Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2012

Nonalignment Redux: The Perils of Old Wine in New Skins

Ashley J. Tellis

July 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Since the Cold War ended, India has been persistently criticized for lacking a grand strategy. Like many other complaints about India, this one, too, is curious because the country has been nothing if not the exemplar of excessive planning for much of its modern history. In fact, ever since India was incarnated as an independent state in 1947, it has always had a clear and arguably defensible grand strategy—even if it lacked a summary document that articulated its national aims. Now, some six decades after independence, a group of Indian strategists has attempted to fill this gap by authoring Nonalignment 2.0, a report that offers a grand strategy for India in the coming years. There has been a surfeit of criticism surrounding the report, much of it misplaced: Nonalignment 2.0 is a refreshing effort to lay down a strategic path for India, and should be commended for that reason. Its critics, unfortunately, have failed to appreciate many of the document’s virtues, not least of which is its largely accurate portrayal of India’s strategic environment. And that perceptive analysis serves as the sure foundation for the development of an appropriate grand strategy. But in light of its own reading of India’s strategic circumstances, the report’s key recommendation—that India should remain “nonaligned” well into the future and refrain from cementing strong strategic “alliances” with other actors—is deeply misguided and potentially even dangerous. If New Delhi followed the report’s core advice, India would be left perilously vulnerable.