In the ever-evolving world of international politics and security alliances, one question that often arises is why India, a significant and major global player, is not a part of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). NATO, a prominent military alliance comprising 30 member nations, was established in 1949 with the primary objective of collective defence.
While India benefits from strategic partnerships with various countries worldwide, its absence from NATO is a multi-faceted issue that cannot be connected to a single cause.
Uncover the complex geopolitical landscape surrounding India and NATO, exploring the historical, political, and strategic factors that have shaped it.
Historical Context of India’s Approach
To understand the basics of India’s absence from NATO, delve into the history of India’s foreign policy.
a) The Roots of India’s Non-Alignment
The foundation of India’s non-alignment policy can be traced back to its post-independence era. After gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, started working on a foreign policy path characterised by neutrality and non-alignment.
The stance of Jawaharlal Nehru was a response to the global power dynamics of the time, with the Cold War escalating and the world being divided into two opposing blocs led by the United States and the Soviet Union.
India chose to maintain its independence and sovereignty by not aligning itself with either bloc, a stance that remains at the heart of its foreign policy. The leadership of India engaged with multiple global powers while focusing on economic and political development, focusing diplomacy and neutrality in the Cold War’s superpower rivalry.
b) The Cold War and India’s Non-Alignment
During the Cold War, NATO emerged as a crucial instrument of Western bloc countries, led by the United States, to counter the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union. India’s non-alignment found its roots in this very context.
While the Cold War superpowers tried to gain allies, India was determined in its pursuit of an independent foreign policy that prioritised its sovereignty and strategic regional interests. The commitment to non-alignment, despite offers and overtures from various quarters, kept India at arm’s length from the NATO alliance.
Political Factors Behind India’s Absence in NATO
a) India’s Strategic Autonomy
India’s political leadership has consistently emphasised the importance of strategic autonomy. India’s policy of non-alignment reflects its desire to make decisions independently, free from the obligations and limitations that come with military alliances.
According to Indian political scientists, joining NATO would mean aligning with the policies and actions of the alliance, which could potentially compromise India’s ability to act in its best interests.
In recent times, the foreign minister of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has said we would not align with any bloc or country’s perspective. “My job is to protect the interests and rights of Indian citizens and I will do everything in my power to safeguard their rights.” he said.
b) Regional Dynamics
India’s strategic interests are not limited to the Atlantic region, which is NATO’s primary goal. Instead, India’s security concerns extend into the broader Indo-Pacific region, where it faces complicated issues, including territorial disputes, terrorism challenges and naval security concerns.
India’s regional concerns, including complex relationships with neighbouring countries and a desire for strategic autonomy, lead to its preference for flexible engagements with like-minded partners over fixed alliances.
The approach of non-alignment allows India to adapt its foreign policy based on evolving regional dynamics and its own national interests. It enables India to maintain a non-aligned stance, avoid entanglements, and pursue multiple partnerships simultaneously, fostering greater diplomatic manoeuvrability.
The flexibility in foreign policy ensures that India can safeguard its sovereignty, respond to emerging challenges, and maximise cooperation with various nations without being bound by certain alliance commitments.
India’s Strategic Considerations
The Balance of Power in South Asia
India’s regional position in South Asia plays a pivotal role in its decision to stay out of NATO. The balance of power in South Asia has historically been delicate, with India facing various security challenges from its neighbours.
India’s decision to join NATO, a military alliance historically associated with the United States, could intensify the regional tensions, especially with Pakistan.
Pakistan has had a longstanding alliance with the United States and India’s alignment with NATO might be considered as a move that threatens the security interests of Pakistan.
The participation of India in NATO could escalate existing conflicts and rivalries in the region, particularly in Kashmir, and trigger a potential arms race.
What Is the Kashmir Dispute?
The Kashmir dispute is a longstanding territorial and political conflict centred on the region of Kashmir in South Asia. It originated during the partition of British India in 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence.
India and Pakistan laid claim to Kashmir, leading to a series of deadly wars and conflicts. The region is currently divided into three parts: India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and China-controlled Aksai Chin.
The dispute between both nations has resulted in ongoing violence, human rights abuses, and strained relations between India and Pakistan. The demand of both countries seeking full control over the entire Kashmir region, increasing regional tensions.
In order to mitigate such tensions and disputes, diplomatic efforts and confidence-building measures would be crucial to ensure stability and prevent an escalation of conflict in the South Asian region.
One of the most crucial strategic factors influencing India’s NATO stance is its historically close relationship with Russia. India and Russia have been strategic partners for decades, with defence cooperation being a cornerstone of their relationship.
Joining NATO, an alliance that was originally formed to counter the Soviet Union, would undoubtedly strain India’s ties with Russia and jeopardise its access to advanced Russian military technology.
India’s relationship with Russia has been historically strong, characterised by defence cooperation, economic ties, and diplomatic alignment. While India’s non-alignment policy has kept it out of military alliances like NATO, its relationship with Russia provides an alternative strategic partnership.
