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PERSPECTIVES

Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 9, 2013 vol xlviii no 6 37


This article is based on the National Maritime
Foundation Lecture that was delivered at
the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on
26 October 2012. It is dedicated to the late
K Subrahmanyam and the late Brajesh Mishra.
My thinking on Indian strategic and foreign
policy has also beneted from my interaction
with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sanjaya Baru (sanjayabaru@gmail.com) is
Director for Geoeconomics and Strategy,
International Institute for Strategic Studies,
London.
India and the World
A Geoeconomics Perspective
Sanjaya Baru
Strategic autonomy in an
interdependent world is secured
through creating mutually
benecial relationships of
interdependence, not from the
mere assertion of ones
independence or non-alignment.
It is the fruit of economic growth
and development pursued in a
globalised world wherein a nation
is able to utilise the benets of
interdependence while managing
the costs this imposes. Hence, the
concepts of autonomy and
self-reliance have to be dened
in the context of the economic
interdependence of nations, and
Indias need and ability to draw
on the economic opportunities
the world presents to us.
T
he most forthright articulation of
the view that Indias rise as a
modern power is contingent upon
its economic performance was made by
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his
very rst union budget speech of July
1991, when he said, quoting Victor
Hugo, No power on Earth can stop an
idea whose time has come. I suggest to
this august House that the emergence of
India as a major economic power in the
world happens to be one such idea.
1
In relating Indias rise to its economic
power and performance, Manmohan
Singh was echoing a thought expressed
by Jawaharlal Nehru, who told the Con-
stituent Assembly in December 1947,
Talking about foreign policies, the House
must remember that these are not empty
struggles on a chessboard ...foreign policy
is the outcome of economic policy.
2
Extending Nehrus vision, the prime
minister said, in February 2006, at the
foundation stone ceremony for Jawa harlal
Nehru Bhavan, a new home of the ministry
of external affairs,
The foreign policy we pursue must reect our
national priorities and concerns. There cannot
be a disconnect between domestic capabilities,
national aspirations, and external policies.
Our foreign policy must help create an inter-
national environment con ducive to Indias
rapid social and economic development.
3
A few months earlier he told the annual
Combined Commanders Conference:
Our strategy has to be based on three broad
pillars: First, to strengthen ourselves econom-
ically and technologically; second, to acquire
adequate defence capability to counter and
rebut threats to our security; and, third, to seek
partnerships, both on the strategic front and
on the economic and technological front, that
widen our policy and deve lopmental options.
4
Kautilya and Kalecki
This way of looking at foreign policy,
what international relations scholars
call realism or, more accurately liberal
realism, we owe to Kautilya, who clearly
identied national interest as the den-
ing principle of international relations.
But Kautilya did not stop there.
He went on to state that from the
strength of the treasury the army is
born.
5
In other words, it is not just
economic self-interest that shapes the
foreign and strategic policy of a country,
but economic competence, capability, and
capacity. The strength of the treasury
should not be interpreted narrowly as
only the states scal capacity. Rather,
even that scal capacity is shaped by
the more fundamental elements of
national power and capability as dened
by income, productivity, output, enter-
prise, and institutional capacity and
capabi lity. The strength of the treas-
ury, therefore, is nothing more than
what the Chinese like to call compre-
hensive national power.
These ideas constitute the parameters
that dene a geoeconomics perspective
of international relations and strategic
policy. They are, however, not new to
strategic policy discourse. The eld of
geoeconomics has evolved precisely in
response to the felt need of modern
nations to create and sustain a global en-
vironment conducive to their economic
prosperity and power.
6
Geoeconomics may be dened in
two different ways as the relationship
bet ween economic policy and changes in
national power and geopolitics (or, the
geopolitical consequences of economic
phenomena); or as the economic conse-
quences of trends in geopolitics and
natio nal power. The idea that trade
follows the ag suggests that the pro-
jection of national power has economic
consequences. Equally, one could say,
the ag follows trade, that is, economic
growth has geopolitical consequences.
