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.

Sea Power and the Rights to Unimpeded Entrée: The Coming Uncertain Clash


Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar

Keywords: China’s ‘Access Denial Strategy’, China Maritime Strategy, An ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’, Chinese Force Planning and Structures, Taiwan Straits, Multipolarity

Download full article here: Sea Power and the Rights to Unimpeded Entrée


The Point of a Paradigm

            If we are to form an opinion on the current state of reality and to act upon it with any impact, some sort of a simplified chart or theory is necessary. The end of the Cold War and the paradigm that it represented brought in its wake scholarly works that sought to prognosticate what future international relations and order held. Wide ranging theories were advanced from the emergence of one world in which harmony, democracy and an end to conflict were prophesized, and with it an end to a turbulent history of man’s ideological evolution with the grand terminal formulation that western liberal democracy had prevailed.[i] Some saw the emergence of a multi polar order and the arrival of China not withstanding the warts of Tiananmen. Yet others saw in the First Iraq War, the continuing war in the Levant, the admission of former Soviet satellite nations into NATO and the splintering of Yugoslavia an emerging clash of civilisations marked by violent discord shaped by cultural and civilisational similitude.[ii] However, these illusions were, within a decade, dispelled and found little use in understanding and coming to grips with the realities of the post Cold War world as each of them represented a candour of its own. The paradigm of the day (if there is one) is the tensions of the multi polar; the tyranny of economics; the anarchy of expectations; and a polarisation along religio-cultural lines all compacted in the cauldron of globalisation in a State of continuous technology agitation.

So too when thinking of maritime affairs a paradigm only places in perspective the events that we are confronted with, provides a pattern and a context within which a strategy may be devised and force structures put in place to come to terms with an uncertain future. China’s quest to secure efficiently rights of passage on the sea to fuel her thirst for energy, primary produce and commodities has led her to the ‘Northern Passage’[iii]. Today that paradigm is a reality and in 2011 alone more than 18 commercial ships had made the now ice-free crossing and it is no surprise that Chinese merchantmen are leading the charge. To put matters in perspective, as a trade corridor the distance from China to markets in Europe has been cut down to less than 8000 miles from 14,700 miles. Significantly the route avoids two sensitive ‘choke points’ the Malacca Strait and the Suez Canal. China also theorises that the road to securing these sea lines of communication is through a strategy of ‘Access Denial.’[iv] The access denial paradigm was founded on China’s significant security concern in relation to Taiwan. The U.S. deployment of two carrier groups to the region during the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait crisis remains in Chinese memory as an embarrassing infringement of sovereignty. The value and logic of an access denial strategy is obvious in reference to Taiwan. But enabling such a strategy when scope and space are enlarged must clearly tax strategists world wide and suggest an uncertainty of an impending clash.

The Fear of Nations

As the curtains fell on the Cold War some of the symptoms that emerged were an increased and vicious securing of spheres of power and economic influence as exemplified by China in Africa; the competition between autocracy and liberalism’ an older religious struggle between radical Islam and secular cultures; and the inability to regulate the anarchic flow of technologies and information. As these struggles are played out the first casualty in the post Cold War era is the still born hope of a benign and enlightened world order. The endemic instability world wide is characterized by the number of armed conflicts that erupted between the periods 1989 to 2010 which total 49.[v] The nature of these wars, more than anything else, reflected what I tern the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’ for they ranged from wars of liberation and freedom to insurgencies, civil wars, racial-ethnic-religious wars, proxy wars, interventions and wars motivated by the urge to corner economic resources. In all cases it was either the perpetuation of a dispensation, political ambitions, or the fear of economic deprivation that was at work below the surface. If that were not enough to underscore the fragility, gravity and self-centeredness of the international system, in the same period the United States of America alone has militarily intervened in foreign countries on 11 occasions; more often than at any time in history.[vi]

