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India’s challenges and efforts to achieve its goal of Strategic autonomy

India’s principle of “strategic autonomy” remains strong, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, drawing an equivalence in ties with Russia, the U.S. and China and cautioning against a “return to the age of great power rivalries,” at a conference in Singapore in June 2018. Referring specifically to relations between India and Russia, U.S., and China separately, Mr. Modi made it clear that he believed India, like Singapore didn’t stand “behind one power or the other.” “No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China…We have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border,” he said about relations with Beijing.


“President Putin and I shared our views on the need for a strong multi-polar world order for dealing with the challenges of our times” said Mr. Modi, referring to his meeting with the Russian President in Sochi last month. “At the same time, India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship,” he added.


Strategic autonomy denotes the ability of a state to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by other states. In its pure form, strategic autonomy presupposes the state in question possessing overwhelmingly superior power. This is what would enable that state to resist the pressures that may be exerted by other states to compel it to change its policy or moderate its interests. It is also defined as the ability of a state to pursue its foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by the states. Both definitions require the state to be strong, especially in military and economical form. The required military and economic power is also influenced by one’s geopolitical environment and adversaries.


The military capability  depends on what resources does the country’s military organizations receive  and how successfully they  can
transform them into effective military power.   The resources that the national leadership makes available to its military  organizations are financial principally measured by defence budget, human, physical, and technological. The size and quality of military manpower is the second kind of resource that yields insight into a country’s national power. The extent and quality of military infrastructure is the third kind of resource that has an impact on the quality of military capability. The number and quality of combat research institutions is the fourth kind of resource that affects military capability, according to RAND.. The rapid transformations in both technology and the military arts have resulted in a need for increasingly specialized institutions that focus on  research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities relating to combat.  The structure, extent, and quality of a country’s defense industrial base constitutes the fifth kind of resource affecting military effectiveness. discerning its degree of dependence on others. The latter issue is particularly relevant from the viewpoint of understanding a country’s potential vulnerabilities in the context of conflict.


The greatest threat to India has been rapid china’s military and technological advancements. China is close to developing twin high-performance fifth-generation stealth fighters,  indigenous aircraft carriers, large number of missiles including “Carrier killer” missile, anti-ship cruise missile, nuclear submarine and long-range intercontinental missile. It also has developed considerable space and cyber capability, the two new domains of warfare.


China is making rapid advancements in many technologies thus narrowing its gap with western world. Former US energy secretary Steven Chu has even observed that China is ahead of America in areas ranging “from wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail”. China is also catching up fast in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, 5-G broadband technology and the “Internet of Things.” Its civil military integration strategy and its huge manufacturing industry is capable of rapidly military innovation in military.


The china’s military and economic rise is creating multidimensional challenges for india. One is unresolved border issues. On August 28, 2017, it was announced that India and China had mutually agreed to a speedy disengagement on the Doklam Plateau, ending the military face-off that lasted for close to three months. Any future conflict in such areas would have surmount challenges of the difficult mountain terrain and complex weather conditions. To prepare for such a contingency, both India and China have invested significantly in units capable of mountain and high-altitude warfare.


The further complicating situation for India strategic autonomy is growing China-Pakistan security and military nexus. China plans to step up military cooperation with “all weather” friend Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and a multi-role combat aircraft, official media here reported as Pakistan’s new army chief held talks with top Chinese officials in July 2018.  Weapon exchanges, including the mass production of FC-1 Xiaolong which in Pakistan called JF-17 Thunder is a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the two countries. There is also ongoing space, counter terrorism and nuclear cooperation.


Indian defence has also make rapid military modernization, but the threats are much more than its sole capability. India has mostly failed to develop an indigenous defense industry that could fully meet its needs, meaning that it must rely on foreign powers to equip its military. India is the largest importer of defence products accounting for 14% of the total global imports in the year 2016. Currently, about 70% of the Indian defence procurements are imported. Russia remains its largest defense partner, but the United States, Israel and France are also key suppliers.


One of Indian strategy to fight Chinese military modernization and China- Pakistan nexus is Indo-Russia collaboration. Russia has been a longstanding time-tested partner of India. Defence relations between India and the Russian Federation have a historical perspective. India is all set to order a fresh batch of 42 Sukhoi fighter aircraft from Russia leading to over 222 Sukhois in its fleet by 2020. Indian armed forces include the delivery of the INS Vikramaditya, the joint development of the BrahMos missile system, and the extensive Indian employment of T-90 tanks.


However, there is another emerging threat to Indian strategic autonomy that is in maritime domain. Beijing is now increasingly using its anti—piracy deployment as justification for expanding its naval presence in the Indian Ocean and making it more permanent. Earlier, an Indian Defense Ministry report had warned of the “grave threat” posed by the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean. It suggested that China is widening its orbit of patrols beyond Chinese waters to jockey for control of highly sensitive sea lanes. China is also building $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) announced last year that will give Beijing access to the Indian Ocean through Gwadar besides running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.


In Indian Ocean, India is banking on growing naval relationships in the Indian Ocean not only with the United States, but also with Japan and Australia, essentially to balance China or otherwise delay the growth of its naval presence in the Indian Ocean.”


India and the United States are in talks to help each other track submarines in the Indian Ocean, military officials say, a move that could further tighten defense ties between New Delhi and Washington as China steps up its undersea activities, as reported by Reuters.  New Delhi earlier had agreed to open up its military bases to the United States in exchange for access to weapons technology to help it narrow the gap with China.


India and the United States in Sep 2018 began a new generation of military and security cooperation by signing Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), a legal framework that enables the transfer of critical, secure and encrypted communications between weapon platforms to facilitate “interoperability”.


However, US-India Defence cooperation agreements have started affecting existing Indo-Russian defence relationship.  In May 2018, Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the US House Armed Services Committee, asked India to seriously rethink the acquisition of the Russian S-400 anti-missile defence system and warned that India purchasing it could set hurdles for building “interoperability” with the US in the future. It has also asked India to lessen its dependence on Russian military hardware.


The growing US-India collaboration is also dissatisfied Russia as India is the second largest market for the Russian defence industry. This is leading to Russia looking to Pakistan for increasing its defence exports. Russia, the most important defence ally of India, has signed an agreement with Pakistan for naval cooperation in July 2018, which is causing concern in strategic circles in New Delhi. The MoU between the two countries, which were once considered bitter rivals, was inked during the visit of Pakistan Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Kaleem Shaukat to the Russian Federation. The MoU comes close on the heels an accord between the two countries in April to enhance cooperation in the training of armed forces personnel in the naval field and conduct of wide range of joint military exercises.


India-Russia ties have received a boost with a $5bn deal that will see New Delhi buy an S-400 air defence system from Moscow despite looming threat of US sanctions. The deal to buy the long-range surface-to-air missile systems was signed between Russian and Indian officials during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for an annual summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Putin clearly stated that Russian relations with India were ‘based on trust’ and ties with other countries would ‘not dilute’ ties with one of its ‘closest friends’.  He went on to say that Russia’s military ties with Pakistan were ‘not tight’. He also emphatically supported India’s fight against terrorism, “no matter where the threat comes, it is unacceptable.” India had been concerned with growing military ties of Russia with China and Pakistan.


India also participates in multiple coalitions — the SCO, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum and the BRICS group, which also includes Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa —to strengthen





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