- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Poised for Power: The Domestic Roots of India’s Slow Rise

C. Raja Mohan


This chapter examines the positive and negative impact of democracy and internal change on the prospects for India’s emergence as a great power.

Main Argument

Rapid economic development has begun to improve India’s relative standing in the international system, but weak national leadership, political fragmentation, and a defensive strategic culture suggest India might not be able to take full advantage of a positive international environment. Even suboptimal outcomes for India’s grand strategy still might be large enough to make a difference to the evolution of the international system.

Policy Implications

  • U.S. recognition that a rising India has no incentive to accept the status of a junior partner may help the effort to build enduring security cooperation with India. Leveraging the structural factors that are drawing India and the U.S. closer might be more effective than fitting India into a preconceived alliance framework.
  • Assisting India in the economic reintegration of South Asia would create a new zone of stability and prosperity with the potential to influence the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia.
  • India is driven by its own motivations to balance China in Asia. Strengthening India’s power potential to achieve this aim should be a more attractive option for the U.S. than the direct containment of China.
  • The current hands-off approach by the U.S. has made it possible for India to move forward on negotiations with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. Active but discreet U.S. support to India-Pakistan rapprochement could help ease the legacy of Partition and help promote moderation and modernization among the 40% of the world’s Muslims who live on the subcontinent.