Non-Alignment 2.0: New Wine into Old Wineskins or ‘Enlightened Alignment’?*


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

(A critique of “Nonalignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First Century” (2012) jointly authored by Shyam Saran et al.)

Keywords: Nonalignment 2.0, India Foreign Policy, China Comprehensive National Power, Look East policy, strategic autonomy, ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’

Non-Alignment, a Tryst with Utopia

Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing Parliament on his policy of non-alignment, articulated what he considered the inner compulsions that obliged India to embrace this course of action thus, “What I have done is to give voice to that policy (non-alignment), I have not originated it. It is a policy inherent in the circumstances of India, inherent in the past thinking of India, inherent in the whole mental outlook of India, inherent in the conditioning of the Indian mind.”[i] Undoubtedly, such a lofty Utopian understanding of national conditions and national psyche could only have come from a man of Nehru’s stature, yet for all his erudition, to build policy rooted ideationally in the past would suggest that the present was no more than a re-creation of that past which did not see the future as a distinct idea where the strength of a new nation could be brought to bear to harmonize with a rapidly changing modern world. The need was not to live the present as the past but to orient it towards a future which in essence would capture the spirit of modernity. Non-Alignment in its first avatar suffered from this malaise.

Being a Universalist, Nehru’s view of national interests saw no incompatibility with the interests of other nations, a concept at the core of non-alignment.[ii] Casting aside for the moment the exaltedness of the idea, three main historical impulses were central to belief in the policy: firstly, anti- colonialism; second, consciousness of an Asian identity; and lastly, a denial of the economic rationale that energised imperialism. Between the ideas of mutuality of interests of nations, geo-political circumstances on the collapse of imperial powers, the emergence of a world order held hostage to the Cold War and an appraisal of national imperatives, lay not just the reality of India’s economic impoverishment, but also the impracticality of lifting the economy without leveraging global capital and the market system. And this was the problem with non-alignment, to attempt to democratise international relations in a milieu that first and foremost respected power and then sovereignty, leaving adherents to choose between opportunism and pliability. The failure of the policy to bring stability in the neighbourhood or to remove India from the list of ‘basket cases,’[iii] stands in mute testimony to the upshot of the policy. Non-Alignment, when viewed by a world in the throes of a mortal power struggle, was seen more as policy of self seeking expediency and a recourse taken by the weak.

By the end of the 1980’s the policy lay in tatters, its members had stomped time and again over non-alignment’s founding canons aligning blatantly with any and every cause that promoted self interests. The end of the Cold War brought in its wake prognostication of the emergence of one world, in which harmony, democracy, an end to conflict and of man’s ideological evolution with the grand formulation that western liberal democracy had prevailed.[iv] Some saw a multi polar order and the arrival of China; others forecast a clash of civilisations.[v] However, these conjectures found little use in understanding the realities of the post Cold War world as each represented a candour of its own. The paradigm of the day, I would posit, is ‘uncertainty,’ as marked by the tensions of multi polarity; tyranny of economics; anarchy of expectations; and a polarisation along religio-cultural lines, all compacted in the cauldron of globalization. It is against this backdrop that the document “Non-Alignment 2.0, a Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the twenty first century” must be viewed.

            The authors of the document Non-Alignment 2.0 have, in the preface, emphasised their conviction that “the success of India’s own internal development will depend decisively on how effectively we manage our global opportunities in order to maximize our choicesthereby enlarging our domestic options to the benefit of all Indians.” This opening statement is clearly an affirmation of the need to link and leverage the global environment in order to achieve self centred growth. This at once is a refreshing departure from the past for it suggests deflating the idea of finding compatibility between national interests and the interests of other nations.  It continues, “The purposes of the present strategy document are three-fold: to lay out the opportunities that India enjoys in the international sphere; to identify the challenges and threats it is likely to confront; and to define the broad perspective and approach that India should adopt as it works to enhance its strategic autonomy in global circumstances that, for some time to come, are likely to remain volatile and uncertain.”[vi] In purpose also, the aim of conditional strategic autonomy at once discredits the central theme of non-alignment. At which time the question that begs to be asked is, why does this policy document carry the sobriquet “Non-Alignment 2.0” at all?

