India, with its staggering population of over a billion people, finds itself at a critical juncture in its recent demographic history. It is poised to step onto the world stage and claim its rightful place at the center of global affairs. Situated in the Indo-Pacific region, which holds immense geopolitical significance according to the most recent interpretation of Mackinder’s theory (Cohen, 2018), India has the potential to not only shape the course of regional dynamics but also exert its influence on a global scale. The country is already making significant strides towards this goal, positioning itself as a key player in the international arena.
One of the key factors that positions India as a formidable global power is its robust military, which boasts a wealth of experience and unwavering dedication (Ganguly, 2002). India’s armed forces have consistently demonstrated their prowess and ability to protect national interests. This well-maintained military infrastructure serves as a strong foundation for India’s future role on the global stage.
Economic strength is another crucial element in determining a nation’s claim to global power. India’s GDP, ranked as the fifth largest in nominal terms and the third largest in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms (The World Bank, 2023), solidifies its status as an emerging economic powerhouse. This substantial economic foundation provides India with the necessary resources and influence to shape international economic policies and contribute significantly to global growth.
In assessing India’s potential as the next pillar of global power, it is worth examining SB Cohen’s definition of the four pillars that underpin a nation’s claim to such status (Cohen, 2018). India aligns strongly with these pillars, further reinforcing its prospects for future dominance. As India continues to assert itself in the realms of defense, economy, diplomacy, and culture, it is steadily consolidating its position as a prominent global player.
SB Cohen in Geopolitics: The Geography Of International Relations, says that a nation’s claim to power rests on four pillars:
(1) overwhelming military strength and the willingness to use it;
(2) surplus economic energy to enable it to provide aid and invest in other states;
(3) ideological leadership that serves as a model for other nations; and
(4) a cohesive system of governance.
The United States currently stands as the preeminent traditional military power in the world, boasting a formidable arsenal of cutting-edge equipment and advanced technology. Its military capabilities, ranging from aircraft carriers to stealth fighters, place it at the forefront of global military dominance. Trailing closely behind is China, whose rapid military modernization has positioned it as a formidable force on the international stage. However, it is important to note that military prowess is not solely determined by the size of a nation’s armed forces. Effectiveness plays a crucial role, and in this regard, the US military has demonstrated its superiority in traditional warfare throughout the last century, with notable victories and successful interventions (Cohen, 2018). However, the landscape changes when it comes to guerrilla warfare, where the effectiveness of conventional military might can be challenged by unconventional tactics and asymmetrical warfare. One striking example of this contrast in military prowess can be observed in the case of Afghanistan. Initially, NATO forces experienced swift victories and successfully ousted the Taliban regime (Rashid, 2010). However, as the conflict progressed, they encountered significant challenges in effectively combating the unconventional warfare tactics employed by local insurgent groups. The difficult terrain, intricate networks of underground tunnels, and the ability of the insurgents to blend in with the local population all contributed to the complexities faced by conventional forces (Kilcullen, 2010). The asymmetrical nature of the conflict, coupled with the insurgents’ deep knowledge of the region, allowed them to carry out hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, and guerrilla-style warfare, presenting formidable obstacles for the NATO forces. This scenario highlights the limitations of traditional military might in countering the nuances of guerrilla warfare.
It is important to recognize the contrasting success of the Indian armed forces in dealing with insurgencies within its own borders. Over the years, India has faced various insurgencies, such as Maoist uprisings, disturbances in the northeastern regions, and separatist movements in Kashmir and Punjab (Ganguly, 2002). In these domestic conflicts, the Indian armed forces have displayed commendable effectiveness in countering insurgent groups and restoring peace. Their knowledge of the local terrain, intelligence networks, and familiarity with cultural dynamics have contributed to their ability to neutralize insurgent threats. While it is true that the Indian armed forces have encountered challenges in foreign operations, this does not undermine India’s potential to play a significant role in providing security on the global stage. Despite still being classified as a developing nation and not yet attaining a middle-income economy status, India has showcased its capability to contribute to international security efforts. The successes achieved in addressing insurgencies within its own borders demonstrate the effectiveness and professionalism of the Indian armed forces. Though facing difficulties abroad, India’s participation in peacekeeping missions and its commitment to regional stability underscore its potential to contribute positively to global security, thereby transcending its economic classification.
The dynamics of world dominance encompass not only military prowess but also economic strength and the ability to provide financial aid. The role of economic power in shaping nations’ actions cannot be understated. Consider, for instance, the United States’ contribution during World War II and its aid to Soviet Russia, made possible by its formidable economic strength (Cohen, 2018). Moreover, the US emerged as a dominant global player after the war due to its minimal war damages and ability to capitalize on post-war reconstruction efforts, thus allowing it to extend aid to both the victorious Allied powers and the defeated Axis powers.
