Since the end of the Cold War, there has been persistent criticism, both inside and outside India, that the country lacks a considered grand strategy. A group of prominent Indian analysts and policymakers, supported by senior officials in the Indian government, has for the first time attempted to formally identify the basic principles that should guide India’s foreign and strategic policy in this new century.

In the recently released report Nonalignment 2.0, they discuss India’s strategic opportunities, identify the challenges and threats the country is likely to confront, and define a new version of nonalignment that they argue India should adopt as part of a strategy of enhancing its strategic autonomy in an uncertain world.

Implementing these recommendations as part of New Delhi’s evolving global engagement would have far reaching consequences both for the country’s international role and its approach to key partners, including the United States.

Teresita Schaffer of the Brookings Institution, Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, and Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute discussed the report. Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis moderated.

India’s Lack of a National Security Strategy

  • What the Report Represents: Tellis argued that Nonalignment 2.0 should compel interest both because of those who participated in the creation of the report and because it represents—at least in part—India’s view of the changing world order.

  • Economic Focus: Schaffer added that the report was notable in its focus on India’s economy. While nonalignment during the Cold War period emphasized the importance of India’s strategic autonomy on the world stage, Schaffer explained that this new version of the doctrine–while still striving for strategic autonomy–departs from its predecessor by viewing external strength as rooted in internal economic growth.

India’s Relations with the World

Nonalignment 2.0 looked at India’s relations with several regions and nations of the world:

  • Asia: The report looks at three different areas of Asia – East, South, and West – and discussed India’s relations with each, Schaffer said. She suggested that the analysis was notable for avoiding a discussion of India’s relations with many economically-powerful nations and dodging many strategically difficult issues that India will face.

  • The United States: Schaffer further argued that the report had very little to say about the U.S. relationship with India, which she called a puzzling oversight. She noted that the United States was only discussed in the context of India’s economic growth and its relations with China, and that the report’s discussion failed to offer any new conception of the partnership.

  • The Global Order: The report’s discussion of the international order emphasized India’s ambivalence about many global issues, Schaffer added. The discussion noted, for instance, India’s inconsistency about international rule-making and norm-setting. It also highlighted India’s desire for a greater voice in global institutions, particularly on the UN Security Council.

The Report’s Many Surprises

Fontaine added that the report held several surprises, including:

  • The Title: Fontaine argued that the report’s title was a misnomer, since nonalignment was an appropriate doctrine for a two-bloc world such as the Cold War. In the current international environment, however, Fontaine questioned the conceptual validity of dividing the world into two camps.

  • The Analysis: Much of the report’s analysis was a little simplified, Fontaine asserted, adding that this might be the result of the misdirected conceptual focus highlighted in the title. For example, Fontaine argued that the report’s discussion of the Middle East was too black and white, and did not match the more complicated reality on the ground.

  • Discussion of Internal Issues: Fontaine stated that the report’s focus on many of the challenges facing India internally–including state abdication, institutionalized prejudices, and state-backed predations–were both candid and welcome.

Lingering Questions

Dhume pointed to several lingering questions that the report failed to answer:

  • Fundamentally Different?: Dhume noted that the report characterized India as a unique state that would set new standards for the use of its national power, informed by universal human ideals. Yet the report also emphasized India’s increasing integration with the global economy. Dhume asked whether India can be a fundamentally different power when its growth is linked to economic choices that bind it to the international economic order.

  • Consensus Among Whom?: While the report laid claim to representing a strategic consensus among Indian thinkers, it nevertheless avoided many difficult but important issues and mischaracterized the Indian polity’s opinions on others, Dhume added. He argued that while this report could be fairly described as a center-left consensus, it might not really be a consensus across India’s entire political spectrum.

  • Divorced From Reality?: Dhume posited that the report’s analysis was very theoretical and divorced from the reality of India’s domestic politics. He wondered whether the report could provide a useful path forward for India if its prescriptions fly in the face of conditions on the ground.

Tellis concluded by agreeing that the report was replete with tensions. He noted that there was a constant pull between the report’s stated idealism and its realistic analysis, as well as between the report’s explicit focus on individual empowerment and its implicit need for a strong state to enact its prescriptions. Additionally, Tellis noted that the report’s characterization of U.S.-Indian relations was unduly limited, even when compared with the Indian government’s official stance. Nevertheless, Tellis argued that the report was a step forward, and provided a fruitful start to a broader discussion of India’s future strategic trajectory.

This event is supported by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.