The document comprises seven chapters an introduction and conclusion. The Chapters include: The Asian Theatre, India and the International Order, Hard Power, Internal Security, Non- Conventional Security Issues, Knowledge and Information Foundations, and State and Democracy. The order in which the chapters appear do not contribute to either a logical flow of ideas or coherence in the process of developing a national strategy. The fragmented manner in which opinions and perceptions appear are more symptomatic of distinctive individual notions that defy synthesis and  remain inconsistent with the concept of a Strategic Approach.[vii]  The Strategic Approach, a phrase popularised by Julian Corbett,[viii] intended to put in place the means of achieving one’s national objectives given the contrary pulls and pressures of the international system. It derives from two critical characteristics of the international system. The first of these is the prevailing instability of protagonists involved in the system; whether it is their politics, national interests, alliances or even their historical antagonisms which when interacts with the larger global settings causes’ friction, a sense of deprivation and generates a chemistry of volatility. The second is the function of a state as a sovereign entity that is charged with guardianship of certain specific and at times unique set of values sometimes contrary and at others in opposition to the macro system. Therefore a pre-requisite to adopt a strategic approach is to have a cogent theory of how power in all its dimensions (both hard and soft) may provide a context to formulate a policy oriented towards achieving national goals, which would, in turn, enable the development of a national strategy. It is the absence of theory that makes the generation of strategy rapidly devolve to reacting to global impulses rather than attempting to shape those very impulses. Unfortunately the document fails to convincingly articulate such a theory. There is an outline of global trends impulses and a run through of some deficient and at times imperfect proclamations and assertions. These deal with the times being auspicious for change and reconstitution; the passive nature of India’s power and the need to enhance it; that economic matters will dominate the calculus of power; China being prematurely given the mantle of a superpower without debate; and the need to enhance State capacity in order to enjoy both legitimacy and credibility.[ix] The Introduction to the document serves poorly in the role of a theory.

To Develop Strategy from Policy and Establish Power Equations

Chapter One concerns the ‘Asian Theatre’ and the document rightly contends that “Engaging with the Asian Theatre will be a key concern for India’s Foreign and Strategic Policy.” Yet, for reasons best known to the authors, Japan, Russia and Central Asia have been left out of the calculus. In addition, the linkage of the Asian Theatre with the rest of a globalized world and the dynamics generated by the actions of the USA both in and out of theatre are conspicuous by omission, which disappointingly leaves the analysis fractional. A passing mention is made of India’s ‘Look East Policy’ without even an attempt at expanding on how the policy ought to develop and propel strategy. The inability to come to grips with the hierarchal relationship between Policy and Strategy is a fault line that runs through the document. There is a suggestion that the Asian Theatre is also one that hosts “competition in ideological hegemony as well,” though what it implies or even entails remains a mystery.

Moving specifically to China, the prescription made is to “hold the line in the North, but maintain and, if possible, enlarge India’s edge in the maritime South.” While this makes strategic sense, it clashes with the logic and idea of having awarded China the status of a ‘super power,’[x] which in turn throws up the query, how will the edge be maintained without a security contract of alignment (to the credit of the authors they have suggested a security network); and then what becomes of a foundational canon of non-alignment? This forlorn intellectual muddle unfortunately pervades the paper; perhaps the document may have been better branded as ‘Enlightened Alignment 1.0’. Once again the same dilemma comes up when addressing China’s perception of India as a “swing state” for the significance of a swing state (not a very complimentary appellation) is one that aligns!