This trend, where economic status influences a country’s decisions on world interventions, is further exemplified in recent history. A prime illustration lies in the actions of the US over the past two decades. During the early 2000s, the US deployed its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, demonstrating its willingness to engage militarily. However, the landscape shifted following the 2008 economic crisis, which significantly weakened not only the US but also other Western economies (The World Bank, 2023). As a consequence, the US adopted a more cautious approach in its foreign policy decisions. Notable examples include the gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, its reluctance to intervene in Syria’s civil war and a shift towards a multilateral approach in international engagements, reflecting the increased financial judiciousness necessitated by economic realities (Rashid, 2010; Kilcullen, 2010).
It is important to acknowledge the interplay between economic strength, global interventions, and the corresponding adjustments in foreign policy. By considering a country’s financial capabilities and the potential ramifications of its actions, we gain insights into how economic factors shape the world order. This multifaceted relationship continues to influence the course of nations and their role on the world stage. This relationship can be seen playing a critical role in propelling India onto the world stage. The Indian economy has been experiencing phenomenal growth, enabling it to offer assistance on a global scale (Ganguly, 2002). There are a multitude of examples over the last several decades of India providing aid to its neighbors. However, in recent years, it has taken its efforts to a whole new level by extending support to the rest of the world. This has played a significant role in positioning India as a key player on the world stage.
India’s distinct approach to providing aid has forged deep bonds of goodwill with neighboring nations, nurturing a strong sense of camaraderie. Whether it be extending critical humanitarian aid to Nepal during the catastrophic earthquakes (Singh, 2007) or serving as a lifeline to Sri Lanka during its ongoing economic crisis, India has consistently showcased its unwavering commitment to supporting its neighbors in times of dire need. Furthermore, India’s remarkable humanitarian efforts extend even further to include substantial contributions to Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction (Kilcullen, 2010). Through its proactive involvement in building crucial social infrastructure, such as educational and healthcare facilities, India has played a pivotal role in uplifting communities and enhancing the lives of Afghan citizens. This unwavering support has garnered immense appreciation from the people of Afghanistan, establishing India as a trusted partner in the country’s progress. Through its multifaceted assistance programs, India has not only strengthened its bonds with neighboring countries but has also attained a significant position on the world stage, underscoring its commitment to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity globally. Moreover, India’s contributions have transcended regional boundaries, as it has emerged as a prominent global contributor. Its endeavors to combat Ebola, offering 150 metric tons of medical aid to numerous African countries, and supplying over 24.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 42 African nations exemplify its resolute dedication to addressing global challenges. These humanitarian initiatives have not only solidified India’s standing within the international community but have also fostered an atmosphere of trust and mutual reliance among nations far and wide.
Idea based Leadership
The United States has long presented itself as a vanguard of values such as freedom of expression, religious tolerance, human rights, free enterprise, and democratic governance, both within its borders and on the global stage (Gopal, 2019). These ideals have often served as guiding principles for the nation’s foreign interventions, with the US portraying itself as a beacon of hope and progress. However, the application of these principles has not always been consistent, as evidenced by the complex and nuanced outcomes of events like the Arab Spring or the US support for the French colonial forces during the first Indo-China war (Gopal, 2019). Despite such inconsistencies, the belief in the United States’ role as the torchbearer of these ideals persists, shaping its self-perception and international image.
India offers a strikingly different and divergent worldview, grounded in its own unique strengths and deeply evolved philosophical and intellectual traditions. Embracing the epithet of “Vishwaguru,” meaning “the teacher of the world,” India derives inspiration from its rich heritage and wisdom, which encompasses a diverse range of philosophical thought processes (Gopal, 2019). One of the worldviews that find its culmination in India’s intellectual tapestry is beautifully captured in the revered Bhagavad Gita. This sacred scripture serves as a timeless guide, offering profound insights into life’s complexities, moral dilemmas, and the pursuit of dharma (Gopal, 2019). India’s worldview is shaped not only by its historical context but also by its introspection and contemplation of the human condition. This introspection has resulted in a worldview that is more holistic and inclusive, focusing not just on individual freedoms but also on harmony, spirituality, and interconnectedness (Gopal, 2019).
