There are many reasons why India’s foreign policy remains something of an enigma to analysts, scholars, and reporters — both in India and abroad. The Indian government is averse to publishing strategic documents of the kind regularly released by the United States, most European states and even China. A careerist bureaucracy and hypercompetitive national politics encourage secrecy in decision-making. Policymakers have traditionally been distrustful of researchers and journalists, both Indian and foreign. And the views of disgruntled critics outside of government resonate far more loudly than bland official pronouncements do. But it is nonetheless clear that India’s objectives since the end of the Cold War have remained remarkably consistent, and its performance surprisingly effective.
In essence, New Delhi’s goals have been characterized by three features…India’s successes have by no means been categorical. Implementation has often been found wanting, as with its difficulty in concluding trade and security agreements. India’s policymakers are also conscious of the country’s severe limitations, making them reluctant to commit to ambitious endeavors. And India, not unlike other rising powers, is often content to “free ride” on others, making it all the more eager to downplay its own capabilities.
At the same time, there is no question that the country has made extraordinary strides in achieving its goals over the past two decades. India has far more resources, security, and friends than it did in 1991, the year it was confronted by a balance-of-payments crisis, several conflagrating insurgencies and the collapse of its primary ally, the Soviet Union. Perhaps there is more to India’s strategic culture – and strategic ambition – than meets the eye.