Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy

By Innocent, Malou | The Cato Journal, Spring-Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy


Innocent, Malou, The Cato Journal


Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy

David M. Malone

New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, 425 pp.

After more than 20 years of major market reforms that followed a foreign exchange crisis in 1991, India's stunning economic growth has enlarged its international profile. But unlike China, India's security challenges and perspectives on foreign policy remain largely unknown to the rest of the world. What kind of great power does India aim to be?

The timing is right for Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy, a concise treatment of India's growing stature in Asia's geopolitics and in international affairs. This lucidly written tome draws on the personal experience of its author, David M. Malone, until recently Canada's high commissioner to India (2006-08), and his in-depth study of the existing Indian literature. Chapters 1 and 2 are brisk introductions to India's unique civilization and its ancient and modern history. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 assess India's vexing security challenges, its striking economic growth, and its relations with neighboring states, respectively. Those three chapters provide the thematic backdrop for much of the book.

Malone fluently identifies key internal and external barriers that will hamper India's striking economic growth: rampant corruption, poor business conditions, law and order problems, communal unrest, religious conflict, and abject poverty. Although the conflict in Kashmir attracts Western headlines, India's most insidious internal threat remains the Naxalite movement, a Maoist insurgency whose violence has spread to almost a quarter of Indian districts. An estimated 30 armed insurgent groups operate in the country's ethnically diverse northeast.

Despite India's robust linguistic, ethnic, and religious links with much of the region, its diplomatic relations remain poor with virtually all of its neighbors. Malone cites the tiny landlocked kingdom of Bhutan and the Indian Ocean archipelago of Maldives as the only two examples of India's successful relations with smaller neighbors. Ties between India and Bangladesh remain marred by disputes over terrorist havens and illegal migrants. Nepal is resentful of what it views as excessive Indian interference. India's intelligentsia remains hostile toward Myanmar's military junta, despite India's careful relations with it for the sake of Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state adjacent to Myanmar, which China claims. In Sri Lanka, after nationalism coalesced around a Sinhalese Buddhist identity, India, in the guise of peacekeeping, intervened militarily, becoming embroiled in combat against Tamil separatists, who in 1991 assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The book comes up short on the question of Pakistan, despite offering a fascinating and impressive survey of New Delhi's dangerous neighborhood. Malone contends that the possibility of a full-scale Indo-Pak war is "less likely" than ever barring the rise to power in Islamabad of a radical group or individual. But perhaps that assessment would have been more compelling had Malone devoted more than six of his 425 pages to the countries. On Indo-Afghan relations, in league with popular opinion, Malone finds that shared history, culture, and the desire to rid the region of undue Pakistani influence bind the countries, with many Afghan elites, including President Hamid Karzai, educated in India. Of course, warm Indo-Afghan relations also complicated Washington's aim of getting Islamabad to cooperate fully after 9/11.

Some readers might be surprised that Does the Elephant Dance? leaves out a meaningful treatment of India's growing links with Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Latin America generally. However, the countries Malone discusses are tremendously important. Chapters 6 through 11 survey India's relations beyond the subcontinent: with respect to China, the United States, the Middle East or "West Asia," East and Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia, and the multilateral institutions and processes that have mattered most to New Delhi. …

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