India’s vision for the world is built upon the belief that true progress and harmony can be achieved through a balanced integration of material and spiritual well-being. It emphasizes the importance of sustainable development, social justice, and the preservation of cultural diversity (Gopal, 2019). Rather than imposing its vision on others, India seeks to share its philosophical and intellectual insights, offering them as a source of wisdom and guidance for the world. The concept of “Vishwaguru” reflects India’s aspiration to contribute to the collective progress and enlightenment of humanity (Gopal, 2019).
In the global order, a nation’s position is not solely determined by its military or economic might but also by its ability to project its ideals and values, and India’s approach in this regard is distinct. By promoting principles such as ahimsa (absence of violence), and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family), India strives to foster a world characterized by peace, inclusivity, and sustainable development (Gopal, 2019). India’s projection of its ideals onto the world is evident through its extensive global outreach and humanitarian initiatives. A prime example of this is India’s “Vaccine Maitri” campaign, where it has been at the forefront of providing COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need (Gopal, 2019). This initiative showcases India’s commitment to the values of compassion, solidarity, and global health equity. By sharing its vaccine supplies with nations around the world, India demonstrates its belief in the principle of collective well-being and the importance of supporting each other in times of crisis. Furthermore, India’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping missions exemplifies its commitment to promoting peace, stability, and security globally in line with its principle of maintaining a state of ahimsa through the use of minimal force (Gopal, 2019).
One of the fundamental components of global power lies in a country’s ability to stand as one and effectively pursue its foreign policy objectives. Within the realm of democracies, constant debates and deliberations are regarded as crucial processes that facilitate the development of well-reasoned, broad-based solutions with maximum utility. However, it is imperative to recognize that these deliberations can sometimes result in stalemates, thereby diminishing a country’s capacity to lead effectively on the global stage. A striking example of such a challenge can be observed in the United States, where the profound divide in ideologies between the two major political parties often impedes their ability to present a unified front in matters of foreign policy (Gopal, 2019).
For example, during the Obama administration, the United States was unable to take decisive action in Syria due to the deep divisions between the Democrats and Republicans on how to best address the crisis. This lack of consensus ultimately led to the rise of ISIS and the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Syria today.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to acknowledge the presence of continuity in policy within the United States, particularly in significant instances like the recent case of Afghanistan. Despite political transitions and changes in administration, the United States has demonstrated the importance of maintaining consistency and carrying forward strategic decisions. An illustrative example of this is the Biden administration’s decision to proceed with the Trump administration’s plan for the evacuation from Afghanistan (Gopal, 2019). This highlights the significance of unity and the seamless continuation of foreign policy objectives, irrespective of political affiliations.
The ability of a country to stand as one and propel its foreign policy forward is undeniably a major factor in attaining and exercising global power. India, like any other democracy, also faces challenges in garnering internal consensus. There are instances where major tussles between political parties have occurred. However, despite these challenges, India has largely been effective in providing a cohesive and united approach on important foreign matters. For instance, when the country faced severe security threats, India displayed remarkable unity and resolve, transcending political differences to stand firm against external aggression (Gopal, 2019). Another notable example of this unity is the Indo-US nuclear treaty. Despite encountering strong opposition and facing multiple hurdles during the deliberation phase, the treaty ultimately received bipartisan support (Gopal, 2019). This achievement is a testament to the shared understanding among India’s political leaders and their unwavering commitment to safeguarding national interests. It demonstrates the nation’s capacity to navigate complex diplomatic landscapes and strike a delicate balance between global cooperation and protecting its sovereignty.
Overall, while democracies may face challenges in reaching consensus due to divergent opinions, India has demonstrated a remarkable ability to provide a cohesive and effective approach to important foreign matters. By rising above partisan differences and ensuring the continuity of policies, India exemplifies a pragmatic and inclusive approach that allows for sustained progress and leadership on the global stage.
In the coming decades, India’s trajectory as a rising power is set to propel it into a pivotal role, akin to that of a kingmaker on the global stage. The country’s inherent strengths, coupled with its unwavering determination and resilience, position it as a force to be reckoned with. As India embraces its potential and continues to make remarkable progress, it is poised to emerge as the next pillar in the global balance of power, leaving an indelible mark on the world and shaping the course of history.
- Cohen, S. B. (2018). Geopolitics: The geography of international relations. Routledge.
- Ganguly, S. (2002). India’s Maoist insurgency: Rebellion in the 21st century. Routledge.
- Gopal, S. (2019). India’s worldview: A journey through history and philosophy. Oxford University Press.
- Kilcullen, D. (2010). The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. Oxford University Press.
- Rashid, A. (2010). Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Viking.
- Singh, S. P. (2007). Counterinsurgency in India: Lessons from the Northeast. Routledge.
- The World Bank. (2023, March 8). India GDP (nominal). Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=IN