/ Published November 22, 2016
India’s Rise as an Asian Power: Nation, Neighborhood, and Region by Sandy Gordon. Georgetown University Press, 2014, 264 pp.
Sandy Gordon’s India’s Rise as an Asian Power draws into sharp focus how India’s potential climb to global power only matters when compared against other South Asian nations. Despite India’s size, potential economic power, and strategic position within the Indian Ocean, very little about the country compels immediate attention as a current global contender. The country may shine locally, but its potential for worldwide influence remains small. Even from a US perspective, India is frequently overlooked as a potential coalition member as it is seen as too busy dealing with internal crime, corruption, and political unrest to contribute to the greater whole. With an extensive background that includes academic research specializing in India and South Asia as well as having served as head of intelligence for the Australian Federal Police, Gordon educates the reader on where India needs internal improvement and neighborhood developments before suggesting strategies for India to build a path to at least participate on the global stage.
Gordon first acknowledges the nation will never become a global power similar to the United States, China, or Russia. The capability and capacity to launch from post-colonial development into an improved world position are simply lacking. However, he finds the challenges India faces are quantifiable and conquerable at the local perspective. For India to emerge, it must first control massive corruption, defeat crime on both internal and international levels, and then address regional counterterrorism and security concerns. Gordon contends that almost all of India’s issues are rooted in poor governance practices. One of Gordon’s textual strengths is his case study use. He summarizes 10 different narrative case studies early as well as several others later on to allow the reader unacquainted with India to assimilate naturally occurring flavors before he introduces unique recipes for improvement.
Moving from the national to neighborhood perspective, Gordon’s focus changes to the nations bordering India. Neighborhood concerns mirror the previous internal difficulties, specifically the cross-border terrorism and religious discord with often violent clashes between Muslim and Hindu groups. The focus remains on the boundary implications caused by ideology transfer from one nation to another. Gordon also introduces environmental dissonance on cross-border commons usage, such as water rights and fishing grounds, as well as crime as root causes for problems. Megacity growth at places like Delhi, Mumbai, and Karachi also causes massive internal issues through increasing corruption providing fertile locations for black market products which travel across uncontrolled borders.
Gordon again expands from the neighborhood view to consider India’s posturing across the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The same issues of corruption, counterterrorism, and poor governance heavily influence Indian options despite the broader perspective. India’s inability to handle these issues creates three negative consequences: serving as a proving ground for other nation’s competitive practices, feeling the impact of outside views of democracy or human rights steering internal practices, and being pulled along by global currents surrounding struggles between the West and Islam. Gordon shows all consequences as emerging from nations outside the IOR attempting to fix India’s problems with their own, local solutions. Globalization and market exposure have driven India’s gross domestic product up compared to historic levels, while the overall comparative international trend scores India lower than previous placements. The Sri Lankan Civil War provides an example of how India picks sides based on human rights and avoids potential backlash rather than improving trade perspectives. Finally, conflict with Islam in Afghanistan now and during the Taliban era as well as historic conflicts with Pakistan magnify internal strife between Hindus and Muslims.
Gordon’s excellent comparisons help the reader understand India compared to regional and global powers before he suggests possible improvements. He separates his suggestions into two areas, internal and external. Internally, Gordon suggests India must reduce corruption by improving government institutions like police, the courts, and political processes, including politicians. He believes improving internal factors will positively affect neighbors, as well as regional concerns, to make India better. These internal improvements will be aided by increased government transparency through e-governance practices and lead to increased foreign direct investments, which should improve India’s global viability. Improvements internally lead to improvements externally through gathering genuine strength; integrating better with higher functioning South Asian associations focused on abandoning soft regionalism in favor of active, problem-solving organizations; cultivating IOR collective security; and recognizing they cannot directly compete with China. However, India cannot begin these external steps without first addressing internal issues. One must wonder if Gordon steps into his own trap by suggesting Western solutions for Indian challenges and if his attempts might only exacerbate the problems.
As much as Gordon relishes the idea of India as a global power, he does realize the difficulties the nation faces. Numerous examples throughout the book show India as perpetually caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, needing to improve policing while reducing crime, facing ethical dilemmas between Western and Hindu values, or historic, British colonial land divisions continuing to cause strife today due to tribal and resource divisions. Looking further, one sees India pulled between the United States and China on multiple issues from defense to trade. Gordon presents noteworthy background information, and his case studies provide an excellent summary of India’s recent problems; he also offers constructive suggestions for the nation’s improvement. However, the difficulties faced by India in overcoming internal corruption, international crime, and transnational terrorism may make any solution unpalatable to those internal players who must be brought to the table prior to implementation.
Overall, India’s Rise as an Asian Power is well thought out and carefully constructed, providing detailed information on this emerging nation. The text helps educate officers, planners, and others on the many challenges India faces as a nation, in its national neighborhoods, and throughout the Indian Ocean Region. Unfortunately, the challenges India confronts highlight why it will remain an emerging nation as opposed to a global power in its own right. Anyone studying the area should consider this text, but I would not recommend it as a first regional choice as the writing is information dense and requires at least local awareness, if not expertise. Those specializing in the region, however, should definitely add Gordon’s text to their list of must-reads.
Lt Col Mark Peters, USAF
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."