- Is India Ready for Prime Time?
[End Page 169]
India's rapid ascent to the front rank of world powers abounds with paradox. The country's economic accomplishments, driven by a modern entrepreneurial class, garner superlatives, even as doubts multiply about whether the state's administrative machinery is able to mobilize the country's latent resources in a purposive direction.1 In the defense realm, India is now the world's leading arms importer, and its military budgets have grown handsomely in recent years. Yet its national security decisionmaking institutions are widely thought to be antiquated, if not outright dysfunctional. While leaders in New Delhi proclaim the dawning of the "Indian century," others question whether India possesses a grand strategy worthy of the name—or even a geopolitical tradition capable of formulating one.2 Others puzzle over how the country can aspire to a role at the center stage of global politics—symbolized by its quest for permanent membership in the UN Security Council—and yet remain largely reactive to events in its immediate neighborhood. President Barack Obama speaks of an India that has now "emerged" as a world power, while Lawrence H. Summers touts the superiority of India's developmental model, dubbing it the "Mumbai consensus."3 Yet vast swaths of the Indian population remain mired in abject poverty, and much of the nation's human capital potential is abraded by widespread child malnutrition and chronic inadequacies in the educational sector.4
Two new books approach India's great-power prospects in different ways. The first is Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy—a broad-ranging but substantive survey of the Indian foreign policy horizon by David M. Malone, a scholar-diplomat most widely known for his expertise [End Page 170] in the areas of multilateral diplomacy and public international law. Though much of his knowledge of India comes from his recent stint as Canada's ambassador in New Delhi, he nonetheless brings an illuminating perspective to the conduct of India's international relations. Malone covers a wide tableau, starting with the historical, political, and economic drivers that shape New Delhi's foreign policy behavior, and then moving on to specific examinations of its diplomatic engagement with various parts of the world. Each chapter features concisely written historical summaries peppered with incisive observations. An admiration and affection for India pervades the volume—he concludes the book by noting that "twenty or thirty years from now, the tentative, contingent nature of many of my judgements today may well seem over-cautious" (p. 303)—but this does not prevent him from dispensing pithy opinions on the pathologies affecting Indian diplomacy or from warning that economic growth by itself will not, as many Indians assume, be a pathway to great-power status. Overall, the volume is one of the best overviews of Indian foreign policy in recent years.
In the minds of grand strategists, policy pundits, and business analysts, China and India are now firmly conjoined as Asia's twin titans, whose spectacular, nearly simultaneous economic rise is propelling an epochal and immutable realignment of global wealth and power. Yet part of the value of Malone's book is its discussion of the rather sui generis encumbrances that weigh down India's power trajectory—constraints that sharply distinguish it from its BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) siblings. These start with India's domestic political fragmentation, an outgrowth of the country's extreme heterogeneity, which in turn causes external policy to be largely inert in nature and bereft "of the kind of strategic vision required for India to achieve great power status" (p. 72).5 Mind-boggling ethnic, linguistic, religious, and social diversity of a type no other large country confronts has also brought significant internal security challenges, including the uprising in Kashmir that has been a bleeding wound for the past quarter century, the roughly 30 armed separatist groups operating in the country's northeastern...