The metaphor of trade and ag does not,
of course, require elaboration for experts
on maritime strategy. The leadership
of the Indian Navy has shown great
prescience and diplomatic skill in deve-
loping and pursuing its maritime strategy
and diplomacy over the past decade,
relating it to Indias energy and external
economic security.
PERSPECTIVES
february 9, 2013 vol xlviii no 6 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 38
It is not often recognised in Indian
political discourse that even during
Nehrus time and during the cold war
era, India pursued a realist liberal strat-
egy of giving primacy to its national
interest. As strategic affairs analyst
K Subrahmanyam used to say, even the
policy of non-alignment was never
either a principle or a strategy, but a
tactical response to the extant global
environment. I rst encoun tered this
realist interpretation of non-alignment
in the writings of the Polish Marxist
economist, Michal Kalecki.
Few today may recall that Kalecki,
who has been credited with the indepen-
dent discovery of ideas that dene the
Keynesian revolution in economics,
visited India and worked at the Planning
Commission and wrote extensively on
third world development. In his essay
Observations on Social and Economic
Aspects of Intermediate Regimes,
7
which
spawned a fascinating debate between
K N Raj and Communist Party of India
(Marxist) leader E M S Namboodiripad
in the columns of the Economic & Political
Weekly,
8
Kalecki called the non-aligned
countries the proverbial clever calves
that suck two cows. The simultaneous
suckling of two udders was a clever
tactical response to an opportunity that
presented itself.
Given the extant geopolitical environ-
ment, a group of countries that Kalecki
called intermediate regimes neither
capitalist nor socialist in a bi polar world
grabbed an available geoeconomic op-
portunity to further their own develop-
mental possibilities. In other words, non-
alignment was no strategy, much less
a grand strategy or high principle. It
was clever, self-serving tactics that re-
sponded to the needs and compulsions
of the time.
The dominant paradigm of the cold war
era, however, left politics in command,
meaning that geopolitics was dri ven by
ideological rather than purely economic
factors. It is therefore no coincidence
that ideas dening contem porary geo-
economics, as indeed Manmohan Singhs
own initial thoughts, were all articulated
around the end of the cold war, when a
new era of inter national economic rivalry
was upon us, with the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the rise of east Asian
nations, especially China. Both these
geoeconomic pheno mena have had im-
plications for Indian strategic policy.
Post-Cold War Geoeconomics
The rst important articulation of the
new post-cold war geoeconomics came
with Paul Kennedys study of The Rise
and Fall of the Great Powers, published in
1987. Kennedy put forward the thesis of
imperial overstretch, drawing attention
to the scal and other economic limits
on national power and its projection. As
he put it:
All of the major shifts in the worlds military-
power balances have followed alterations in
the productive balances; and further the
rising and falling of the various empires and
states in the international system has been
conrmed by the outcomes of the major
Great Power wars, where victory has always
gone to the side with the greatest material
resources.
9
This was nothing more than the exten-
sion of the Kautilyan principle that from
the strength of the treasury, the army
is born.
In his inuential essay on Why
International Primacy Matters, Samuel
Huntington extended Daniel Bells asser-
tion that economics is the continuation
of war by other means,
10
setting out a
bold new hypothesis.
In the coming years, the principal conicts
of interest involving the United States and
the major powers are likely to be over eco-
nomic issues. Economic activity is a source
of power, as well as well-being. It is, indeed,
probably the most important source of power
and in a world in which military conict
between major states is unlikely economic
power will be increasingly important in
determining the primacy or subordination
of states.
11
Huntington speculated about the chal-
lenge to US power posed by a resurgent
Japan and Europe. What he or any other
western strategist had not forecast at
the time was that the real challenge
would be posed within their lifetime by
a rising China as the new geoeconomic
power of our times and, indeed, a
rising Asia.
Thanks to the Asian nancial crisis,
the original Asian tigers faltered and
the regions laggard economies became
increasingly dependent on the Chinese
economy. China then consolidated its
position as both a major exporting and
importing power.