China, in the 18th century under the Qing dynasty enjoyed a golden age. It was a period of shengshi, an age of prosperity. Currently some Chinese nationalists say that, thanks to the Communist Party and its economic prowess, another shengshi has arrived.[vii] In 2010 China became the world’s biggest manufacturer, a position that the US had held for most of the 20th century. By 2020, it has been forecast, that China could become the world’s largest economy. Significant to political influence is its matching economic and military growth. Power, changes the very character of nations and its people and of their standing in the comity of nations. It transforms their outlook towards the world and places primacy to their beliefs and interests in the international milieu giving it new drive to shape global affairs in a manner that promotes their well being. This search for geopolitical space that the emergence of a new cognizable revisionist power precipitates, historically, has been the cause for global instability and tensions. Add to this that the principle of nationalism is inextricably linked, both in theory and practice, with the concept of war,[viii] then, we are faced with a situation when the military dimension of power will potentially throw up conflictual circumstances that will have to be contended with. In this context the slogan of the 18th century Qing dynasty “the dream of a prosperous country and a strong army” today has new connotations.[ix]

In this era the fears and anxieties of nations are driven by four vital traumas. At the head of these four is the perpetuation of the State and its dispensation, a factor that every nation lists as primary to their national interests. In second place is the fear and understanding that impedance to the nation’s ambitions of growth and development may come about due to internal or external stresses or a combination of the two; in all cases it is the duty of the State to ensure through polity, diplomacy or military power that these stresses are effectively countered or put down, if it is a matter of access to external resources then its denial becomes a matter that calls for the use of all dimensions of power in the quiver of the State. The third trauma is that the remaining interests that the State considers critical must be recognized and accepted by the International system; this distress places the system on the horns of a dilemma, particularly so when interests overlap at which time there is a real potential for friction and conflict. Lastly, is a conundrum faced by all major powers or those that aspire for such status, and that is, given a circumstance when the State deems it necessary for military power to be applied, it must do so with the confidence (at times misplaced) that they will prevail.

It will not fail anybody’s notice that both India and China fall into this very same cast ensnared by the ‘four traumas’, with one very critical difference, and that is the cooperative stimulus along with an egalitarian tradition is strong in India’s case, while China has no belief in respecting either. Against this backdrop, when the politics of competitive resource access is put into the same pot as survival and development of State, to which is added the blunt character of military power, we have before us the recipe for friction and conflict. It is against this canvas of competitive resource access that the development and structuring of Indian maritime power must be gauged.


China and her case for Lebensraum

China’s claims on the South China Sea as a territorial sea (see Map 1); her handling of dissent within in Tibet and Tiananmen; her proliferatory carousing with rogue states such as North Korea and Pakistan are cases, amongst others, that do not inspire confidence in change occurring within that nation without turbulence. We also note with some foreboding, the emergence of China from out of its, largely, defensive maritime perimeters as defined by the first and second island chain strategies into the Indian Ocean region as a major stakeholder.

Map 1:  China’s claims of Territorial Sea along with the UNCLOS approved EEZs of the Littoral States. Shaded circles indicate the disputed Islands. Source:                                                      

To this end, it has through diplomacy and economic inducements established bases in Sittwe, Hambantota, Gwadar and Marao in the Maldives. The geographic and strategic significance of these posts were apparent in the past and are equally vital today, whether for purposes of control, regulating, providing havens or assuring security to energy lines. Sittwe and Gwadar also provide the front end for piping energy into China. These long term strategic investments by China maybe seen as the coming of the ‘Third Island Chain’.

China in a departure from the Western model of first identifying ends then conceptualizing methods and finally generating means to achieve ends; follows the comprehensive national power route where it sees the effect of an event on its own endowment and its ability to control the event as primary. Therefore in articulating its strategic objectives in order of precedence it has unambiguously identified three canons, the first of which is internal and external stability to its own gauge; the second is to sustain the current levels of its economic growth and lastly to achieve regional pre-eminence. Gone is the ‘power bashfulness’ that marked the Deng era, in its place is a cockiness that is discernible by the contemporary conviction that “the world needs China more than China the world”. Lt Gen Qi Jiangua, the Asst Chief of General Staff’s comments on the building of an aircraft carrier (refurbishment of the derelict Varyag) is revealing, he stated “It would have been better for us if we had acted sooner in understanding the ocean and mapping out our blue water capability earlier. We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether the South China Sea, the East China Sea or the Taiwan Straits.”[x] At the heart of the matter lie three vulnerabilities:[xi]

