was the first to advocate the signing of the international prohibition on nuclear tests, India believes that it should possess its own nuclear weapons like China to prove its big-power status. Some Indian thinkers believe that international peace can be maintained if the possession of nuclear weapons by the five permanent Security Council members is also applicable to India. By extension, India must then conduct nuclear tests to possess its own nuclear weapons, given that the indefinite extension of the NPT and the signing of the CNTBT will perpetually deprive India of the right to possess nuclear weapons and qualify as a world power. The so-called “deterioration of India’s security environment” is nothing but New Delhi’s pretext for defying international opinions and pushing ahead nuclear tests.

Scanning India’s development of nuclear weapons from the perspective of strategic culture reveals a totally different picture. In the minds of many Indians, India should be a natural world power. Such a belief is deeply rooted in Indian civilization and has thus resulted in a collective perception that India should naturally be a great nation. Its big-power status is therefore perceived as an objective existence, a fact that other countries need to recognize and adjust to accordingly. The caste social structure and code of conduct has further reinforced India’s consciousness and bestowed a distinct connotation on its strategic culture. The ingrained caste concept has given members of higher-level castes privileges and an advantageous position, which, combined with religion, is filled with a deeply veiled and sacred self-perception that has penetrated into India’s spiritual and material world. This has caused the formation of a domestic elites-driven and higher-level governance model. After its independence, India’s social elites applied this mentality to the international community and advanced the belief that India’s status and role in the international society, one with hierarchy as its basic character, should be naturally pre-determined. In India, it is believed that the spirituality and mysticism of the Hindu religion can bestow moral and logical legality upon India’s international status, while the caste social structure and the Mandala geopolitical and governance concepts (represented by Arthasastra) have certified the idea’s legality and feasibility. Indian elites who once pushed for India’s modern nationalist movement and then handled India’s relations with the outside world in the post-independence period always have a superiority complex and try to turn this sense into a reality.

India’s big-power appeals often contrast sharply with the international status quo and thus, in the view of some Indians, India needs to develop nuclear weapons and enforce a “credible and minimum nuclear deterrence” to build a so-called “all-directional” deterrence strategy. In their opinion, this will help India acquire a sense of psychological balance and satisfaction and help the country behave as other nuclear powers do. On the nuclear testing issue, Indira Gandhi resolutely demanded that all preparatory work for nuclear tests proceed as planned. Her rationale was very simple: India needed to exhibit its nuclear capabilities, just as Raja Ramanna, who was responsible for India’s nuclear explosion project in 1974, put it. In addition, India’s nuclear deterrence strategy is also aimed at dealing with the “imaginary potential threat from China,” as well as the presence of other non-regional powers that have influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. At every critical juncture involving the development of nuclear weapons, the only principle that influences India’s decision-making is its national interest and national consensus. India’s nuclear test in May 1998 was a result of previous major decisions, and India’s leaders believed this choice to be “both correct and timely.” These can partly reflect the default action of the strategic culture. If India’s early nuclear policies exhibited more of the idealist and defensive qualities of its strategic thinking, then its nuclear policies after the 1970s, especially its open development of nuclear weapons, have displayed more of the realist impulses and aggressive attributes of its strategic thinking.


Case 2: Pursuit of an exclusive strategic advantage in South Asia and the Indian Ocean

India’s strategic behavior in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region can be best understood through its interactions with regional players and non-regional players. From these two angles, India’s actions can both explicitly reflect the influences of the Mandala geo-strategic thought and the British-Indian strategic thinking, as well as the offensive-defensive orientation of its strategic culture.

1) Influences of the Mandala geo-strategic thought

Indian realist thinker Kautilya put forward a series of state governance tactics involving peace, war, neutrality, demonstration, alignment/sheltering and dual war-peace tactics. Since its independence, India’s international behavior has unfolded in line with this theoretical logic. For starters, India has failed to set up good relations with neighboring countries in the region. It has long been engaged in a rivalry with Pakistan, and it is also far from friendly with Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Antagonism with its neighboring countries remains a main element of India’s foreign policy. India has also experienced ups and downs in its ties with non-regional countries such as China, even going to war with China in its push for an “advancement policy.” India’s relations with Myanmar, a maritime neighbor, are also not particularly smooth. Instead, India has been working to develop positive relationships with Argentina, Iran, Vietnam and Russia. However, India has always been on a high-alert and kept a very defensive attitude against interactive ties between any non-regional countries, especially big powers, and other countries in the subcontinent. This may not be a purely historical coincidence. The strong magic power of India’s Mandala geo-strategic thought and its strategic intention of seeking regional hegemony in South Asia are quite apparent.