12
The pursuit of a new
regional nancial architecture in Asia
through the Chiang Mai Initiative Multi-
lateralisation, the internationalisation
of the renminbi, and the creation of an
Asian bond market have been motivated
by Chinas geoeconomic interests. The
transatlantic nancial crisis and the
ongoing European debt crisis have further
enhanced Chinas geoeconomic status.
If Chinas rise in the east is the
geoeconomic phenomenon that we need
to deal with, there is an equally signi-
cant geoeconomic phenomenon unfold-
ing in the west and that is the rise of
Germany and the new geoeconomics of
energy and markets in Europe. Germany,
like China, has used exchange-rate policy
as a means of enhancing its geoeconomic
power. German policy on the euro is not
much different from Chinas consistent
undervaluation of the renminbi, which,
given its impact on the competitiveness of
Chinas trade partners in Asia, has been
widely viewed as mercantilist intervention.
Implicit in both Chinas and Germanys
exchange-rate policies is a beggar-my-
neighbour strategy that has helped both
countries generate high current- account
surpluses while shifting the burden of
adjustment to neighbouring economies.
By making good use of nan cial crises to
shift the regional (and perhaps even
global) balance of power in their favour,
both have drawn attention to the geo-
economic of power. That is why we
asked at a recent International Institute
for Strategic Studies (IISS) conference on
currency wars whether the power of
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PERSPECTIVES
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 9, 2013 vol xlviii no 6 39
currencies has become the currency of
power?.
13
The consensus at the confer-
ence was that while in the foreseeable
future the US dollar will remain the
dominant global currency, the world is
moving towards a multi-polar regime in
currencies with the US dollar, the euro,
and the renminbi emerging as three key
poles, and other major currencies like
the yen, real, rouble, and rupee enjoy-
ing the status of key regional currencies.
The future of European power, it
would seem, has now become contingent
upon the future of scal systems, debt
write-downs, exchange rate stability, and
such like. If Germany fails to help rescue
Spain and Italy, in particular, in the
interest of stabilising the Eurozone as a
whole, this could undermine the ef c acy
of Berlins economic strategy and Europes
geopolitical power. The geo political con-
sequences of the trans- Atlantic econo-
mic and nancial crisis, the scal con-
straints being imposed on the strategic
capabilities of the US and European
Union (EU), and the changing geopoli-
tics and geoeconomics of global energy
and resources security have all been
subjects of keen policy debate in recent
months. At the IISS, the geoeconomics
and strategy programme has hosted
stimulating conferences on each of
these issues in the past year. The upshot
of them is that economic performance
and capability remain the cornerstone
of strategic capability and autonomy of
action for all powers, big and small.
While the US remains the worlds most
powerful geopolitical and geoeconomic
power, the structural shifts in the global
economy have imposed limits on any
unilateral action.
Strategic Shifts, Economic Shocks
and the Geoeconomics of Power
The rise of China and other emerging
economies both in Asia and elsewhere
denotes a structural shift in the locus of
growth in the world economy, one that
has already had, and will continue to
generate, geopolitical consequences, along
with political risks and oppor tunities.
14
It offers India new opportunities but also
poses new challenges, if not threats.
This shift can either accelerate or decel-
erate depending on the impact of random
economic shocks like a nancial or
energy crisis. An oil shock, for example,
would hurt China and India in the short
term while beneting Russia and Iran.
In the long term, however, the structural
or institutional factors that have contri-
buted to what are now very clearly long-
term shifts in the global economy in
favour of China and India are likely to
prove more enduring than the effects of
any random economic shock.
What are the long-term factors that
contribute to a countrys geoeconomic
power and in what way do they shape a
nations relations with the world? Else-
where, I have identied four factors
knowledge power; agrarian transfor-
mation; the social institutions that
empower the middle classes and create a
knowledge-based economy; and a state
that has the scal capacity to ensure
national well-being and security.