  • Vulnerability of the economic powerhouses located along the east coast and the communication lines by land, air and sea that bring in resources to fuel the economy and transport finished products.
  • Vulnerability of Taiwan, and therefore the need for its denial as a base for foreign powers. This accent highlights China’s continued sensitivity to sovereignty issues.
  • Vulnerability of the sea spaces, so dramatically demonstrated by the crisis of 1995-1996 and consequently the need to deny the theatre to any interventionary  power.

Seen in this frame of reference General Liu Jinsong’s words carry new meaning, for if the first salvo is the build up; then it is not from the precincts of pre-emption that a strike emerges but as a reactive and a defensive strategy. This rationale gives form to the ‘Access Denial Strategy’. When projected in consonance with the Third Island Chain, one cannot but note that ‘Access Denial’ would apply not just to the region of purpose, but also to the points of origin and to the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) along which energy, trade and resources are moved. The waters and littorals of the Indian Ocean and specifically the West Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Bengal (together here after termed as the Eastern Ocean) will now become the region where this strategy will be played out.


Contemporary Challenges

Contemporary challenges in the region are dominated by three currents. While there are several regional and sub regional issues whose influence on the region cannot be denied it is these three that will have the greatest impact on the success or otherwise of our policy.

  • The Challenge of a Rising China: Towards the end of 2003 and early 2004 senior leaders of the Communist Party of China studied the rise of great powers in history noting the destructive inventory of conflicts that proved to be the engines of supremacy from the 15th century onwards. This brought them to the central theme of their examination: could China dominate without recourse to arms? Unfortunately, in its relationship with India it has shown no propensity to establish co operative stabilizing arrangements nor has it taken any measures to resolve long standing boundary disputes (it must be said that nor have they put in place measures that aggressively vitiate the situation). Its collusion with reprobate states further pushes Sino-Indian relations downhill, the nuclear tie up both in the weapon and civilian field with Pakistan along with possible doctrinal links and in March 2010, the failure to issue a condemnation when North Korea sank a South Korean warship does not suggest a pacific approach to relations. It’s disputes with Japan and its forceful reassertion of claims to sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea are very serious ulcers in current relationships in the Eastern Ocean. This conundrum continues to push affected parties and like minded states into countervailing arrangements. As, no doubt, the history lesson would have told Chinese leadership that the relationship that determines regional conflict or otherwise is the stability of relationship between  powers that have the greatest impact on the region.
  • The Hyper Power: The overwhelming ascendancy of the single hyper power and its penchant to resort to military force seen against the backdrop of the intricate economic relations that the US and China currently enjoy poses an ironic dilemma. Is the American posture in the Pacific and Indian Oceans intrinsically antagonistic and would it break out into a hot conflict given the strategic links that USA enjoys with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the other littorals of this region? The noises that currently emanate would seem to suggest that the war of words is just a few turns away from a conflictual situation. The impact of instability in this region will be to adversely affect India’s economic and developmental aspirations in addition to the hazards of being drawn into an unintended clash.
  • The Mixed Blessings of Globalization, Rise of Nationalism and Non State Actors: Impact of globalization and the inability of the State to reconcile with the stresses that it places on the very concept of sovereignty makes historical sores take centre stage, when their resolution ought to be the focus. Nationalism and Ideology which was the underlying force that sparked off the major wars of the 20th century has today become the source of China’s confidence, to an extent, when the words of Chairman Deng who started the reforms in the early 80’s “Coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capabilities, bide your time, never try to take the lead, accomplish things where possible”[xii] which became the essence of Deng Xiao Ping’s 24 character strategy, now has a hollow ring about it, particularly so, since there is a growing perception within that the arrival of the ‘Middle Kingdom’[xiii] is nigh (!). According to Yuan Peng of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations “many Chinese scholars suggest that the Government give up the illusion of US partnership and face squarely the profound and inevitable strategic competition.” [xiv] It is also apparent that the surge of nationalism that sweeps China has led it to formulate an affordable military strategy of asymmetric weapons (the ‘Access Denial’ and ‘Assassin’s Mace’ strategies are part of such a concept). These unorthodox strategies have set into motion three areas of rapid modernization in the military establishment; firstly the most active land based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world, secondly an enlarged nuclear attack and nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet, and lastly  concentration on what China calls “informatisation,” an active and passive method of waging information warfare.  China’s intriguing involvement with maverick nations such as Pakistan and North Korea does not in anyway enthuse confidence for the prospects of a stable future. The direction in which the Sino Pak alliance is headed is a vexed question. If it is the image of China that is going to predominate, then collusion with Pakistan on military and nuclear matters must witness a dilution and yet if the intention is to keep the Indian establishment on the boil, then for China to set aside an enthusiastic collusive partner would be tantamount to Janus shutting down his second face. In this calculus what would be a dampener for Sino Pak complicity, is the worsening non-state actor and political situation in Pakistan, which presents some nightmare possibilities for all parties involved including China.

