India – Emerging Global Power

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Tayyab Siddiqui[*]

India, the second most populous country in the world, has through history failed to make an impact or even marginally influence world events commensurate with its resources and potential. Since its independence in 1947, modern India’s political leadership and policy planners have, however, nourished aspirations for world power status and spoken of their country’s “manifest destiny” to be a regional leader and eventually a global player. The regional situation and India’s persistently adversarial relationship with its neighbors, notably China and Pakistan, have impeded the fulfillment of this dream. However the security climate in the region and the changed strategic circumstances now provide New Delhi an opportunity to proceed with its national agenda.

India has not allowed its past failures to dilute either its regional ambitions or its fervent quest for a world power status. With the advent of the 21st century, it has worked even more assiduously to secure a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. At the regional level, it has pursued pro-active, even intrusive, policies in Sri Lanka and, more recently in Afghanistan where the size of its diplomatic and political presence is way beyond its legitimate needs. New Delhi has extended $500 million dollar assistance to Kabul and is involved in major development projects on a large scale.

Analysts believe that India’s regional and global ambitions are aided by its spectacular economic growth and political stability. It has enjoyed a “dream run” with an average annual growth rate of almost 9 percent. Other economic indicators are equally impressive. The foreign exchange reserves exceed $ 280 billion i.e. the fifth largest in the world and exports have crossed the $80 billion mark. India’s economy, despite the global recession, is poised to take off with a consistent GDP growth of 9 percent and population growth reduced to 1.3 percent. Poverty is steadily declining and, according to the Indian Planning Commission, it has decreased by 10 percent both in the rural as well as the urban areas. The country’s imports and exports as a share of its economy have increased from 13 to 23 percent in the last decade. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also increasing phenomenally, with the availability of a huge technical and technological base. India’s software exports are growing at a rate of 50 percent per year and the country is today the world’s fastest growing major mobile phone market, with 72 million users.

These developments have put New Delhi into sharp focus. A recent Goldman Sachs study predicted that in 10 years India’s economy will be larger than Italy’s and in 15 years will have overtaken that of Britain. In next 40 years the country’s per capita income is projected to increase 35 times its present level.

The rapid proliferation of technical research schools comparable to those anywhere in the world has fuelled the economic miracle. In 2005 India produced 200,000 engineering graduates, three times as many as USA and twice as many as entire Europe. Last year India enrolled 450,000 students for the four year engineering degree courses.

These achievements have given the Indian leadership enormous confidence in their country’s future and particularly in its capacity to play an increasingly influential global role. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his enunciation of India’s foreign policy on 25 February 2005, laid stress on his country being an “inclusive, open, multi-ethnic and multilingual society” that was “ready to defend these values abroad.” Business and commerce are the main elements in India’s relations with Europe, the US and the west, while a ‘Look East’ policy has become the driving force in forging close ties with China, Japan and the ASEAN. Manmohan has pursued a highly pragmatic foreign policy and has discarded the traditional emotional concepts such as non-alignment, third world solidarity and anti-imperialist rhetoric. India’s military strength has also become an important factor in shaping its foreign policy, and provided it a greater role in regional and global affairs.

Rapid economic growth and the resilience of its democracy augur well for India’s ill-concealed ambitions for regional leadership and playing an important role in global politics. The major powers are wooing India as never before. The US is committed to help it become a “major world power in the 21st century,” while China, France and Russia are keen to enlist New Delhi as a strategic partner. India has assiduously courted the P-5 members of the UN Security Council and has concluded strategic cooperation arrangements with France, China and the UK. Russia has always been a trusted ally.

Besides its geo-strategic importance, India has become an important investment destination with tantalizing prospects for the major US multinationals, particularly in the IT sector. Microsoft invested $ 400 million in India in 2002 and $ 1.7 billion in 2008. Most of the select Fortune 500 group is represented in India. US exports to India have increased by 30 percent annually while two-way trade is now in excess of $ 26 billion, up 88 percent since 2000.

Politically, India’s clout and influence in the US has increased phenomenally in the last few years. The Indian caucus in US Congress has 120 members in a House of 435. There are 2 million Indians living in America and about 80,000 Americans in India, mostly working for US firms doing business there.

The transformation of the Sino-India equation has been no less dramatic. The relations between the two nations had been characterized by mutual suspicion and hostility, since the India-China war of 1962. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1989 after a lapse of 25 years resulted in a thaw. However, the real breakthrough came in April 2005, when the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, visited New Delhi.