2) Heritage of security strategy of British-Indian government

India won independence through a non-violent non-cooperation movement, and its political model, government composition, social governance, diplomatic policy and concept of national defense all enjoy very intimate links with the India that existed under British rule. When it was a colony of Great Britain, India naturally had no maritime security concerns and inherited security practices from successive rulers in the subcontinent – namely, it focused its defense strategy on land security and regarded the construction of “three-pronged strategic frontier lines” in the northwest and the “Tibetan buffer zone” as its basic strategy. Hence, the post-independence Indian government fully inherited numerous strategic concepts from its predecessors, albeit in different forms, given the geopolitical changes in the subcontinent and the liberation of Chinese Tibet. India’s previous security strategy of forging “three-pronged strategic frontier lines” in the northwest, which previously only targeted Russia, was also duplicated to the northeast to target China, as demonstrated by its “advancement policy” in the early 1960s. Similar to this strategy was the “eastward policy” that India pursued in the early 1990s, which carried a thick odor of strategic expansion.

The Indian Ocean is viewed as the pivotal point on India’s “strategic chessboard” and India’s maritime strategy and actions have unfolded according to how it can build hegemonic dominance in the Indian Ocean. Given the fact that the British-ruled Empire in India was a product of the expansion of British trade, the Indian Ocean and maritime transportation lanes were for the first time included into the scope of India’s strategic thinking after it gained independence.

 In the early years after independence, India already developed such awareness and built its maritime forces. Upon Britain’s announcement of a gradual withdrawal of its military presence from the Suez Canal in 1967, India made an attempt to fill the “power vacuum” in the Indian Ocean but failed to fulfill this goal in the context of East-West confrontation and due to its own insufficient national strength. Nevertheless, the view that the Indian Ocean is the “Sea of India” already deeply took its roots in the minds of India’s political and social elite. In the Indian Ocean Doctrine promulgated in 2004, India divided the Indian Ocean into three control zones based on the extent of interests and geographic distance – namely, the tightly-controlled area, which is less than 500 kilometers offshore, the moderately-controlled area, which is between 500 and 1,000 kilometers from the coast, and the softly-controlled area, which is more than 1,000 kilometers from the coast.

Such divisions, which resemble the “three-pronged strategic frontier lines” approach of British-ruled India, are aimed at establishing India’s strategic advantages and exclusive maritime hegemony in the Indian Ocean region.

From a power deployment perspective, India has already gone far beyond its traditional offshore defensive strategy and reached its military tentacles to almost all strategic strongholds in the Indian Ocean. First, India took some well-planned and targeted measures to develop intimate ties with Southeast African countries. For example, India signed an agreement on defense cooperation with Mozambique and built an information collection station on the northern island rented from Madagascar. It has also rented Mauritius’s Agalega Islands to offer a springboard for controlling the Mozambique Channel and effectively blockading the maritime waters north of Madagascar.

 Second, India has set up the Far East Naval Command in Andaman and the Nicobar Islands, which are capable of blockading the Strait of Malacca, a pivotal maritime strategic throat. This also allows it to keep watch over Lombok and the Sunda Strait on the one hand and extend Indian influence to the South China Sea and the West Pacific to execute its “Eastward Policy” on the other hand.

Third, India plans to deploy long-distance submarine ballistic missiles in the Indian Ocean to reinforce its regional strategic superiority. Fourth, India has taken measures to consolidate its traditional strategic deployment in the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the North Indian Ocean region. It is thus clear that an M-shaped strategic planning and deployment aimed at turning the Indian Ocean into the “ocean of India” has taken shape.

Seen from the perspective of India’s strategic planning and deployment, the focus on offensive actions and preemptive strikes has already become the guideline of India’s military, and India’s foreign policy and international behavior has also increasingly displayed an explicitly offensive inclination. Just as the 2004 version of the Indian Army Doctrine pointed out, any defensive plans must be offensive in essence, while also being delusive and preemptive. Such a principle was reaffirmed in the 2007 version of the Freedom to Use the Sea: India’s Maritime Military Strategy, which also put forward a naval plan aimed at developing India’s blue-sea striking capabilities. From this draft, it is clear that India believes that to ensure its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean, Middle East and East Asia, New Delhi must develop the inland combat and sea striking capabilities to coordinate and assist its land combat.

It is true that there have been no recorded instances of large-scale Indian aggression or expansion since independence, but India’s inclination towards the use of force or the threat of force in South Asia and the border areas has been very apparent. The University of Michigan’s Correlates of War and international Militarized Interstate Disputes show that India has gone to war five times with neighbors since its independence. In addition, it was implicated in 49 military conflicts between 1949 and 2001, 20 of which occurred after 1980. Compared with its neighboring countries, India’s inclination to use force has been significantly higher.