Of these three dominant currents what direction China’s rise will take and whether it wears a largely benign or malignant mantle is a matter of conjecture that will be influenced by both internal as well as external factors. With the coming of the Third Island Chain; the maturing of the long range access strategy and the cultivation of the string of pearls, what is of significance is that the potential for a collision is a reality and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability of India to attain a strategic posture in the Eastern Ocean that serves to stabilize.  On the ‘globalization-nationalism’ non state actor conundrum, clearly plural societies with decentralized control are more likely to transform, adjust, adapt and tweak their systems than monolithic centrally controlled States such as China which are intrinsically brittle in form; as cracks begin to show, the fallout on the region can only be traumatic.

It is only India’s relationship with the USA that is, to some extent, within the hands of our policy makers and therefore it would be in order to examine this in some detail. Since Independence, Indo American relations have seen dizzy highs and plummeting lows. However, it was only after the 1998 nuclear tests that the two countries awoke to the realities that an engagement suggested. The consequences was the inking of  the ‘Next Step in Strategic Partnership’ an agreement that identified and formalised areas of  bilateral cooperation in January 2004 which included civil nuclear enterprises, civil space programmes, missile defence and high technology deals. Of critical importance was the opening of technology doors which culminated in the watershed Indo-US nuclear agreement of 18 July 2005. The larger significance of this deal was the arrival of India on the global stage as an equal and an acceptance of its potential to play an influencing role in the rarified environ of the club of nations that sought to control and oversee world order (the impending G8 +5).


The ultimate reality of the international system is the place that power, in all its dimensions, enjoys in the scheme of assuring stability in relations between nations. Uncertainty in international relations queers the pitch, in view of the expanded space of possibles. The strategy of Anti-Access Denial is one such defensive power tool which is available to a nation provided it nurtures and develops capabilities that serve to ‘contest and deny’ adversarial power projection. History has suggested that for the strategy to have impact not only must in-theatre force balance be tilted towards the rebuffer through asymmetricity, but also, the first salvo must be his. China takes the comprehensive national power approach, where it sees the effect of an event on its own endowment and its ability to control the occasion and its outcome as a primary virtue. In articulating its strategic objectives it has unambiguously identified three stability, growth and regional pre eminence.  Gone is the ‘power bashfulness’ that marked the Deng era. In the absence of a security oriented cooperative impulse, the problem with such sweeping strategies specifically the coming ‘Third Island Chain’ superimposed on a long range power projection strategy is its blindness to recognize that, we are in fact dealing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast commons”. The reluctance for collaboration makes the potential for friction high.

