A Paradigm Trap

How busting the myths of non-alignment and autonomy can shed light on Indian foreign policy

01 May 2012
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld welcomes the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to the Pentagon in June 2005 for talks that led to a historic 10-year defence agreement. In the recent years, India has thrust itself into the American military orbit.
JIM WATSON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld welcomes the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee to the Pentagon in June 2005 for talks that led to a historic 10-year defence agreement. In the recent years, India has thrust itself into the American military orbit.
JIM WATSON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

TWO YEARS AGO, Srinath Raghavan wrote a commanding diplomatic history of the Nehru years, War and Peace in Modern India. The historians Sunil Khilnani and Ramachandra Guha, writing the book’s introduction, praised Raghavan’s excavation of the early republic’s statecraft. They also bemoaned India’s prevailing “derivative discourse” on power and strategy, judging it to be “a mimetic response to what we understand other great powers do, a response based on borrowed ideas, theories, and imaginations”.

According to this view, India did not need to articulate grand strategies built around alien, imported ideas—however much outside observers to the country’s rise might expect. The challenge thrown down was to fashion a foreign policy that could rest on something indigenous and—it was thereby implied—authentic.

Yet, the harder Indian strategists have worked to escape this intellectual trap, the more they find themselves accused of a strategic mimesis of their own. It turns out that indigenous ideas, theories and imaginations might also be borrowed, if only from the Indian past.

Shashank Joshi is a doctoral student at Harvard University and a fellow of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Keywords: politics India foreign policy non-alignment alignment Non-Alignment 2.0
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