Tuesday 01 July 2014

Developing a future vision is one of the fundamental tasks of every strategic leader. Crafting such a vision requires an understanding of future geopolitical circumstances and selection of a best approach for achieving the national interests. To do that effectively, leaders should understand how national power might be used and how power may be distributed within the future international system. One of the key factors that could impact the strategic dynamic in the Arabian Gulf is the role of India. After the recent election of Narendra Modi in India’s 2014 general election, that that huge nation could come to play a very different future role in the regional power dynamic.

Relations between India and the UAE have traditionally been friendly, though recent incidents relating to the treatment of Indian workers by local companies have caused some friction. The Economic Times has noted that according to the UAE Central Bank’s annual report, Indian remittances increased from 35 billion dirhams in 2009 to 38.8 billion dirhams in 2010, an annual increase of 10.8 per cent and a signal of significant economic value. 

Militarily, India is already a nuclear power and is expanding its conventional capability. The Indian Navy budget is growing by 75 percent to increase its strategic reach. India is constructing a new communications system for its submarines, and with GSAT-7, its latest communications satellite, it will achieve important regional communications capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, last August, India launched the first of two Vikrant-class aircraft carriers. The Indian Air Force is also modernizing its systems, upgrading existing aircraft and inducing new equipment. It will soon have new Rafale and Sukhoi fighters, C-17 Globemaster III air-lifters, Airbus A330 tanker aircraft, and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV). India has developed improved ballistic missiles and is also developing a new cruise missile. All of these systems increase the geographic reach of the Indian state. 

The international context for India is also significant. By the virtue of its size, location and economic potential, India has a huge potential impact in the region, and Indian policies concerning Bangladesh in 1971, Sri Lanka in 1987 and the Maldives in 1988 show India’s willingness to act in regional affairs. Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, took the bold step of attending Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in ceremony – potentially opening the door to improved relations between the two traditionally opposing states and possibly freeing India to act more regionally with a secure border. The recent P5 plus 1-Iranian rapprochement, the significant instability in Iraq and Syria (where Iran has come to Iraq’s assistance), Russia’s aggressive stance in the Ukraine, and significant domestic challenges in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan all indicate dynamic changes could occur over the next five years, with India primed to act. Of course, a rising India could provide powerful advantages to the UAE as well, particularly as a balance to China, as a trading partner, and as a significant source of investment. 

Prudent strategists should be prepared for change and should work to shape Indian relations for the prosperity of both nations.