How India Has Avoided a Hegemonic War

Rohan Mukherjee and Anthony Yakazi have said that India has “an interest in countering China’s rise without provoking conflict or any form of escalation.” but, in spite of perceptions, India has challenged the notion that increasing a country's military power is an automatic cause to wage war.

India: Economic and Military Power
India has become an economic power through contributing factors that increased her incredible wealth and geopolitical weight [Source]: economic reforms, the obliteration of the License Raj (regulation of the private sector, between 1947-1990, where investors needed the approval of several agencies in order to set up a business legally), innovation and opening of her market to foreign direct investment.
In defence terms, until recently, India had been mainly focused on Pakistan; however, in the past six years or so, India's focus has shifted to meet the increasing challenges posed by China's rising military capabilities in Tibet [Source]. Therefore, India has also sought to increase her military might by:

  • Purchasing 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook helicopters (to re-supply and reinforce her forces on the Pakistani and Chinese borders); cooperating with the US to design of and build unmanned aerial vehicles, big-data systems, 127 mm naval guns and multi-role helicopters for the Indian Navy and top-end new platforms (e.g. the Boeing P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft)[Source
  • Short-listing  128 Dassault’s Rafale fighters (France)[idem].
  • Purchasing Israeli advanced sensors - radars of various types (to counter the infiltration levels from hostile neighbour Pakistan), air combat manoeuvring systems, Dvora MK-2 patrol boats for the Indian Navy; arms, including ordnance, laser-guided bombs; Spyder missile systems armed with Python and Derby missiles; developing and procuring Barak 8 medium-range surface-to-air missiles [Source]; 15 Heron drones and “262 Israeli-made Barak 1 surface-to-air missiles, in a $144 million deal that will arm India's 14 battleships over the course of five years.” plus acquiring Iron Dome systems [Source

India, the Challenger?
The expansion of India's military power accompanies an expansion in responsibilities: by acquiring weapons from the US (with whom India shares values of democracy and freedom), she is forming an alliance of sorts with America (even though she avoids being used by the US as a pawn against American challengers) while at the same time positioning herself as a challenger to a powerful neighbour. Furthermore, the acquisition of western arms places India in a better position to build alliances with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines – themselves aligned with the US and also experiencing tensions with China, due to territorial disputes.
India is a rising naval power since she seeks to reinforce her position in the Indian Ocean Region; however, this doesn't necessary mean that this country seeks to take over the role of powers like the US, China and Japan in intervening with military assistance:

"Because of the philosophical constraints that we impose on ourselves, we don't see ourselves as a replacement for any other power. We certainly don't believe that the presence of any other power, such as China or Japan, or what have you, would necessarily contribute to the security of the region." [Source]

This is a very wise policy because while India is challenging a power (China), it is also avoiding to blatantly pose a direct threat and destabilise her region's (plus the international) order; although we can't be sure that she will be able to sustain such position for much longer, since her characteristics (e.g. democracy, very young population, freedom and combat against corruption) place her in a  much better standing than China, promising thus a better future power of influence in the region. Nevertheless, not even that possibility would cause China, as a challenged power, to attack India because of the boomerang effect – i.e. both China and India maintain strong economic ties, therefore warring India to prevent her rise would endanger China's own position.

Indian Military Power: a Security Dilemma?
India is faced with tensions on two borders (Pakistan [over the Jammu-Kashmir state] and China [over Aksai Chin, a territory in the Jammu-Kashmir state; and Tawang, a district in the Arunachal Pradesh state]) and therefore it has increased its defence capabilities; however, this move does not seem to make her neighbours feel less secure to the point of carrying a full-scale offensive military campaign against India, inasmuch as her military purchases have been cleverly mixed: both defensive (e.g. patrol boats, UAVs, Missile Defence Systems) and offensive weapons (e.g. attack helicopters, fighter jets and missiles) that only slightly decrease her neighbours' security to a comfortable level.
It can be argued that given India's border realities, she realises the advantages of a defensive posture while, at the same time, adopting an offensive posture (undistinguishable from the defensive one), which despite posing a security dilemma to her neighbours, doesn't constitute a motivation for war since their security requirements may be compatible (i.e. the second of the Four Worlds explained by Robert Jervis [in Cooperation under the Security Dilemma]).

