Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Our Time Has Come

Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World 
©  2018 Alyssa Ayres
360 pages

The India of the 21st century is more than  the word's back office;  by some measures, it has already overtaken Japan as the world's third largest economy,  and as the world's second largest country,  its expansion has only begun, with millions more Indians waiting to rise from poverty.   Our Time Has Come is written not by an Indian national, but by an American student who first visited the world's largest democracy in the early nineties, and saw India's transformation as it moved away from the failures of socialism and embraced both greater freedom for its citizens, and the technologies of the future.  Now a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ayres reviews the way that India has established a growing role for itself as a world power, and makes recommendations for US policy.

India is less a new power than an old power made new again, Ayres points out in an introductory chapter which reviews the former economic weight of India some two thousand years ago.  India, like China, has a long memory --   and as a postcolonial nation, India's pride in its own heritage is made stronger by determination not to enveloped by another power once more.   Although Ayres has a section on India's growing economic importance in the world,  I found India's strategic and diplomatic expansion far more interesting.    India sees itself as reclaiming its former role as a world leader, and is careful to protect its independence.  It has an especially interesting role at the United Nation, where it's quite supportive of peacekeeping missions and democracy-building....but reliably refrains from voting for measures which single out one nation or another for abuse, viewing such measures was non-constructive.  India also refrains from taking up joint efforts with other nations on a private basis -- preferring missions under the UN flag. (Speaking of which, India is stretching its legs militarily, and intends to establish itself as the predominant power in the Indian Ocean.) Ayers stresses that DC should approach India as a partner, not an ally who will necessarily support DC's every move:   India and DC's interests will align more often than not, but respecting India's need for independence is crucial to building a healthy relationship.    Related is the recommendation that DC adopt the practice of consulting India on a habitual basis when working in the region  -- both for its intelligence resources and to build a relationship of mutual trust that makes diplomacy between the two more reflexive and open than occasional and formal.  More controversially,  Ayers recommends that instead of trying to balance focus on Pakistan and India that DC double down on India.  Pakistan is an unreliable partner in the best of times, and now that the Afghan war appears to be winding down (knock on wood), it may be possible to take this advice.  One disconcerting tidbit in this book is China's chilly regard towards India; while India is eager to move forward in trade and cooperation, China is far less amicable.

Although I found this book quite interesting,  I'm an admitted foreign policy wonk. It's quite readable, but it goes into a lot of details that might put readers with just a vague curiosity about India off.

"Pakistan sees any sign of Indian involvement with Afghanistan as a threat to its own interests, and as a result has refused to allow India transit access to Afghanistan and beyond—even though connecting Afghans to the region’s largest market would help stabilize Afghanistan’s economy and bring much-needed economic security to the entire region."

"When the Bush Administration made its breakthrough with India in 2005–2006, some in the Administration and many beyond hoped that India might become effectively allied with the U.S. in its foreign and defense policy. That was an illusion. We can now see clearly that India, a great civilization with thousands of years of history and the self-confidence that comes with it, will pursue its own interests as a 21st century great power. We will not become formal treaty allies. We’ll align on many issues, but we will not be 'aligned.'"

Brave New World: India, China, and the United States, Anja Manuel. Another foreign policy guide, but this one appraises both India and China's merits and weaknesses, and stresses that DC need to tread carefully in not favoring one over the other. I really need to properly review this one this year, because it was a favorite.


  1. i find it interesting that China has more or less seemed to have eliminated its religion problem whereas India and Pakistan have been at sword's point for decades over the Hindu/Moslem rivalry... they even dropped a couple of nukes on each other not too long ago... all stemming from the post-war diaspora, i suppose...

  2. I don't know that I'd say that...if China has eliminated a religious problem it's only by ruthlessly destroying and persecuting religious communities in its hinterlands. The Chinese state on the main is an odd exception to most states being heavily religious...perhaps because the native Chinese religion was itself atypical.


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