15
Agrarian transformation, urbanisation,
the emergence of a middle class, and the
creation of a modern economy lay the
foundations of progress and power. A
nations ability to feed itself, to ensure
security of access to food, water, energy,
and other vital resources is the corner-
stone of national security. Agrarian change
and increases in the productivity of land
and other natural resources accelerate
the pace of economic growth, facilitate
industrial development, and help ensure
food security. Countries with assured
access to natural resources have an ad-
vantage over those dependent on imports
for vital resources, especially food and
energy. Indias policy options widened
when it graduated from what was
dubbed its ship-to-mouth existence to
greater domestic self-sufciency follow-
ing the green revolution. A great weak-
ness of the erstwhile Soviet Union, on the
other hand, was its inability to remain
self-sufcient in food.
A direct social consequence of agrarian
transformation is urbanisation and the
rise of both an urban middle class and
an entrepreneurial class. These trends are
necessary for sustained and sustainable
long-term economic growth and deve-
lopment. Highly unequal societies are
internally fragile, which limits their ex-
ternal power. A vibrant middle class
and an entrepreneurial class extend the
range of developmental possibilities and
also enable nations to build more sophisti-
cated institutions for the management
of complex challenges and trends. No
nation can create and sustain a middle or
entrepreneurial class overnight. But once
such social development takes place, it
cannot be easily reversed. In other
words, these processes may be slow, but
they are enduring.
Knowledge power, or human capability,
is the single most important attribute of
power in the modern world. As Winston
Churchill observed in 1946, the empires
of the future will be empires of the
mind.
16
Long-term demographic shifts
can alter the dynamics of knowledge
power, with implications for both the
geoeconomic and geopolitical order.
The decline of Japanese power vis--vis
China, for example, is writ into the
formers demographic structure. The same
could be said of Indias rise, provided
public policy facilitates the conversion of
able-bodied people to economic assets.
Education, public health, and access to
gainful employment are key to the process.
Indias strategy of inclusive growth
aims to address this challenge. All of
east Asia has set an example in the
creation and utilisation of human capital.
The generation and constructive deploy-
ment of knowledge power is not merely
an economic or technological exercise.
It requires supportive social and politi-
cal processes. Open and pluralistic
societies that value the development
of rational and scientic thinking have
historically demonstrated a better capa-
city to generate and utilise the power
of knowledge.
Finally, even the most modern and
dynamic economy requires an effective
government that has the necessary
nan cial and human resources at its
command to enable it to project power.
Improvements in the scal capacity of
the state, driven by high growth and
improved governance, create the resour ces
required both for welfare and infrastruc-
ture spending and for building techno-
logical and military capability. Predatory
and rent-extracting states may be able to
amass the resources required for a war
effort or for power projection in the
short term, but this is not a sustainable
PERSPECTIVES
february 9, 2013 vol xlviii no 6 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
40
strategy. On the other hand, as a countrys
national income grows and its economic
capabilities improve on a long-term and
sustainable basis, its ability to garner
the resources required to acquiring
and projecting power also grows. Thus,
Chinas sustained economic growth has
generated the resources required to fund
an ever larger defence budget. On the
other hand, economic incapacity con-
tributed to the implosion of the Soviet
Union, whose low-productivity economy
was weighed down by the burden of
high defence spending.
While each of these four factors
agrarian transformation, an empowered
middle class, knowledge power, and scal
capacity is an important determinant
of a countrys geoeconomic and geo-
political power in the long term, coun-
tries will still be faced with un predictable
economic shocks and other risks in the
short term that may have at least a
temporary effect on their geopolitical
trajectories. The Asian and transatlantic
nancial crises, as well as the European
debt crisis, all had the effect of either
accelerating or decelerating long-term
structural shifts. Were the world to
experience an energy shock today, per-
haps because of a war in the Arabian
Gulf, it would have a similar impact on
national capabilities.
It is possible that sometimes there is a
mismatch between a states capacity and
the demands placed on it by shifts in
global structures. Such a mismatch may
not, however, be immediately evident;
that is, a country may for a time be able
to exercise or project more political or
military power than is warranted by its
inherent economic capability. The Sovi-
et Union of the 1970s is a good example.