Analysis of the Sino-Indian economic relations is credible and the identification of a strategy that balances competition with cooperation would appear to be the course to chart. However no rational scrutiny of China as a potential competitor is complete without an insight into their understanding of power if at all a strategic approach is to be adopted. The Chinese believe that the purpose of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) is to render the adversary (or the international system) powerless to stop its will. In this definition there are shades of an expanded Clausewitz, when the latter defines ‘war as an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’[xi] Clausewitz, in his understanding of the application of national power, perceived two inseparable factors that had to be overcome, the first of which was the total means at the disposal of the adversarial state to pursue their interests and the second the strength of their will to resist. The rub in this knowledge is that as a combination while the former is measurable, the latter is much less easy to determine and can only be gauged by the strength of motivation.[xii] In a conflict this form of calculations will invariably lead to an upward spiral of power application against increased resistance till one or the other breaks, at which point an extreme would have been reached. In dealing with the Chinese one must, therefore, factor such an eventuality. China perceives CNP as the single most critical indicator and measure of the aggregate economic, political, military, and technological prowess of a nation. In its mathematics the nature of power is made up of two ingredients; the first and the primary is that set of dominance that manipulates and forces desired outcomes, termed as Command Power; while the second are ideational virtues (soft power) that serve to influence and mould finales with no great certainty. Professors Hu Augang and Men Honghua, in their paper on CNP and grand strategy[xiii] identify three core factors that establish the CNP of states: Strategic Resources, Strategic Capability and Strategic Outcomes. They go on to add that while the latter two are a function of the former; CNP, is in fact a summation of the total Strategic Resources of a nation. Such a form of reckoning brings in objectivity to establishing power equations and may have complemented persuasiveness of the arguments in the document.

The authors appear, in the main, to view the South Asian region as the proverbial albatross around India’s neck despite acknowledging it as a vital region that would determine India’s progression. At which time the document would carry far more weight if it had addressed itself to the issue of devising concrete transformatory policies to convert the burden into an opportunity. It remains inadequate to state subjectively that “by engaging with Asia more broadly, it can put South Asia in a larger context, serving as the region’s platform to globalization.”[xiv]

In dealing with Pakistan, the absence of a strategic theory is never more apparent then when the arguments in the paper descend to the operational level. The narrative favours an incremental process to improvement in Indo-Pak relations (whatever that means!). However, a long term assessment of past relations would suggest that the trend has actually been going downhill since the 1950s, which would insinuate incremental animosity rather than goodwill. Its manifestations may be noted in the induction of Tactical Nuclear Weapons which has taken relations a step closer to a nuclear conflagration; Pakistan military strategy in collusion with active Jihadist terrorism targeting India (26/11 the more recent episode) has increased the provocation for finding an armed solution; the inability of an emasculated civilian leadership to rein in the military leaves the question: Who is in charge in that country and who does one negotiate with (remember Lahore and Kargil)? Under these circumstances the suggested negative and positive levers are purely operational in both form and content.[xv] The document may have done better to place before decision-makers, strategies and a set of options that considered alignments and pressures that would compel reconciliation. After all, if by 2050 India along with the USA is slated to be the second largest economy,[xvi] this would represent a wholly changed perspective that can be creatively leveraged.

A broad brush treatment of West Asia in spite of recognising it as one of the areas in which India has primary interests, leaves the serious reader with an awkward poser; if a vital region is not to merit a well defined strategy, then either the basic premise of the stakes being critical is misplaced or the fragmented approach to the document has resulted in our concerns falling between the cracks. The main factors that ought to influence the development of a strategy have been identified, but what does not emerge is a strategic inference other than a need to diversify our sources of energy. The fact that the region is a hotbed of terror activities, that 16 per cent of our oil imports come from Iran, that Israel provides us with a technological window to the West, that China has stepped up its strategic engagement with the region and that several wars are ongoing in the area have all been given short shrift for reasons that beg clarification.

Security and Economic Growth Two Sides of the Same Coin

Chapter Two deals with India and the international order and is devoted to the integration of India into the global economy; it is the largest section of the document suggesting that it is economic power that will dominate in the international order. But what is missing is an analysis of what the current world order is about and what it takes to thrive in it. The paradigm of the day, as mentioned earlier, is ‘Uncertainty.’ Against this canvas and with the belief that economic growth and security are two sides of the same coin, it would have been in order had the document analysed the security ramifications of the main economic precepts of globalization and of India’s global economic engagement.

