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October 18, 2016

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America’s pursuit of an Asiatic rebalance has influenced U.S. diplomatic ties with India, leading to a number of academic debates surrounding India’s foreign policies and regional military ambitions. In 2009–10, a number of defense policy analysts published a series of articles assessing India’s economic growth and international aspirations. Some suggested that the United States could influence India to use its modernizing military to support U.S goals vis-avis China. Further, many authors argued that India was attempting to develop naval and other expeditionary capacities to enforce a more assertive security policy.

Among those writers were James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, who labeled India’s security policy an Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine. Another author, David Scott, called the policy “India’s Extended-Neighborhood Concept.” Walter C. Ladwig III—in his article “India and Military Power Projection: Will the Land of Gandhi Become a Conventional Great Power?”—concentrated on security to explain India’s ascendance as an Indo–Pacific power. Collectively, these authors claimed that India was increasing its military capacity commensurate with its rising economic power. If their claims are incorrect, U.S. reliance on India in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea would be improvident.

Six years have passed since those claims were made. Thus, it is reasonable to ask whether current evidence still supports the conclusion that India is committed to more aggressive foreign and national security policies. Determining the direction of India’s security policy requires a standard by which to make the assessment. Fortunately, the aforementioned articles contained their own metrics. By using those metrics, all that was necessary was to collect the new data, compare it with the original data and thereby assess whether the authors’ claims still have merit.

The evidence reveals that India has shown neither the political fortitude nor the military capability to prosecute aggressive security strategies. Indian governmental leaders possess three strong historically-based policy proclivities that influence Indian foreign and security policy-making. India’s economic ambitions always drive its foreign policy. Those economic ambitions dictate that the domestic economy will have priority over military spending. The small investments in maritime modernization have not significantly increased India’s naval capabilities. The modest attempts of the Ministry of Defence to replace outdated equipment are also handicapped by burdensome civilian bureaucracies and inept defense processes. Conclusively, then, Indian foreign policies are not shifting the nation to pursue aggressive national security policies. Ultimately, it would be a strategic miscalculation for the United States to rely on India to counterbalance Chinese ambitions in the Asia–Pacific region.