The recent Aero India show brought to Bangalore all the usual suspects and some more, seeking a piece of the large Indian deference pie. However, what is apparent is that India is still keen to accumulate a large arsenal of weapons and platforms but with little signs of synergy between the three armed services and their goals, more so to meet our national objectives for the future.

For a country to attain global pre-eminence, it must address the key objectives of national and strategic importance by using its hard and soft power. Despite being a regional nuclear power, India’s soft power capabilities—socio-cultural strengths or information technology prowess— are overrated. In reality, it is seen as the world’s back office. Also, India lacks a serious military industrial complex.

So India pours money into the global arms market—it is the world’s largest arms importer with a projected outlay of $200 billion in the next 15 years. It has yet to enhance its own capabilities because of a disconnect between the civilian leadership’s aims and what strategic wisdom suggests, and an absence of any long-term plans in New Delhi. Moreover, we have not produced a single document that sets out our goals and concerns. What then should be India’s concerns?

India’s armed forces continue to train and equip themselves for conventional wars that are most unlikely to happen—the world won’t allow another 1971-type Indo-Pak war, though Kargil-type conflicts might be tolerated. Our biggest threat is however of terror attacks from across the borders. But are we sufficiently prepared and equipped to respond to another 26/11-type attack, possibly launched from Pakistan?

Beyond our neighborhood, the two areas where India’s attention should remain are West Asia and the Indian Ocean region, where China continues to expand its presence and adopts coercive diplomacy. West Asia is the source of India’s energy security, which is crucial for its economy. More than 80 per cent of our energy needs are serviced by countries in the Gulf. But the unhindered supply of oil and gas has subdued local initiatives on how India could harness and exploit its own energy resources.

As a country which enjoys a premium location on the map of Asia and which is an attractive destination for investment, India is of keen interest to China and the US. China is India’s largest neighbour, more powerful and now omnipresent in Asia. The US is still the only global power with both hard and soft power capabilities. It is also an Asian power with its strong military, economic and diplomatic presence on the continent. It has, for some years, been keen on enacting a concert of democracies with India to counter China’s ambitions, but New Delhi has been cautious and cold.

China, with its deep pockets, is keen to invest in India, but here, too, India’s response has been cautious. Obviously, India has failed to explore how it could use them both to its advantage. It is about time India’s leaders began to understand how to use our hard power (military capabilities) along with soft power (its diaspora, economic edge and knowledge clout) to favourably position India geopolitically in Asia and our military must help them with it as we have the least informed political leadership – with such a large armed force- on matters military.

Note: A similar essay was published by the author in THE WEEK in Aug ’14

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