Development of Force Structures and Outlining a Contract for Use

In dealing with hard power, Chapter Three astutely points out the need to harmonize with political objectives. However, in the absence of defining policy and designating political objectives in the face of the myriad challenges that confront the nation, there appears a gap between the development of forces and outlining a ‘contract’ for its use. Even where policy has outlined political objectives such as in the “Look East Policy” no endeavour has been made to delineate a military strategy to support policy.

Also, the transformation to a maritime power, as Mahan reminded us, is not just about geography it also includes character of people and of the government, intrinsic to the latter is the nature of national institutions. The generation of a maritime strategy that dominates the Indian Ocean, as the authors propose, neither takes into account the correlation of forces, nor the existence of both intense mutuality and divergence of interests there; all of which is symptomatic of a further lack of understanding of the nature of maritime power and the principal demand of a maritime strategy which is to attain a strategic position that would permit control of oceanic spaces.

As far as structural changes are concerned (p. 42, paragraph 179), these are very much in order and have been on the table since the Kargil conflict and would demand urgent implementation.

The Ideal of What a District Officer Should Be

Internal Security, as the Achilles heel to India’s development is, precisely, seen as a political matter. The Chapter summarizes three imperatives that make for internal stability: security of the citizen, empowerment of the population and a political culture that serves to unite. What appears to have been left out is the corrupt and ponderous state of the delivery mechanism. There is no dearth of noble political intentions; where things disintegrate is when it comes to the administration for implementation. What is profoundly needed is, as Wavell so eloquently put it after he left India, “the English would be remembered not by this institution or that, but by the ideal they left behind of what a district officer should be.”[xvii] The document’s value would have increased manifold had they strategized to reform the administrative system.

Energy Security and Nuclear Weapons Policy

Both energy security and nuclear weapons policy have a central place in the larger comprehensive national power of the state, what is incredulous is that they are clubbed under one head. The unconvincing nature of the grouping lies in the distinction that energy security complements economic growth while the nuclear weapons policy circumscribes and puts limits on the extent to which conventional military power can be applied. After all, the aim is not to use nuclear weapons as they tend to destroy the very purpose for which military power was intended.

That being as it may, the issue of a policy and then a strategy to provide for energy security remains unattended, in the absence of which access to global energy resources will remain hostage to dynamics that we would not be in a position to influence unless we adopt policy.

Knowledge, Information and Democracy

The last two Chapters are devoted to the creation of a knowledge society and an introspection of the nature of the democratic Indian State. Clearly the elements that go to make a knowledge society are well known, what is not is the strategy that awakens the innovativeness, generates seamless cooperation and kindles creativity of the mass of the citizenry to efficiently deliver. The document does not undertake to outline a roadmap to achieve an information and technology enabled society, that is both innovative and creative, such that they are on a platform that could fully grasp and exploit the various elements of comprehensive national power could be accomplished.

In as much as the nature of the Democratic Indian State, its institution and their ability to harmonize with the times and deliver to meet economic goals is concerned, Chapter Seven is more a prescription of how they ought to function and not a design of reforms that would compel them to perform towards the desired objectives. Also, the fact that the Preamble to the Indian Constitution lays down in the broadest terms the objectives of the State, it would have been in order had this chapter devoted itself to elaboration of a strategy of attainment. This segment would have been more appropriately located as a preamble to the document.

Summary of Appraisal

Addressing the structure of the document, the order in which the Chapters appear do not contribute to either a logical flow of ideas or coherence in the process of developing a national strategy. The fragmented manner in which opinions and perceptions appear are more symptomatic of distinctive individual notions than of a Strategic Approach.