It can be seen that India’s contemporary strategic planning and international behavior fail to uphold the belief that non-violence and defense have been India’s strategic cultural orientation.


Case 3: The choice between non-alignment and alignment – a kind of strategic autonomy

Just like non-violence, non-alignment has seemingly become a core aspect of India’s identity. But in reality, this is merely the world’s stereotype of India’s international behavior. In the eyes of India, non-alignment is both an extension of its big-power status but also a path for it to realize its big-power aspirations. India’s non-alignment policy originates from its perception and evaluation of the UN’s voting mechanism, which was a clear demonstration of the confrontation between blocs during the Cold War. Against the backdrop of these confrontations, India claimed to maintain independent stances to avoid making choices between the Eastern and Western camps. This way of handling international affairs gradually evolved into India’s non-alignment foreign policy and Nehru regarded non-alignment as a guarantee of India’s diplomatic independence. As India’s non-alignment diplomacy became increasingly clear, it also played its role as a bridge or “peace-broker ” between the two Cold War camps. The mediating role India played in international affairs in the 1950s indeed gave the world a deep impression and, by depending on the non-alignment movement, India played a role that exceeded many expectations. A large space for maneuvering between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1960s further reinforced India’s big-power complex so that its strategic goals and security expectations advanced beyond the constraint of its national resources.

Non-alignment does not mean passivity; it is an active and enterprising international strategy. In essence it is aiming to endow India with strategic decision-making freedom – namely, a kind of “strategic autonomy” based on the full recognition of its national interests, instead of the moral code for handling international relations. Such strategic autonomy can make India, who is not powerful in national strength, maintain independence between the world’s two major blocs, and thus boost its national reputation, narrow the gap between its big-power dreams and realities and better guarantee its security interests. Just as Nehru stated, India “is doomed to become an influential country in world affairs, and this is not in the military sense alone as I had expected, but also in other more important areas.” At the same time, Nehru was straightforward with regards to the utilitarianism of India’s non-alignment. In the event of a large-scale war, India will not be involved if there is no special reason. “It is a very easy thing to maintain neutrality in war, but if the time comes for us to make a choice, we will without hesitation join the party that can benefit our national interests,” Nehru once said. Subrahmanyam was even more straightforward and sharp when making his remarks: both Gandhi’s non-violent struggle against British colonialism and Nehru’s non-alignment movement, which were international strategies based on rationality and reasonability, have been confused with moral choices and relevant strategies have thus been suffocated and failed to gain further development.

Gandhi’s non-violence creed did not hamper his staunch support for the use of force in Kashmir, nor did Nehru’s non-alignment policy influence India’s acceptance of military assistance from the Soviet Union and the US in 1963 to maintain national security. Just like Nehru, who put aside the non-alignment policy, Indira Gandhi also chose to align with the Soviet Union and sign a friendship and cooperation treaty in 1971 to contain China and the US.

Non-alignment has accorded India strategic choices at times of crisis. India’s policies on some major international issues, such as the Vietnamese incursion into Cambodia in 1978 under Soviet support and the former Soviet Union’s direct intrusion into Afghanistan in 1979, run counter to its self-proclaimed neutrality and non-alignment and lay bare the moral hypocrisy of India’s professed neutrality and non-alignment policy. If the non-violent non-cooperative movement was a forcible weapon that India, as the weaker party, wielded in the fight against British colonial rule, then there is no fertile soil for the existence of such “non-violent” thought in India since its independence. Many people still believe strongly in India’s non-violence. But no Indian politicians or strategic elites in the contemporary era believe that non-violence can bring India security or safeguard India’s national interests, and India’s actual foreign policy and international behavior has not conformed to its stated neutrality. This is part of why this paper does not include non-violence into the scope of India’s strategic culture.


V. Conclusion


There is a strong interconnection between India’s strategic culture and its strategic choices and security behavior. India’s strategic culture, which comprises both offensive and defensive initiatives, has formed a “magnetic field” of social culture for its strategic decisions and security behavior, which has played the role of defining the scope of India’s strategic choices and the manner of international behaviors, even though it has not produced the explicitly causal or logical results. As a belief and notional system, strategic culture can offer some clues in the study of the basic values of national behavioral motives. These landmarks are not negligible and, more importantly, can help guide a country’s behavior down a given path. India’s strategic culture also forms the political and cultural ecology upon which its strategic community and decision markers can depend in determining the future interests of their country.



Source: China International Studies March/April 2014 139-162