In a rare display of flexibility and pragmatism, India decided to move forward and agreed to “meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments” on the border issue. Joint working groups were accordingly set up to settle the issue in a spirit of “friendship and cooperation.” It was also decided to substantially increase bilateral trade from the present level of $14 billion. India decided to designate 2006 as the “year of friendship with China.” Another potential area of cooperation is in joint biddings for energy resources to meet ever increasing requirements for their expanding economies.

The most impressive breakthrough has been made with the US. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Washington visit in July 2006 was a watershed in bilateral relations. The joint statement issued spelled out the landmark nature of the visit with unprecedented cooperation in the spheres of economy, technology, energy and defence. The two leaders agreed on a wide range of cooperation as “global partners” building on “their common values and mutual visions and joint objectives as strong longstanding democracies,” taking the relations to a qualitatively unprecedented higher plane. The centerpiece of the US – India strategic relationship is the agreement signed during Bush’s visit and ratified by Congress last year under which the US agreed to accord India the same facilities as admissible to NPT signatories thereby indirectly recognizing India as a nuclear weapon state. Under the agreement, India would “acquire the same benefits and advantages as other nuclear states.” In return India will identify and separate civilian and non-civilian nuclear facilities in a phased manner, and will voluntarily place its civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards. India currently has 15 nuclear power reactors that produce 3310 mega watts of electricity and seven are under construction. 14 of these will be put under international safeguards.

The American perception of India’s importance as a strategic ally was best summarized by US deputy secretary of state Nicholas Burns. “India is a rising economic confluence of power in the international system. It is emerging as a potentially very stabilizing and positive force in international politics. India is a rising global power. Within the first quarter of this century, it is likely to be numbered among the world’s largest economies. It will soon be the world’s most populous nation and it has a demographic structure that bequeaths it a huge, skilled and youthful workforce.”

Land Forces

Not content with its strategic partnership agreements with the UN Security Council’s P-5 countries, India has followed an ambitious programme of arms build-up. The government has announced a 24 percent rise in defence spending in the next year for updating its military equipment and augmenting its inventory. The Indian military with 1.3 million active service personnel and 1.1 million reserves has the 3rd largest army in the world. In addition it has 2 million paramilitary forces which include: 488000 home guard, 500,000 civil defence, 450,000 armed police and 200,000 Border Security Forces.

The land forces have received a major boost with the induction in its inventory of 347T/90 tanks from Russia and 6 C130 military transport planes from the US firm Lockheed Martin. India has also purchased 8 British advanced Jet Trainers for it air force, almost 7 years after it began negotiating the deal. In November 2008 New Delhi signed a protocol for the purchase of 347 T-90 tanks, costing $1.1 billion and for joint development and production of military hardware, including 1000 T-90 tanks under a technology transfer agreement.

Besides the efforts to modernize and upgrade its missile systems, India is following an ambitious programme to upgrade the quality of its conventional weapons in addition to acquiring state-of-the-art military hardware. In November 2008, a landmark joint venture agreement was concluded between Russia and India’s state owned military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) for developing a multi-role transport aircraft. HAL is partnering with Russia’s llyushin Design Bureau in the 600 million dollar project, to which the two companies will contribute equally. “The 600-tonne tactical transport aircraft, meant to serve the armed forces of the two countries, would take six-to-seven years to develop, with the components coming llyushin production facilities in Russia to be used both for transport duties and troop deployment.” The aircraft is meant to replace the Indian Air Force’s ageing Antonov-32s. India has also placed an order for the supply of 126 fighter jets in a $10bn deal that would modernize its decrepit Soviet-era strike force.

The Boeing P-8Is, which will replace 25-year-old patrol aircraft, have the capacity to detect submarines moving deep into India’s territorial waters and also possess advanced missile systems that could be used to destroy them. The first aircraft is to be delivered in four years.

India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics limited is upbeat about export opportunities following a deal with Boeing in December last year, for the development of sub-systems for Boeing fighter planes. Both LM and Boeing are principal bidders in the estimated $11 billion deal for India’s procurement of 126 medium fighter jet aircraft. US defense firms are also eyeing the 312 light helicopter tender worth $1 billion recently floated by India.


The Mumbai tragedy of 26 November 2008 has been exploited by the Indian navy to emphasize the need for modernization by inducting the latest warfare and defence technologies besides developing nuclear deterrence. The purpose is to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean for controlling the sea lanes to checkmate China and Pakistan. India is set to become the 6th biggest naval power of the world.

