India’s Rise as a Great Power


Written by Dr David A. Robinson – Associate, Future Directions International

In the decades to come, India will continue its rise to great power status aided by the United States, which sees it as helping to keep the global strategic balance in Washington’s favour. Following a strategy of “poly-alignment”, India will subsequently look to project greater power beyond its borders. This will particularly be the case in the Indian Ocean region, viewed by New Delhi as being essential to India’s economic and social stability.

Over the last decade there has been an increasing focus on India’s economic and military expansion, and its consequences for South Asia and the world. India is rapidly rising to become a great power, but its ascent depends on maintaining relative domestic stability, and carefully crafting its policies towards the United States and its neighbours, Pakistan and China. All four states are nuclear powers, so the consequences of any conflict between them are potentially dire.

India has found the post-Cold War international environment amenable to the expansion of its bilateral ties with all the major powers simultaneously, and has thus pursued a strategy of “poly-alignment” – seeking to be a “bridging power” between the sometimes competing poles of the United States, Russia, China and the European Union. This inverts India’s traditional non-alignment policy, allowing India to reap the benefits of closer economic and strategic ties while maintaining the same spirit of balanced international relations. To a degree, this arises from uncertainty about the shape of the emerging international order, and India’s own lack of a credible vision of its place in that environment. Nonetheless, its growing wealth and population is now enabling India to build up its military might and, as Harsh V. Pant of King’s College London, has noted, as ‘a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic democracy … India is being asked to shoulder global responsibilities in consonance with its rising global stature.’ As Indian power increases it will inevitably challenge existing political, economic and military patterns but, as Pant argues:

‘India continues to be ambivalent about power, it has failed to develop a strategic agenda commensurate with its growing economic and military capabilities … throughout history, India has failed to master the creation, deployment and use of its military instruments in support of its national objectives.’

From independence in 1947, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pursued a strategy of non-alignment that sought to avoid participation in the Cold War, prioritising multilateral institutions and the Non-Aligned Movement. Indian policy was also always opposed to the use of military force in international relations. However, as India begins to assert itself as a regional power, it is today moving to convert its “brown-water” navy into a “blue-water” navy and is expanding the reach of its air force, moving beyond border control and demonstrating greater concern for strategic issues, such as the protection of shipping lanes. While maintaining constructive relations with the United States, India has also been involved in trilateral dialogue with China and Russia, increasingly sharing their vision of a multipolar world based on consensus among the major powers… To read more subscribe today!