Similarly, a prosperous country may be
able to exercise inuence in excess of
its military and geopolitical power, as
Japan did in the 1980s.
However, if a country lacks one of the
four elements of geoeconomic power,
such an imbalance will not be sustain-
able. Eventually, the states inability
to deal with the shocks and risks that
inevitably arise will expose its geo-
economic and geopolitical weaknesses.
Launching the Indian Foreign Affairs
Journal of the Association of Indian Dip-
lomats in February 2006, Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh summed up what I
would call a geoeconomics perspective
on India and the world.
As we strive to realise our due place in
the comity of nations, any policy must
stand the test of one simple question:
how will it affect our quest for development
and our need to provide a secure environ-
ment for government to deliver to our people.
For this, it goes without saying that the reali-
sation of our goal lies in widening, deepen-
ing and expanding our interaction with all
our economic partners, with all our neigh-
bours, with all major powers.
17
I believe this will be the template of
Indian strategic and foreign policy for
years to come. However, we must
recognise that Indias economic rise is
taking place in an interdependent world,
mar ked by the competition for markets,
capital, talent, and resources. The geoeco-
nomics of growth in an interde pendent
world requires India to, on the one hand,
build mutually bene cial relations of
interdependence with other nations and,
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PERSPECTIVES
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 9, 2013 vol xlviii no 6 41
on the other, acquire the capability to
defend its interests globally.
A globalising India is increasingly
dependent on externally procured natural
resources, external markets, and global
employment opportunities for its rising
middle class. If India is able to sustain its
economic growth and build relation-
ships of mutually benecial interdepend-
ence with other nations, especially its
neighbours, and the major powers, that
process in itself will guarantee strategic
autonomy and widen the space for the
countrys further rise.
Strategic autonomy in an inter de pen-
dent world is secured through creating
mutually benecial relationships of inter-
dependence, not from the mere assertion
of ones independence or non-alignment.
It is the fruit of economic growth and
development pursued in a globalised
world wherein a nation is able to utilise
the benets of interdependence while
managing the costs it imposes. As India
widens its development choices, it acquires
greater strategic autonomy. As India be-
comes more relevant to the world, it ac-
quires greater space for independent
action in the world. Paraphra sing Kautilya
for our times, I would suggest that from
the strength of the treasury, so to
speak, strategic autonomy is born.
Hence, the concepts of autonomy
and self-reliance have to be dened
in the context of the economic inter-
dependence of nations, and Indias need
and ability to draw on the economic
opportunities the world presents to us.
Adopting empty political postures can
hurt the national interest even if it may
feed the national ego. Making wise and
strategic use of global interdependence
can help widen the space for autonomous
decision-making in the realm of both
foreign and domestic policy.
Conclusions
In conclusion, I must add a caveat. Crit-
ics of this liberal realist world view will
ask if this is all that India stands for her
own economic betterment. To be sure,
Indias betterment must also mean the
betterment of the entire Indian subconti-
nent and that would immediately mean
the betterment of a fth of mankind.
That is no mean goal to set for ourselves.
An open subcontinent will draw into its
growth process all of Asia, all of the Indian
Ocean region and large parts of the
world. As Manmohan Singh once said,
Indias rise will in itself be a global public
good. The New Vision 2020 for the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooper-
ation (SAARC) and India-Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that I
have had the opportunity to help draft
is based on this perspective.
18
But India also stands for something
more, as it always has. It has its civilisa-
tional message for the world encapsu-
lated in that ancient saying, Vasudhaiva
Kutumbakam, or the Whole World is One
Family. Indias syncretic world view and
pluralism and secularism draw on this
tradition. As a modern republic, India is
a symbol of the possibility of develop-
ment in a postcolonial nation within the
framework of a plural and secular demo-
cracy. Indias inclusive economic growth
process is a precondition for the success
of this, in many ways, unique experi-
ment. As Prime Minsiter Manmohan
Singh said while addressing the India
Today Conclave in February 2005,
If there is an idea of India by which
India should be dened, it is the idea of an
inclusive, open, multicultural, multi ethnic,
multilingual society. I believe that this is the
dominant trend of political evolution of all
societies in the 21st century. Therefore, we
have an obligation to history and mankind to
show that pluralism works. India must show
that democracy can deliver development and
empower the marginalised. Liberal democracy
is the natural order of political organisation
in todays world. All alternate systems,
authoritarian and majoritarian in varying
degrees, are an aberration.
