It is in India's interest to align with allies against the Moscow-Beijing nexus
India and its allies should draw India out of its dependence on Russia and overcome its scepticism towards the West. Ukraine presents an opportunity for India to be a leader of the free world.
India has long enjoyed a profitable association with the erstwhile Soviet Union and then Russia. However, geopolitical currents have pushed Russia towards a dependent relationship with China — India’s main adversary. It appears that Russia undertook the invasion with Chinese acquiescence. Conversely, India is a member of Quad. In any future conflict with China, India and Russia will likely be on opposing sides.
India’s relationship with Russia was forged by history, geography, and armaments. The Soviet Union and then Russia were a reliable vote for India in the United Nations Security Council on the Kashmir dispute. Russia even occasionally acted as a bulwark against the China-Pakistan alliance against India, though that is bound to change now. The share of the Russian weapon systems across the Indian armed forces ranges from 70 to 90%. India’s armaments dependence is more entrenched than Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. This makes it hard to wean off in a hurry. But wean it must. India cannot afford to be dependent for its military supplies on China’s junior partner.
India’s Quad partners and other western nations could help in this endeavour. India is critical to the Indo-Pacific strategies of Quad and the European nations. A systemic update of India’s defence industry is needed for the country to be a credible counterweight to China in the region. Investing in Delhi’s defence industries is, therefore, essential to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.
However, India needs to avoid contradictory positions that erode its credibility, such as abstaining on votes condemning Russia’s Ukraine invasion, while maintaining a strong opposition to any future Chinese assault on Taiwan; dismissing Pakistan’s designs on Kashmir while remaining silent on the Russian annexation of Crimea and Donbas; and championing Afghan independence from Pakistan’s “sphere of influence” while not according Ukraine the same courtesy to be free of Russia’s “sphere of influence.”
Indian leaders brim with indignation on uninformed western views on the state of India’s democracy or its handling of Kashmir. Indian thought leaders must resist similar temptation in repeating Russian propaganda that free, democratic, peaceful eastern European nations joining the defensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance pose an existential threat to the Russian State.
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has ushered in the era of India’s most muscular global engagement, with a keenness to upgrade India’s defence systems.
India, the world’s largest democracy, should not fall short when freedom and democracy are attacked by an autocratic Russia backed by a totalitarian China. It is in its national interest to not be found wanting. With each new revelation of Russian war atrocities, the patience for India’s abstinence in free world capitals will wear thin.
India and partners in Quad and Europe can cement their free-world nexus by undertaking four reinforcing courses of action.
First, convey unreserved solidarity with the Ukrainian people. As a neutral country, India can lead a humanitarian relief effort. It should call for the full restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and contribute to the rebuilding of its economy.
Second, embark on an operation with warp speed to diversify the defence industry with priority on domestic production. An international AUKUS-like initiative with India will convey a commitment by the United States and Europe to invite India into their defence industry orbit.
Third, India’s role as a leader of the free world should be institutionalised. G7 should be reconstituted as G10 with the formal additions of India, Australia, and the European Union. The new G10 would afford a formidable economic arsenal in the defence of democracies. NATO and Quad should explore collective security arrangements.
Fourth, India should expeditiously explain its position on Ukraine to the world audience. Ambiguity does not further its cause.
India should convey unequivocal solidarity with Ukraine. With China as its principal threat, India should align with the free world against the autocratic nexus of Moscow and Beijing. India and its allies should draw India out of decades of dependence on Russia and overcome its scepticism towards the West. Ukraine presents an opportunity for India to be a leader of the free world.
Kaush Arha is a senior fellow, Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy and at the Atlantic Council
The views expressed are personal