India, superpower

Professor Lawrence Sáez is Professor in the Political Economy of Asia in the Department of Politics.

The end of the Cold War and the era of “unipolar” US dominance that followed has led many to wonder about the future of international power. Who will rival, or perhaps even replace, the US?

At least one obvious candidate has emerged. Although it would be premature to categorise China as a global superpower, it is quickly developing into the US’s most plausible challenger. But in discussions of globally important matters – Syria, financial crisis, the NSA fallout and so on – one name is curiously absent: India.

When the dust settles on a rearranged global system, might India also become a global superpower? My answer is no.

To understand why, we need to look at what it means for a state to have “power”. Some international relations scholars, known as neorealists, suggest that nations are able to enhance their power by building up a range of demographic, economic, and military capabilities. John Mearsheimer, a leading theorist in this school, has identified two types of power: military and latent.

If we borrow Mearsheimer’s framework, military power can therefore be measured using existing armed forces and supporting naval and air forces. In his view, dominance over land is essential because success is defined by the ability to conquer and control territory.

Over the past two decades, India has demonstrated its ability to carry out underground nuclear tests and its capability to deliver nuclear warheads using intermediate ballistic missiles. However, it has not yet utilised these newly acquired capabilities to project power effectively. Regionally, a large percentage of India’s armed forces are stationed along the country’s extensive border areas with Pakistan and China. This inefficient allocation of military resources has limited India’s power projection beyond its borders.

Domestic poverty

In addition, the focus on India’s modest nuclear capabilities has detracted attention from weaknesses in India’s conventional forces. For instance, India does not have a strong weapons manufacturing industry, so it imports an overwhelming amount of its sophisticated military hardware from abroad, mostly from Russia. Moreover, India’s existing conventional military equipment is in severe need of modernisation.

Given the massive challenge of domestic poverty and underdevelopment, India simply has not had the resources to enable the development of a modern military arsenal. As such, it has been unable to assert itself on the international stage. In international conflicts, India’s military has only been active in humanitarian assistance and ancillary non-combat roles.

Although other countries, notably Russia and China, have been able to act as veto players on the international stage, India’s presence is of little consequence. For instance, few people would know or care to know what India’s position is on, say, the conflict in Syria.

Clearly India is not at present a global power. The question that remains to be answered is whether India has the potential to become a one in the future. Once again, academic theory guides us to think about a country’s latent power, which is the state’s ability to translate assets of population and wealth into mobilisable power.

Viewed in this way, India is also unlikely to gain a foothold as a major global player. To be sure, it has demonstrated an impressive ability to galvanise the information technology and business process outsourcing industries. However, these growth sectors are the exception, rather than the norm. In a largely agricultural country, there are huge internal wealth and income disparities across India.

Given that India is a democratic state, the government has to be responsive to the demands of its citizens. As such, the existing pressure for the redistribution of wealth limits growth in military expenditure and consequently inhibits the ability of the state to turn India into a global power. It is not surprising to note that India’s military spending as a proportion of GDP has declined since the late 1990s.

Signs of stagnation

At the core of the argument that India will not become a global power is the fact that it faces an insurmountable demographic challenge. From my point of view, as a result of this, there is little expectation that India will grow exponentially wealthier over time.

What is this demographic challenge? Well, an analysis of global population trends shows that over time, most likely by 2025, India will become the world’s most populous nation. But much of this growth is taking place in two states: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These two states are India’s largest and third largest states (with a combined population of 302m), but also India’s two poorest states (with a per capita income ranging from US$347 to US$450 a year). In this light, vibrant economic growth is unlikely to be sustainable in India. We are already witnessing the first signs of stagnation in the Indian economy.

In order for India to be a global power in the 21st century, it would need to develop its military capabilities and diminish its dependence on natural resources. The country would also have to devote substantial fiscal resources towards military expenditure.

Given the burden of a rapidly growing poor and unskilled population, it is hard to fathom how the Indian state will be able to allocate scarce resources into making it a militarily and economically powerful nation.


This blog was originally published on The Conversation

Share this post

  1. Avatar
    Abhinav 9 months ago

    You jealous …. UK is not gonna standing anywhere other than the feet of India…. BOW DOWN BRITISHERS

  2. Avatar
    anthony 7 months ago

    I laugh at the idea that India will even be a developed wealthy country. Have you ever been to India? Have you seen India? LOL. No matter what you do, India will NEVER ever be a wealthy country..not in a million years.

  3. Avatar
    Rahul 6 months ago

    Who the fuck looted us?
    You Britisher. Wake up dude. India again will be “sone ki chidiya”.
    History repeats itself.

  4. Avatar
    Lily 6 months ago

    Well , I somewhat agree .. I think the biggest challenge with India is that there are too many “ religions “ , too many “ old traditions “ plus too many modern “ rules” I would like to call India “ A colorful Nation “ , but , the downside is that those “Too many differences “ conflicts People against each other thus India is not an United Nation!! I presume it’s a common sense- When someone’s back yard is on fire , how can you expect him to lead the world ?