Contemporary challenges in the IOEO are dominated by three currents. What direction China’s rise will take is a matter of conjecture, of significance is that the potential for a collision is a reality and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability of India to attain a strategic posture in the IOEO that serves to stabilize. On the globalization-nationalism-non state actor conundrum, clearly plural societies with decentralized control are more likely to transform, adjust, adapt and tweak their systems than monolithic centrally controlled States such as China which are intrinsically brittle in form, the fallout on the region caused by a transformation inconsistency can only be traumatic. The third current is India’s relationship with the USA. It is here that some control exists in the hands of our policy makers. India has shown itself, through restraint, pluralistic and popular form of governance to be a responsible State that upholds the status quo yet invites change through democratic forces. Its rise, in the main, is not only welcomed but is seen as a harmonizing happening that could counterpoise China.  The next step would logically be to establish an Indo-US strategic framework in the maritime domain, if we are to resourcefully contend with the challenges that the IOEO presents.

Phased implementation of the Anti-Access Denial Strategy, from deployment through demonstration prior to a hot exchange is intrinsic to the scheme and essential to its mechanics if the interests of deterrence are to be served. The question of when or under what conditions the plan is to be brought to bear is a dodgy call for if Phase III is arrived at, it may well signify a point of no return. The paper has suggested four ‘red lines’ which when breached may enable our Anti-Access Denial strategy; it is the second of these which will challenge decision makers to the extreme, for if a military build up at Hambantota, Gwadar or Sittwe is threatening, then at what stage of the mobilization should the strategy be called into play? The obvious answer is “at an early stage” at which time we must find the will and resolve to translate rapidly from Phase I to Phase II. A focused 50 year technology and infrastructure plan in support of and in harmony with our Anti-Access Denial Strategy must be placed on the anvil and resolutely hammered out, if we are to come to grips with the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm.’

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

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

[iii] Article by author titledThe Gwadar-Karakoram-Xinjiang Corridor”, publishedin the September 2012 issue of the DSA. The Northern Passage was a fabled sea route theorised by adventurers, merchants and money chandlers over the last six centuries to

link the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean. The Route lay through the Arctic archipelago the treacherous ice flows that frustrate passage across the Arctic Ocean.

[iv] Security analysts  have examined China’s efforts to develop weapons systems that can retard or even stop a potential adversary from entering an area of interest. Dubbed “access-denial,” the aim of such a strategy is to use weapons that deter and should the need arise challenge or indeed prevent inimical forces from operating in conlict zones or oceanic areas of interest . The teeth of this strategy is an anti-ship missile. Such a missile, fired from land, sea, underwater or air can cause tremendous damage to an enemy surface vessel. While such technology isn’t new, the effective ranges of such weapons have increased tremendously, along with their accuracy, speed of delivery and precision. Defending against such systems is therefore a major problem for planners

[v] The World at War United Nations defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen “lesser” conflicts ongoing with varrying degrees of intensity.

[vi] Occasions of US military intervention 1989 – 2010 :

1989 – Panama, 1991 – Iraq, 1992 – Somalia,1994 – Haiti, 1995-96 –  Bosnia, 1998 – Iraq, 1999 – Kosovo, 2001 – Afghanistan, 2003 – Iraq, 2009 – Pakistan (Drones), 2010 – Libya .

[vii] The Economist, June 25th – July 1st 2011, special report China.

[viii] Howard, Michael. The Lessons of History, Yale University Press New Haven and London, p39.

[ix]Peter Hays Gries, China’s New Nationalism. Pride, Politics and Diplomacy Berkeley & London, University of California Press, 2004, p 105.

[x] BBC E-news 08 June 2011. Lt Gen Qi Jiangua speaking to the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

[xi] Lampton, David M. The Three Faces  of Chinese Power. Might, Money and Minds. Berkeley, University of California Press 2008, p16, 40-41 and 50.

[xii] The 24 Character Strategy is attributed to Deng Xiao Ping in the early 90’s as quoted in the Pentagon’s annual China report dated 17th August 2010

[xiii] The phrase Middle Kingdom was first applied to the XII dynasty of ancient Egypt (1991BC – 1778BC). As the Chinese name for China it first appears in 1000 BC when it designated the Chou empire, who unaware of earlier civilizations to their west, believed their empire occupied the middle of the earth, surrounded by barbarians. Since 1949, the official name for China is ‘The Middle Glorious People’s Republican Country.’

[xiv] As quoted in The Economist of Dec 4-10 2010 Special report p9.