The relationship with Russia has often influenced India’s stance on global security issues, including its decision not to join NATO. India’s strategic autonomy and its historical ties with Russia play a role in its absence from NATO, as it seeks to maintain a balanced foreign policy approach.
India’s economic priorities and the need for foreign investment and trade also factor into its decision to remain outside NATO. Joining a military alliance can sometimes strain economic relationships, as it may escalate tensions with countries that are not part of the alliance or have different perspectives.
India has become the fourth largest economy in the world, that’s why they have to watch their every move on international forums. Becoming a member of the NATO alliance could jeopardise their strategic goals.
However, there are economic implications to consider. While NATO membership doesn’t directly impact India’s economy, it can influence trade and defence relationships.
India may choose to engage with NATO member countries individually for economic benefits, such as trade agreements or defence partnerships, while maintaining its non-aligned status and respecting the interests of their citizens.
Economic interests could play a role in India’s broader foreign policy decisions, but they are typically secondary to strategic and geopolitical concerns in matters of security and alliance participation.
What Are the Modern-Day Challenges for India if It Doesn’t Join NATO?
1) Evolving Security Threats
In today’s world, security threats have evolved significantly. Non-conventional challenges such as cyber warfare, terrorism, and climate change have gained prominence.
India’s approach to security requires flexibility and adaptability to address these multifaceted threats, which may not align neatly with NATO’s primarily military focus.
India’s absence from NATO has significant implications for evolving security threats. While NATO primarily focuses on Euro-Atlantic security, India’s exclusion means missing out on a collective defence mechanism against global threats like terrorism, cyberattacks, and regional instability. India’s absence also compromises collaborative efforts in intelligence sharing and coordinated responses to emerging conflicts.
As security threats are increasing beyond geographical boundaries, India’s non-membership limits its ability to contribute to and benefit from a collaborative defence approach.
It underscores the need for India to establish alternative security partnerships and emphasises the evolving nature of security threats that require broader international cooperation.
2) India’s Global Partnerships
India’s foreign policy is characterised by its collaboration with a diverse set of countries and organisations, including the United Nations, BRICS ( The bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
On the other hand, India cooperates with NATO member nations on numerous global issues. India chooses to engage with NATO on a case-by-case basis rather than formalising its commitment through permanent membership.
It participates in regional security dialogues through organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and conducts joint military exercises with multiple nations, including NATO members, promoting interoperability and cooperation.
India’s military capabilities, commitment to peacekeeping missions, and growing defence ties with several NATO nations contribute to its global impact, demonstrating that its absence from NATO does not hamper its active engagement in maintaining global and regional stability.
Why Did the United States Invite India to Join NATO?
A recommendation has been made by a US Congressional Committee to include India in “NATO Plus,” a coalition aimed at enhancing global defence cooperation. The development coincides with the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington on June 22, 2023.
“NATO Plus” is a defence-oriented alliance led by the United States, comprising all NATO member countries and five additional nations: Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, and South Korea. According to the authorities of the United States, inclusion would streamline and expedite the process for India to acquire the latest military technology.
The primary objective of this organisation is to ensure the territorial integrity of member states by providing mutual assistance in the event of a direct assault. To facilitate seamless intelligence sharing among all participants, the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the US and the Chinese Communist Party recommends including New Delhi.
The expansion of NATO is regarded as a strategic step to enhance the security of nations facing pressure from China, notably Taiwan and India. On the other hand, it conveys a clear message to Beijing about the growing strength of the alliance among its rivals.
India’s decision not to join NATO is a reflection of its historical commitment to non-alignment, its emphasis on strategic autonomy, and its unique geopolitical circumstances. While India cooperates with NATO member nations on various fronts, it prefers to maintain its flexibility in addressing regional and global challenges.
In a world marked by shifting alliances and evolving security threats, India’s decision to stay outside of NATO exemplifies its commitment to safeguarding its national interests while fostering partnerships on its own terms.
As the geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, India’s stance regarding NATO may also evolve, reflecting changing priorities and international dynamics. However, for the time being, India remains an influential player in global affairs, pursuing its strategic interests outside the confines of a formal military alliance.
Does NATO Support Pakistan?
NATO, with the endorsement of United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, expanded its partnerships to include countries outside the Euro-Atlantic region. This effort led to Pakistan being granted the status of a “Major non-NATO ally” in 2004, reflecting the deepened cooperation between the two entities.
Which Country is India’s Best Ally?
Though India is not a part of any major military alliance, it has a close strategic and military relationship with most of its fellow major powers. Countries considered India’s closest include the United Arab Emirates, the Russian Federation, Israel, Afghanistan, France, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the United States.
Does India have a Pact with Russia?
A ten-year agreement for increased military-technical collaboration between Russia and India was signed in 1997. It covered a variety of activities, such as purchasing of manufactured weapons, cooperative development, Production and joint promotion of various military technologies. However, India and Russia renewed their agreement in 2009 to further strengthen their military relations.