    • Avatar
      Rawaque 2 months ago

      I believe you are right .I am an Indian and I believe that its vast differences in various fields is causing an hinderence in India’s development. There are many castes , tribes and religions who are still fighting(creating chaos)among themselves to get national recognition and support.Much wealth is wasted in settling the demands of the Hindu majority and its conflicts with other minorities.Corruption is still much prevelent. India was a golden bird till the Britishers came and looted all though they gaves us some development.Much resouces are wasted in frequent conflucts with Pakistan.Agricultural sectors are yet not much developed.More (at least) 100 years are required to develop India into present conditions of the other developed countries of the world. Apart from all these India has produced the biggest brains of the word.You would be surprised to know this but these geniuses from India you would probably find in other develope countries because India just cannot give them what they deserve.But I expect these things are improving but not fast.Just think if India takes more 100 years to be like present developed countries where would be the rest of the countries after 100 years ! Many places in India are developed but may places are just like the condition of the developed countries like US 150 years ago !

  5. Avatar
    Lily 6 months ago

    Well , I somewhat agree .. I think the biggest challenge with India is that there are too many “ religions “ , too many “ old traditions “ plus too many the modern “ rules” I would like to call India is a very “ carl Nation “ but , the those conflicts People against each other thus India is not an United Nation!! I presume it’s a common sense- When someone’s back yard is on fire , how can you expect him to lead the world ?

    • Avatar
      Mitul 5 months ago

      To become a superpower.
      A country need to be cruel like Ghangis Khan or like British Empire or like Nazi Germany or like USA.

      India will never ever be a super power.

  6. Avatar
    aman 6 months ago

    Yeah I agree to this
    BECAUSE India would be a most populous country within some year and also India has many political issues India never ever become a superpower here are some reasons
    1 population
    2 ignorance
    3 very poor judgment system
    4 wars
    5 currently khalistan 2020 referendum
    6 ussi separate country
    7 poor thinking
    8 dependence on America
    9 failed/useless army/police
    10 no resources
    So if India would take over all these problems then it would be a superpower in next 1000 years

    • Avatar
      sawan 1 month ago

      earth doesnt have 1000 years left, all of human kind will go extinct but india will never become developed

  7. Avatar
    Mitul 5 months ago

    To become a superpower.
    A country need to be cruel like Ghangis Khan or like British Empire or like Nazi Germany or like USA.

    India will never ever be a super power.

  8. Avatar
    VAISHNAV K S 4 months ago

    After reading this I must presume that you haven’t been to India right?.there are almost 1599 languages here..and almost 10 famous religions you know how we could hold together even at turmoil…it’s because we believe in PATRIOTISM. It’s also being one of the reasons why we could achieve the glory of fastest economy even after Britishers came and destroyed our GDP from 28% to just 4%.

  9. Avatar
    CP 2 months ago

    No need to get emotional using phrases such as “You jealous”, “Who the f* looted us”, etc. They are not going to help India in any way to become a superpower. The biggest issue I found among the Indians I know of, is that major of them have an over-inflated ego. Sure, if India could resolve all the issues mentioned in this article, it could become a superpower. But can anyone answer HOW and WHEN?

    • Avatar
      Mukesh 1 month ago

      Very well said. The problem with our Indian brethren is their ego is bigger than their brains. We do not have even basic infrastructure in place, one of the worst public health care systems, casteism, communalism and loads of other negatives. The wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, while the rest barely make a living. All we parrot is how great we were in the past and blow our own trumpet. It is not the past, in this case, but the ground reality at present and the future that really matters. Our politicians are worse than termites building their own finances while the tax authorities never seem to find one thief among them. Wow, by that standard we must be having the most honest and ethical politicians on the planet. We talk about patriotism but over 90% shirk paying their taxes diligently. Is that being patriotic? Becoming a superpower is a pipe dream for people that want to live in a fool’s paradise and have inflated egos. We cannot remove corruption, poverty, have decent roads, have a decent standard of living and we want to fantasise 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Ujjwal sinha 4 weeks ago

    The world knows it! Wealthy 😂 ..we can buy ur country with our golds😂

  11. Avatar
    Paaapaaa 6 days ago

    Ujjawal Sinha… then why don’t you buy? Or maybe try to up your world hunger rank from 102 to maybe 101? It might help your good for nothing ego boost? Maybe a little step forward towards your “wealthy” dream? But no! You and your Indian brothers and sisters here will fallout talking shit about other countries and blaming them for the kind pf garbage your country is. And at the same time you will feel so good about it. To solve a problem one must acknowledge it. Which Indians will never do. Your temples won’t make you superpower.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?


Create Account