India which is fast becoming one of world’s largest arms importers, is planning to spend $30 billion on imports over the next five years to modernize its largely Soviet-era arms and is also trying to strengthen its navy by introducing new weapons systems. The Indian government has agreed to buy eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft from Boeing, its largest acquisition of military hardware from the US. New Delhi’s $2.1 billion purchase of the P-8I Poseidon aircraft highlights India’s rapidly deepening defence ties with the US.

The Indian Navy has accordingly embarked upon ambitious plans of expansion that would be implemented by 2012-14. The new equipment includes two aircraft carriers, nine destroyers and frigates, six submarines, four corvettes, one tanker, three off-shore patrol vessels, etc.  By 2020 it envisages a force of around 140-145 vessels, of which more than half will be oceangoing and the rest will be assigned to coastal duties. Since carrying out multiple nuclear tests in 1998, India has been designing a strategic deterrence capability aimed principally at countering China’s formidable nuclear arsenal. This vision comprises a triad of weapons deliverable by aircraft, mobile launching pads and sea-based units and a submarine force that may not initially be large but one whose propulsion and weapon-and-sensor capabilities will be suitably upgraded to meet future operational requirements.

At least two nuclear-powered submarines, one built locally and the other leased from Russia, with an additional three locally developed ballistic missile submarines, is to be inducted from 2015-17 onwards. This will comprise the crucial third leg of India’s strategic deterrence, besides furnishing the Indian Navy with an extended reach that would help it to be at par with the   other five recognized nuclear powers.

Air force

The India military modernization and acquisition programme is comprehensive in nature. While the Navy is being provided with destroyers, frigates and corvettes around two aircraft carrier battle groups “to protect its oil shipments and trade routes to defend its expatiate population in the Middle East,” the air force is receiving equal attention. To modernize its air force, India is upgrading its MiG-27 fighters to sharpen their strike capabilities. “The hardware and avionics bit has already been fitted into 40 fighters. With the upgrading, the MiG fighters would last for another 10 years and have autopilot and auto-weapon delivery facilities. The MiG-27 aircraft was originally built in the former Soviet Union in the mid-1970s before it was licensed to be produced in India.”

France has offered to upgrade India’s 51 frontline Mirage 2000 fighters in a “compressed delivery time-frame.” The new Mirages would come fitted with longer range air-to-air missiles to enhance the fighters’ capability beyond visual range combat. The fighters would be armed with the new MICA missiles with a capability of taking out targets at a distance of 40 kms,   almost double the range of the missiles presently on Indian fighter planes. Under the proposed deal, for which the technical aspects have been finalized, 51 Mirages of the IAF will get a fresh lease of life for another 20-25 years and an extended range of almost 800 kms without refueling as well as longer range detection capability to confront and take on four to five targets simultaneously both on ground and in air. The new fighters will be capable of carrying six MICA air-to-air missiles including two armed with infra-red seekers giving the planes complete stealth capabilities.

The air force contract includes outright purchase of 18 war jets by 2012 with another 108 of the same planes to be built in India. India also has an option to buy 64 more multi-role fighters jets. Russian manufacturers of MiG-35 and MiG-29, as well as Sweden’s Saab, which is hawking its Gripen fighter, and French Dassault, which constructs the Rafale and Mirage are competing for the contract. India called for the bids in August last year as the air force’s operational fighter fleet plunged to a low of 576 aircraft, from nearly 750 in early 2000. India has also floated global bids worth $2 billion for 384 light helicopters, from the US-based Bell helicopter, British Italian firm Agusta Westland, Russia’s KAmov and Eurocopter.

India has also planned to upgrade nine airbases falling under its Western Air Command along the Pakistan border. These are equipped with advanced electronic gadgets enabling them to operate all types of aircraft both fighters and transport fleet. In total, the IAF will upgrade 39 of its airfields in India as is going to induct 126 multi-role aircraft in the next five years.

Nuclear and Space Programs

India has recognized that impressive strides in nuclear and space technology would further burnish its global status and, accordingly, these sectors have received priority. Despite limited funding, India operates an extensive space programme consisting of launch vehicles, satellites and data-processing centres. India plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014 and a manned mission to moon by 2020.

Six countries, including the United States, are directly involved in the project, which will cost an estimated $80.8 million. It aims to map a three-dimensional atlas of the moon through high-resolution remote sensing and map the surface’s chemical and mineral composition. As part of preparations for that, it launched four satellites on a single rocket for the first time in January 2007, including one that was brought back to Earth.

India’s space programme was launched as a scientific research effort, but has now begun to make money from commercial launches. At least 16 Indian satellites currently orbit the planet, supporting telecommunications, TV broadcasting, Earth observation, weather forecasting, remote education and healthcare. India’s constellation of seven Earth-observation satellites is the largest of its kind in the world.

