Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
India's Quest for Great Power Status
on June 24, 2005
Stephen P Cohen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and is their resident expert on South Asian strategic studies. Not only has he lived in Dehli for a number of years, he speaks Hindi and he has some unique insights as to how foreign policy is shaped inside the government based on his contacts with some of the key individuals. I have heard Cohen speak (English) on several occaisions and was impressed with the breadth and depth of his knowledge of South Asia.
In this book, Cohen details some of the world views of India's leadership during the 1990s. In 1996, the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power and along with it came a new outlook on India's role in the world. The old school were the Nehruvians of the Congress Party (left-centrist), whose outlook was mainly anticolonial, socialist central planning and advocacy of third-world solidarity against Cold War blocs. The new "center-right realist" school, represented by Jaswant Singh and KC Pant realized the world had changed after the fall of the Soviet Union. The new world order was shaped by economics, and from economic strength comes military power. The new government knew that it had to open its economy to international competition in order to achieve the growth rates needed to lift their population out of poverty. No small task since about half of the world's poor are in India. They found China's example encouraging.
The BJP opened up their foreign policy establishment to input by outsiders such as journalists, academics, and even military personnel. The old Congress Party was always very secretive about their decision making process for fear of a military coup. It was also amazing that the BJP was tolerant of alternative views since some of its coalition partners were so intolerant - think of Shiv Sena, led by the notorious Bal Thackeray. Today the BJP is no longer in power, the Congress Party is back in power, but it is no longer the same Congress Party - it too now is a believer in benefits of open markets.
The liberalization of the economy naturally brought India and the US closer together. America's support of Pakistan has always been a sore point in the relationship, but India now reluctantly accepts the fact that a stable Pakistan is in everyone's best interest, given the nuclear saber rattling that took place in 1998.
The US is by far India's largest trading partner, and the impact that the two countries (the world's two largest democracies) have had on each other is profound. Many of the high-tech startups in Silicon Valley have been created by Indian engineers and funded by Indian money. The Indian-American community of 2 million is the single most affluent ethnic group in the US. Many go back to India with their American experiences and recreate the successes. There are now more IT scientists and engineers in Bangalore than in Silicon Valley.
Geostrategically, India will remain bogged down as a regional power as long as the problem of Kashmir festers, and by extension the problem of Pakistan. According to Cohen, India must put this problem behind it before it can become a great power. It is important for America to be evenhanded in its relations with both countries: for Pakistan is a frontline state in containing Islamic fundamentalism and India is a counterbalance China's growing military power. It is also important that India sets the example of democratic success to counter China's authoritarianism.
Cohen has written an excellent book that will be instructive not only to policymakers but to other readers as well. One Indian reviewer has called the book refractive, as seen through the prism of American eyes; it is to our distinction that the eyes were so learned and perceptive.