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  • The Promise and Limits of Structural Explanations of Foreign Policy
  • Sunil Dasgupta (bio)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union cut India's strategic moorings in 1991, New Delhi looked for new anchors for its foreign policy. It found great success in the West, with its rapprochement with the United States and its accommodation into the international nuclear regime, but India's engagement of other Asian states—called the Look East policy—has seen mixed results. Frédéric Grare's new book, India Turns East: International Engagement and U.S.-China Rivalry, offers a framework in which the mixed results of the Look East policy are explained by the larger structural conditions of U.S. and Chinese power in the region.

Grare documents the vast efforts of the Indian government and its national security leaders to build the Look East policy into a strategic lever against China. He argues that India and China have been engaged in a long struggle over the leadership of Asia going back to Mao and Nehru, even fighting a war in 1962. In the 1990s, Indian leaders recognized that China's rapid economic progress was going to heighten the military threat and open the possibility of Chinese hegemony in Asia. India had originally embarked on the Look East policy to attract foreign investment from Asian states that were by then already on their way to prosperity. Motivated by the rise of China, this effort "grew rapidly into a comprehensive strategy with political and military dimensions concerning the entire Asia-Pacific region" (p. 1).

Through case studies of India's efforts vis-à-vis the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar, Japan, and Australia, Grare shows the promise and evolution of these relationships. But the book is most compelling when it discusses the limits that have circumscribed these ties. In particular, India has been outmatched by China and has failed to effectively coordinate its efforts with the United States. Similarly, Grare examines thematic cases of Sino-Indian competition in Asian trade and economics and within regional organizations where China is a looming presence. Chapter 5 of the book demonstrates that even a country like Australia, so firmly in the Western camp, has an ambivalent relationship with India because of the appeal of China's power and market. Consequently, Grare [End Page 142] portrays the outcome of the Look East policy as epiphenomenal of the dynamics of the relationship between United States, China, and India.

Driven by its rivalry with China, India looked to the United States for help. U.S. political leaders who had begun to worry more about China themselves responded with vigor, transforming the U.S.-India relationship. India's Look East policy was similar to the U.S. pivot and rebalance in Asia. Despite the success of U.S.-India bilateral relations, however, Grare finds that the differences in the interests and capabilities of the two countries have hobbled their coordination in Asia. Countries in East and Southeast Asia, for example, recognize the difference in relative capabilities and thus prefer to work directly with the United States rather than work through India. India's Look East diplomacy has led the country to join regional organizations, but it has not become a net provider of security in the region. Although Grare's argument that closer coordination between India and the United States might have helped is true, the conclusion is that structural conditions proved hard to surmount.

The triangular relationship between the United States, China, and third states or regions has been the primary manner in which structuralists have seen different parts of the world for the last two decades. Those who study the foreign policies of African states see a similar U.S.-China dynamic playing out across that continent. European leaders who at one time saw in China a balance to U.S. power now fear U.S. withdrawal. Japan and India have wanted to become closer, yet the full promise of that relationship remains unrealized as the United States, China, and Japan sort out their own triangular relationship.

This structural view of the world is popular but also contested. There is a long tradition of scholars who have highlighted the...


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pp. 142-145
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