19
However, the example and the appeal
of Indias plural and secular democracy
will be bolstered by her social and eco-
nomic development and growth. This, in
short, is the burden of my argument.
Notes
1 Manmohan Singh, Budget Speech, July 1991,
www.nmin.nic.in
2 Jawaharlal Nehru, Constituent Assembly,
December 1947. Full text of speech reproduced
in Sanjaya Baru, Strategic Consequences of
Indias Economic Performance, Academic Foun-
dation, 2006. (Appendix)
3 Manmohan Singh, Foundation Stone Ceremony
at Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan, 14 February
2006, www.pmindia.nic.in
4 Manmohan Singh, Address to Combined Com-
manders Conference, October 2005, www.
pmindia.nic.in
5 Kautilyas, Arthashastra, originally published
circa 400 BC; this edition edited by Jawahar-
Mulraj (Pune: Hinduja Foundation & Ameya
Prakashan 2005), p 178. This is an idea that
informs Paul Kennedys theory of imperial
overstretch and Niall Fergusons hypothesis
about the square of power as discussed in
his The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the
Modern World, 1700-2000 (London: Allen
Lane 2001).
6 For a more detailed discussion of this see
Sanjaya Baru, Geoeconomics and Strategy,
Survival, June-July 2012, available at: http://
www.iiss.org/publications/survival/survival-
2012/year-2012-issue-3/geoeconomics-and-
strategy/
7 Selected Michal Kalecki, Selected Essays on the
Economic Growth of the Socialist and the Mixed
Economy, Cambridge University Press, 1972.
8 K N Raj, Politics and Economics of Inter mediate
Regimes, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol VIII,
No 27, 7 July 1973, p 1191. E M S Namboodiripad,
More on Intermediate Regimes, Economic &
Political Weekly, Vol VIII, No 45, 1 December
1973.
9 Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great
Powers: Economic Change and Military Conict
From 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House,
1987), p 439, emphasis in original.
10 Daniel Bell, Germany: The Enduring Fear,
Dissent, Vol 37, No 4, Fall 1990, p 466.
11 Samuel Huntington, Why International Primacy
Matters, International Security, Vol 18, No 4,
Spring 1993, pp 71-2.
12 For a discussion of Chinas rising prole as a
trading power in its neighbourhood, see chap-
ter 38, India, China and the Asian Neighbour-
hood: Issues in External Trade and Foreign
Policy in Baru, Strategic Consequences of Indias
Economic Performance, Academic Foundation
2006, pp 330-45.
13 The Third Geoeconomics and Strategy Confer-
ence, Bahrain, October 2012, International In-
stitute for Strategic Studies. Papers at: www.
iiss.org/programmes/geoeconomics-and-strat-
egy/events/seminars/currencies-of-power-and-
the-power-of-currencies/papers/
14 On a more detailed consideration of such long-
term shifts, see Angus Maddison, The World
Economy: A Millennial Perspective (Paris: OECD
2001).
15 Baru (2012), op cit.
16 Winston Churchill, Speech at Harvard Univer-
sity, 6 September 1943, quoted by Adrian
Wooldridge in The Battle for Brainpower,
Economist, 5 October 2006, http://www.econ-
omist.com/node/7961894
17 Manmohan Singh, Address to Association of
Indian Diplomats, 15 February 2006. www.
pmindia.nic.in
18 A Roadmap toward South Asian Economic
Union, Asian Development Bank, 2012 (forth-
coming); and Report of the ASEAN-India Emi-
nent Persons Group (forthcoming).
19 Manmohan Singh, Inaugural Address to India
Today Conclave, 25 February 2005, www.
pmindia.nic.in
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