The absence of a theory makes strategy reactive to global impulses rather than an attempt to shape these very impulses; unfortunately the introduction segment of the document serves poorly in the role of a theory. In form there is also an inability to come to grips with the hierarchal relationship between policy and strategy, they are not synonymous; it is policy that provides a theory which in turn generates Strategies. This fault line runs through the paper and manifests itself as a gap between the development of forces and the outlining of a contract for their use.

In dealing with the Asian Theatre, for reasons best known to the authors, Japan, Russia and Central Asia have been left out of the calculus. In addition the linkage of the Asian Theatre with the rest of a globalized world and the dynamics generated by the actions of the USA are conspicuous by omission, which disappointingly leaves the analysis fractional. The intellectual muddle that pervades the paper is often caused by its title, for some of the precepts formulated are brazen alignments; perhaps the document may have been better branded as ‘Enlightened Alignment 1.0’.

Any appraisal of China and its potential power is incomplete without a reference to its CNP since it perceives it as the single most critical indicator and measure of the aggregate economic, political, military, and technological prowess. A broad brush treatment of both South and West Asia leaves the reader wondering why these two vital areas did not merit the importance that they deserved.

While suggesting a transformation to a maritime power, there is an apparent lack of understanding that it is not only geographic and material factors that would bring about transformation, but also a change in the character of people and the governmental institutions involved, this as will be appreciated requires a very long term and detailed road map. Also the principal demand on a maritime strategy is not to dominate oceanic spaces but to control or to challenge control of those spaces.

In dealing with internal security, the document’s value would have increased manifold had it identified the rot in the administrative system and strategized to reform it. Chapter Seven on the subject of State Democracy would have been more appropriately located as a preamble to the document. It would have done well to have leaned on the directive principles of the Indian Constitution which lays down in the broadest terms the objectives of the State, and been in order had this Chapter devoted itself to elaboration of a strategy of attainment.     

[*] This article is forthcoming in the March 2013 issue of Defense and Security Alert. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. Author’s email:

End Notes

[i]Jawaharlal Nehru speech in Parliament 09 December 1958.

[ii] Rao, Narasimha PV. Nehru and Non Alignment from Nehru: The Nation Remembers, 1989.

[iii] The phrase “a basket case” in origin had a physical meaning. In the grim slang of the British army during World War I, it   referred to a quadruple amputee who could only be moved in a basket due to the hopelessness of his condition. This term was then applied to an emotionally or mentally unstable person and later to anything that failed to function particularly to economies. From the American heritage dictionary of idioms, Anmer Christine. Houghton Mifflin Company 4th edition April 1997.

[iv]Fukuayama Francis. “The End of History.” The National Interest, 16 (Summer 1989), pp 4, 18.

[v] Huntington. Samuel, P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of  World Order, Penguin Books, India 1997, pp 30-39.

[vi] “Non-Alignment 2.0, a foreign and strategic policy for India in the twenty first century”, p iii.  A document published by the Centre of Policy Research, New Delhi 2012.

[vii] Ibid p8.

[viii] Corbett Julian S. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. Longmans, Green and Co. NewYork 1911, p8.

[ix] Non-Alignment 2.0, p1to11.

[x] Ibid, p 9 para 17.

[xi] Clausewitz, Carl Von. ‘On War’ Princeton University Press, 1976, pg75.

[xii] Ibid, pg.77.

[xiii] Prof Hu Augang and Associate Prof Men Honghua. ‘The Rising of Modern China CNP and Grand Strategy’. A paper presented Strategy and Management, No.3, 2002.

[xiv] Non-Alignment 2.0, p17 paragraph 53.

[xv] Ibid p19-21, paragraphs 62 to 75.

[xvi] Wilson and Stupnytska Goldman Sachs global economics paper, 153, of 28 March 2007, pp 8-9. Projections of size of national economies in 2050, China will be the largest at $ 70 trillion while India and the USA would be in second place at $ 37 trillion.

[xvii] Mason, Philip. The Men Who Ruled India. Pan Books London 1985, p 399.

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