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Tuesday, July 04, 20061152035100

India's Near Abroad

A "near abroad"is an area outside of a country which that country claims as her own. One example of a near abroad is the western hemisphere, which the United States (through the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary) has protected for ages. Other "near abroads" are simply parodies of the concept. Russia (through the old Soviet Empire) and China (with her nemesis, the democratic state of Taiwan) pretend they are able to control areas which they are too weak too.

Recently, some ultranationalist statements have hinted that many citizens of India also wish their country to have a near abroad.

A Chicago Boy recently informed me of this post at Cynical Nerd, an Indian blog:

We consider the sale of advanced weapons systems by the United States to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is an hostile act against a democratic India. The U.S. Government is well aware that the target of such weapons is none other than India as it has happened in the past. More advanced conventional arms to the terrorist state creates more security room for them to increase their terrorist activities inside India and her neighborhood.

In the comments section, another poster opined:

The real solution for India is to pursue development of indigenous defense technology and focus on becoming an economic powerhouse. The only language Americans understand is money. All India needs to do is to impose a very high economic cost of supporting Pakistan on Americans and they will quickly get the message. For example, if India were to reciprocate Us gift of $5B worth of weapons to Pakistan with denial of $10B worth of business to GE and Wal-Mart, how long do you think this will go on?

Another post on another blog, relating to the discussion

Dan tried to focus attention on the cold war history. He pointed out that India was on the wrong side during the cold war and America was only hedging its bets by playing both sides and watching and then decide later on about which side they should be on. I pointed out to him that America does not have the luxury of playing on both sides of the Tennis court.

However India defines her near abroad (to mean maybe only Pakistan, maybe all the states of the former Indian Empire that prospered under benign British rule), it's clear she not capable of acting as a regional hegemon. Let's review

Current Internal Status: Military-dictatorship, with substantial portions of the country ruled by al Qaeda affiliates

Sri Lanka
Current Internal Status: Bloody civil war (Ethnic)

Current Internal Status: Military-dictatorship, a media "black hole"

Current Internal Status: Bloody civil war (Maoist)

Compare this not just to a functioning regional hegemon such as the United States (almost all of whose wards are democracies), but even laughable ones such as Russia (none of whose wards are in a hot civil war).

Now, perhaps the Indians are claiming that their country should have a near abroad. But unless India is somehow claiming they have the capacity to enforce their will -- or at least a shade of it -- on Pakistan, it is insane for them to pretend to the title of sheriff.

India is not now able to act as a regional hegemon, even with formerly subject states of the old Empire. Maybe one day India can, when she grows up.


Nice piece.

The aspirations of India's nationalists exceed their grasp and -from skimming the Nerd dialogue that Lex sent - their preference for a retreat into autarky should keep the range of their grasp rather short.

No sense of the strategic whatsoever but then again, these are the out-of-power goofballs who formerly bet their chips on Brezhnev abroad and statist economics at home.

Posted by: mark safranski | Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Interesting post. Could it be that until India's per capita income rises a substaintial amount that it cannot via for hegemon status? The examples of Russia and the US both have far greater economic capacity, setting aside military capabilities.

Additionally, while US-Russo relations created many proxy wars (both civil and not-so civil), they had the benefit of vast oceans and even continents separating them.

India doesn't share that luxury. If China continues its climb, non-democratically, next to a rising India, surrounded by failing states, the chaos in the region could far outstrip 1970s-1980s Latin America, 1980s Africa or 1960s-1970s Southeast Asia.

Posted by: Anonymous | Wednesday, July 05, 2006

You forgot Poland!

Err. Bangladesh!

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the term Akhand Bharat. Indian revanchism isn't exactly a new concept, though I can't say I am surprised that few are aware of it.

Posted by: Jing | Wednesday, July 05, 2006

especially interesting since india is starting to embrace manufacturing in order to employ the agrian masses (a la china decades ago).

Posted by: Federalist X | Thursday, July 06, 2006


Thanks! I would be interesting to know how influential this thinking is in India... Is it limited to old Congressites, or BJP, or cross-party?


Recall that the worst setback in the history of the Monroe Doctrine (the French occupation of Mexico during the American Civil War) roughly matches just one of the recent setbacks for Russia's aspirations (the Orange Revolution in Ukraine). Thus becoming as regionally powerful as Russia would only give India enough strength to fail at regional hegemony.

