26 September 2019

India’s expanding ambitions

A new report from FOI and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs describes India’s rise as an increasingly important actor in the international arena and discusses the country’s domestic, foreign and defence policies.

A map over India

India’s ambition is to be a leading power in international affairs. Image from Shutterstock.

India’s ambition is to be a leading power in international affairs and is today the fastest-growing economy in the world. The country is undergoing sweeping social changes at the same time as it is modernising its armed forces.

During spring 2019, hundreds of millions of India’s voters made their voices heard in the largest democratic election in history. This was not only a matter of internal Indian concern, but of significance for developments far beyond its borders.

“There is a clear trend towards India’s becoming an increasingly important actor not only regionally, in Asia, but globally,” notes FOI researcher Samuel Bergenwall, one of the editors of the report.

India aspires to be a global superpower, and is deepening its parallel relations with influential states such as the United States and Russia. At the same time, it is intensifying its engagement in regions beyond its own neighbourhood, in for example Africa and the Middle East.

A number of challenges may slow this process. Indian’s rise as an international actor is considered to be strongly influenced by how well it deals with domestic matters, including such hurdles as unemployment, discrimination, environmental degradation, and social polarisation.

“For India’s voters, the question of the country’s position in the world has grown in prominence in recent years. At the same time, continuing with domestic reform is essential for creating the resources and capacity that India needs for its expanded engagement in Asia and globally,” says Henrik Chetan Aspengren, a researcher on southeast Asia, at UI, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, and one of the report’s co-editors.

In defence policy, India actively seeks to counter potential security challenges from China and Pakistan, and its ambition is to be respected as a leading military power, one with the capacity to act far beyond its own immediate region.

“India has an extremely ambitious defence modernisation plan, and already today has the fourth largest military expenditures in the world,” comments Samuel Bergenwall.

For Sweden and EU, relations with India are increasingly significant, not only as a trading partner. India is also a strategic partner and an ever more influential actor on issues involving defence and security; climate and environment; democracy and human rights; and international norms and multilateral institutions.

The study was conducted as a collaboration between FOI and UI.