Support from the US and Russia, to its space and missile programme has put India among the few powers capable of projecting its military might beyond its borders and entitles it to be reckoned as a major world power. Russia has been a traditional friend and trusted partner since the early years of Indian independence. It has had close political and strategic relations with New Delhi. These ties broadened and deepened substantially during the Soviet era because India’s relations with US in those Cold War days were limited in scope.

India has joint defence projects with Russia for manufacturing SU-30 fighter jets, T-90 tanks and Brahmos anti-ship missiles. New Delhi is also considering investment in the energy sector, particularly oil explorations with Russia in Siberia and Saskhalin-3. Other agreements signed allow the use of the Russian navigation system made up 14 satellites, known as Glonass. India has also entered into negotiations with Russia for the supply of four nuclear reactors of 1000 MW each for its Kundankulam power plant.

Russia became the third country to sign an atomic energy agreement with India after the decision in September by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to waive its ban on trade of nuclear technology with India. The United States and France are the other powers to have signed agreements with New Delhi. President Medvedev of Russia visited Delhi in December 2008 and a number of agreements were signed ranging from nuclear energy to space technology. The accords covered the building of four new nuclear energy reactors in Kundankulam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, as well as a cooperation accord on manned space flight. Moscow is already building two 1,000-megawatt light water reactors at the site. The two sides also signed an accord that envisages Russia sending an Indian cosmonaut into space in 2013 and then launch a manned Indian spacecraft in 2015, officials said. Another deal on the sale to India of 80 military helicopters was also signed.

On 10 November 2008 India test- fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable missile from a land-based launcher in eastern India. The weapon tested was a K-15 missile, an undersea submarine-launched ballistic missile with a range of up to 700km. The Agni 3 in contrast, is India’s longest-range missile, designed to reach 3,000km.

Missile Programme

Since the nuclear tests in 1998,  India has developed a series of nuclear and conventional missile systems  as part of its missile  development program launched in1983.The Agni series is one of the five developed by India’s Defense Research and Development organization. The others are the Prithvi (Earth), the surface-to-air Trishul (Trident) multi-purpose Akash (Sky), and the anti-tank Nag (Cobra).

To further enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrence, India has carried out an ambitious plan for the development of ballistic cruise missiles. Besides the indigenous effort, India also plans to add a sub-marine launched ballistic missile to its nuclear arsenal. It is holding negotiations with Russia – its traditional arms supplier for the loan of one or two nuclear submarines for its blue water navy. New Delhi is simultaneously pursuing a major space program and has developed a highly sophisticated rocket capability. In February 2009, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a record 10 satellites into orbit in a single mission.

By launching so many satellites at one go, India has showcased the commercial applicability of its space programme. India first staked its case for a share of the commercial launch market by sending an Italian spacecraft into orbit in April Last year. In January 2008, it launched an Israeli spy satellite in the face of Iranian protests. ISRO marketing arm Antrix Cooperation charged a fee for the launch of the miniature foreign satellites. India has been offering its services at about 60 to 70 percent of the cost charged by other space agencies. New Delhi wants to compete alongside the United States, Russia, China, the Ukraine and the European Space Agency in offering commercial satellite.

India has separately developed a supersonic cruise missile. Built by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture between India and Russia, it is capable of traveling at 2.8 times the speed of sound and has a range of 290 kilometers. By contrast, the US Tomahawk travels at subsonic speed. The significance of the BrahMos missile is that its supersonic speed makes the air defense system on surface ships extremely vulnerable. Aircraft carriers would be forced to operate much further back from potential conflict zones to stay out of missile range.

According to a report in Asia Times, India has also been focusing on indigenous development of its own missile shield to guard against perceived threats from Pakistan. Officials say Boeing and its P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft-is the frontrunner for the Indian Navy’s order for eight maritime patrol aircraft.

The missile capability and upgraded conventional forces development by India as outlined above should be a matter of great concern to Pakistan. While Pakistan cannot match India’s capability, nor would an arm race be advisable, we must seek balancing and containing the Indian military buildup.

Pakistan and China share the same concerns about India’s missile build-up and this common threat to their security should receive priority in forging a defensive alliance between the two countries. Given the total convergence of our bilateral policy concerns, the shared threat perception should act as a catalyst for still closer defence collaboration and exploring new areas of hitherto unchartered avenues of mutual security cooperation.

Tayyab Siddqui is a former ambassador of Pakistan.