I agree that India's geographic position is precarious. It borders two nuclear powers (poor and angry Pakistan, rich and racist China), which is far worse than Russia's or America's geographical position. Indeed, India's position is worse than Britain's after Suez. Thus, any attempt at an independent regional policy is folly. Let's hope that India thinks better than that.


Thanks for the tip on Undivided Undia ("Akhand Bharat"). Undivided India had only existed under the British Indian Empire. The movement for quick Indian Independence destroyed that dream. I doubt there will be a second chance.

(Perhaps a similar event prevented in the late 18th century prevented the emergence of a united North American Anglosphere?)

I'll give India credit for Bangladesh. The state wouldn't have existed without Indian intervention, and so demonstrates the sole successful "state building" excersize in Indian history.


Good point on the lateness of Indian development. China, seeing more clearly the disaster of Leftist economics, was able to correct herself sooner. India's progress is thus slowed, which means India's aspiration to any sort of near abroad will be slowed as well.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Friday, July 07, 2006

Rich and racist China? This is the second time I've seen you mention mainland Chinese racism regarding India. Certainly there are issues of racism in the social sense, but you make it sound as if the Chinese regard the Indians as untermensch worthy only of obliteration. Race has next to nothing to do with the formulation of Chinese foreign policy vis-a-vis India. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with what some Indian Jingos have to say in regards to China. I would wager it would be a more enlightening experience. Also China is hardly "rich" though per capita exchange rate income is double that of India's. However, due to the unequal distribution of wealth, the lowest earning 20% in China, over 260 million individuals, earn even less than the lowest 20% of India.

Secondly, it has generally been that India has been the poorest nation of South Asia. Despite the deluge of western press articles waxing romantic about the newfound success of their political sproutling, India's exchange rate per capita income according to the IMF as of 2005 was still slightly less than that of Pakistan's (Though admittedly India is catching up. For most of the post independence era, per capita income has been roughly 50% higher in Pakistan than in India). Somewhat higher than Bangladesh, and significantly lower than Sri Lanka's.

Secondly on the issue of Bangladesh, I would hardly call it one of India's high points in state-building. If it is, it is truly a pitiful history indead. While the seccession of erstwhile East Pakistan was a major blow to Pakistan, it did not solve any of India's security dilemmas. Illegal immigration, terrorism, and state-level antagonism are all wedges between Bangladesh and India. Just because India assisted Bangladesh in gaining independence, not all Bangladeshies are grateful and in fact the general atmosphere is I would characterize as unpleasant.

India's geographic problem is not in having longtime rival Pakistan on her northwest and Pakistan's benefactor, China on the northeast, but rather that all of India's neighbors are for lack of a better word, are fucked up. Pakistan, Afghanistan (fairly close), Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma are the closest neighbors India has and almost all of them are in a state of civil war or absence of central authority. The side effects of which, naturally spill over into India. This is the geopolitical equivalent of having your home on a street full of crack houses.

China on the other hand lives in a much more benign and prosperous neighborhood (with the exception of North Korea).

Posted by: Jing | Friday, July 07, 2006


We generally agree.

Both when I visited China and later visiting with Chinese here, every Chinese I spoke to expressed a strong desire to maintain the international status quo. If there is a common mood for international relations, it is a sort of"warm and fuzzy realism" which argues for both self-determination of states and peaceful resolution of conflicts. Taiwan can be a sore point, but even here I didn't encounter anyone rooting for an invasion.

That this is in spite of widespread racism towards Indians is remarkable. The antipathy towards Indians as human beings was striking. "I am racist towards Indian people" was the clearest statement of the fact, but expression sof the strangeness, weirdness, and unhygenic nature of Indians were common.

China's economic and population advantages against India are considerable. China is of course not rich by Western standards, but as you mention her lead against India is considerable.

I agree that India's experience in Bangadlesh shows a pitiful history.

I like your description of India's neighborhood as a crack house. Indeed, one can expand it by saying another one of her neighbors (Tibet) was knocked off and replaced by a big-time gangster (China). (When one considers that virtually all of India's "fucked up neighborhood" was a de jure or de facto part of the Indian Empire under Britain, one reflects on the wisdom of independence...)

I also agree with the generally benign neighbors that China has. While China's neighbors are not allies, the psycopaths / neighbor quotient is quite low.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Friday, July 07, 2006