It is said that power transitions usually generate instability; however, interestingly enough, the rise of India has not generated much of an instability neither in the region nor in the international system; au contraire:  by challenging China's hegemony (whose expansion in economic and military power has been perceived as a threat to the US and the rest of Asia), India is balancing things out and helping the US to keep the stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
War has been avoided because there are no conditions for it to occur. If we think of Organski's conditions for war [in Declining Power and the Preventive Motivation for War], then we will have to conclude that the rise of India's power could never produce war for, as a challenger, her military rise has not been rapid (it started 20 years ago and her expansion is planned to continue over the next 5 years); US' policies are not inflexible (neither are China's); India is endeavouring to normalise her relations with Pakistan; there is a tradition of friendship with China; and, as previously explained, she does not seek to replace "the existing order with a competitive order"[idem] of her own. Therefore, India's rise supports Jack Levy's argument that “power shifts are neither necessary nor a sufficient condition of war”[idem]

In this case, a hegemonic war has been avoided because the witnessed power transition was not translated into warfare. European nations, and many others, could clearly learn a lot from India's experience and stance.


  1. What has happened so far has been despite a weak central government in India. You will see a great deal more in the next few years.

    1. How do you explain that phenomenon then, Mr Rummuser? That the avoidance happened so far despite the previous weak central government in India?

  2. India is now one of the biggest arms buyers on the planet. Definitely they are trying to modernize their military with a wide range of quality weaponry. This need helps to explain the Indian people the change in policy, I'm talking about the relations with the US and Israel.
    You concluded talking of Europe, this is timely cause even the US yesterday complained Europe was not increasing their military expenditure but cutting it more, a total failure to comply to NATO's advise. If crisis in Ukraine intensify how's Europe going to do? Yes, they could learn from India and still maintain their eternal peace illusion.

  3. Hi Cristina,

    "India has challenged the notion that increasing a country's military power is an automatic cause to wage war."

    This is yet another evidence that things are changing in the political world. The world is changing, period; thus we really need to come up with new theories, new solutions, new school of thoughts.
    But I must say that I am extremely happy that India was the one to challenge the world, the academia and I commend you for having seen that.

    Like Rummy said, under the new government we can expect India to move forward even more spectacularly. We are living in interesting times.


  4. Cristina, I agree that Europe has a lot to learn from other countries around the world and India certainly is one of them! I like where India is going and I have high hopes for it, I'm telling you people, voting for Modi was one of the best things my Indian friends did! Best of luck to them and may they continue to display wisdom when conquering Asia. Challenging a country like China ain't easy!

  5. I agree with your thoughts completely on the strategic front. The only problem with India is on the manufacturing and agricultural sector, which are crucial factors for attesting the authority for any country. And in both these fronts India still has a long way to go as with the burgeoning young population moving away from agricultural sector in prospect of better opportunities, it is imperative the manufacturing sector replace it gradually but as has happened over the years, land and environmental factors has become a crucial roadblock in the way of reforms and nobody wants to destabilise the status quo. Today if you see the superpowers most are either industrially advanced nations or agriculturally robust and for India to take its place it have to have this self-dependence first, for which India has always favoured to take the politically neutral approach.

    1. Kalyan, I agree with you that the agricultural sector is a crucial factor in any economy. When Portugal was an agricultural country, it was wealthy and respected; then came the EU and decided it would be a country of services...what happened? I think it's clear.
      Notably, the European countries that kept their agricultural sector strong are the most powerful countries in the continent: England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy etc etc...
      Good call.

  6. You said something very important: India is helping America. That alone signals a major shift in Indian policy and the American rapprochement to India signals another shift in US policy, one that we should all welcome.
    But hey, where is Europe in the middle of this?

  7. This has me pondering the balance of power on the street that I live on: There are 3 Indian families, 2.5 Chinese families, 3.5 American families, and 1 German lady. This is a small indicator of the economic entanglement of the various countries.

    May India grow stronger and prosper.

  8. India is clever, she's also in a tough neighbourhood so she must be clever about how she moves. Like so many here, I wish her well.


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