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Tag Archives | Geopolitics

Changing alignments in East Asia

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
Early indications about a Trump Presidency’s impact on partnerships in East Asia

Since Woodrow Wilson, the goal of American foreign policy has been to prevent regional hegemony.

believes Seth Cropsey, Director of the Centre for American Seapower at Hudson Institute. Assuming this was true, the goal is now being reconsidered seriously in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections. All through the election season, Trump has indicated that the next administration would be more inward-looking — provision of the common good of security, and promotion of free trade, will not be the guiding principles of US foreign policy anymore.

In the early days, the effects of this new strategy are most clearly visible in East Asia. After Obama decided to suspend efforts to pass his signature Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal through the Congress, Vietnam too will not ratify the deal in the national assembly anytime soon. Trump’s victory also caused panic in South Korea’s financial markets, prompting an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Australia too followed suit — signalling support for Chinese-led Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The framework below gives an idea of how East Asian states are recalibrating their strategies over the past few weeks.


Given that the US and China are overwhelmingly powerful in the region, bipolarity exists in East Asia. Further, there are two axes of alignments — political and economic. Based on their relationships with these two major powers, East Asian states can be assigned to one of the four quadrants. There are two bandwagon quadrants (where a state aligns with US or China both, politically and economically) and two hedging quadrants (where a state aligns with one major power in political engagements and aligns with the other in economic arrangements). Grey points indicate positions of East Asian states before Trump’s presidency and black points indicate recent shifts. I haven’t classified all the East Asian states in this framework, yet.

This framework indicates that countries like Australia and Philippines are already moving towards the hedging quadrants. With TPP faltering, a lot of states might follow the Australian trajectory —  economic alignment with China and play a waiting game on geopolitical alignment.

Countries such as North Korea and Japan will find the realignment tougher, and will look out for more options. Faster movement on India—Japan cooperation is an example. No surprises that a landmark nuclear deal between the two countries took place once it was clear that Trump would be the next US president.

Interesting days ahead for East Asia watchers. China can be expected to be strident in the days to come.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Rebel No Longer

India’s stance on nuclear norms is changing in order to keep up with the trends of the time.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Until 2010, India was the norm breaker of international nuclear negotiations. However, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal saw India take a different approach to nuclear negotiations. Now, in order to gain access to nuclear fuel and technology, India is lobbying hard to be a part of export control regimes. This endeavour is just a step for India to become part of the international rule-making mechanisms on nuclear issues.

During the early years of the Cold War and its existence as a new democracy, India vociferously supported the cause of nuclear disarmament. As national security was the primary objective of India’s grand strategy, and nuclear weapons could lead to mass destruction, a nuclear weapon free world was a moral but also realist stance. Jawaharlal Nehru famously called for a standstill agreement on nuclear testing. However, as negotiations underway for a non-proliferation agreement, India found the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) discriminatory and unbalanced towards countries that had not detonated a nuclear device. India did not sign the NPT and the succeeding Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) because of the lack of commitment towards disarmament.

India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in 1974 and finally its nuclear test in 1998 both faced criticism at the global stage. The PNE spurred the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which aimed at reducing proliferation through the implementation of restrictions on nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. The control of supply of nuclear fuel and technology left India to indigenously develop technology for its nuclear programme. The 1998 tests faced sanctions from the United States and Japan and huge global outcry that India was “nuclearising” South Asia.

Since the 2005 Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal however, India has changed its position gradually. The India-specific waiver by the NSG to engage in nuclear trade and commerce meant that India’s proliferation record were taken cognisance of.  India has also made efforts to be seen as a responsible power committed to non-proliferation. It harmonised its export control lists along the lines of international norms and has made sure that its non-proliferation track record is impeccable.

Recently, India attempted to gain membership in the NSG and the MTCR -the latter proved successful while the former is proving to be a formidable diplomatic task. India has also been an active participant of the Nuclear Security Summit, the most relevant forum for negotiating nuclear affairs currently. India’s attempt is to become part of the rule making mechanism rather than act as a rule-breaker. This would ensure India becomes an integral player in the future nuclear discourse. This is important because of India’s unique nuclear programme- uncomparable with any other in the world.

India is no longer rebelling against the international nuclear norms. This is also a result of the changing dynamics of the nuclear debate. Non-proliferation is not the main agenda anymore; the discourse is moving towards counter-proliferation, anxieties over nuclear security and nuclear terrorism. As India is trying to establish itself  a responsible nuclear power as it shares the concerns of the other countries in the world. To this end, the way is within nuclear security architecture and not outside it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The G-20 Report Card

 The G-20 proved successful as a exigent mechanism post the 2008 Financial Crisis but hasn’t been able to provide solutions to global issues. The 2016 Summit in September will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

In the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the G-20 was thought to be the most effective institutional response to the crisis. Since then, the multilateral forum has been struggling to stay relevant to the changing geopolitics. Delivering more structural, longer-term solutions to create a more balanced global economy requires more far-reaching actions at domestic level, often needing the approval of national parliaments, which effectively makes advancing the G-20 agenda more difficult.[1] Since 2008, economic changes have been rapid and unpredictable. The Chinese reminbi was admitted into the SDR basket of currencies in 2015 but the Chinese economy in the same year went through a number of shocks and had to devalue its currency. Thus, China which hosting the 2016 Summit, faces a completely different context from the earlier years because of its own economic problems. The Summit, to be held in September 2016 will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

The G-20 is an interesting group for analysis on three different levels: On one hand, it shows the wrangling of the US which has been declining in stature in the international system, unable to cope with the pressures of the system unilaterally. On the other hand, it also sees the diplomatic maneuvering of China on an ascent, keen to reform the international system in its favour. The third level sees middle power countries around the world that are pushing for their own national interests as well as the agenda of developing countries.

The Group of Twenty was initiated in 1999 as a response to the Asian Financial Crisis on the suggestion of the G7: “the commitment to work together to establish an informal mechanism for dialogue among systemically important countries, within the framework of the Bretton Woods institutional system”.  The 2008 financial crisis exposed the fault lines in the global economic system particularly excessive bank credit, build up of private consumption based on uncollaterised loans and an inexorable rise in public debt. The group emerged partly as a result of political pressure on world leaders to ‘do something’ about the global financial crisis.  But it also was a response to the absence of international institutions where international coordination could take place quickly along a broad range of policy instruments.

The G 20 in the short term has achieved a status of one of the most important exigency contingents that allows for consensus building amongst powers of differing capabilities.  In the medium term, the G-20 could reflect and (possibly even help manage) a major reorientation in the relative standing of the world’s major powers.

The G-20 was envisioned as a forum to deal with financial crises beyond the capacity of advanced Western states. However, it has been transformed into an arena for world politics to be played out. Different forces of agenda setting have been played out within the G 20. For one, an America reeling from the impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis, initially set the agenda of the G-20 as the primary mechanism for crises management. However, the US has not been able to dictate processes or outcomes of the G-20.

China, as the rising power and expectant challenger to the power of the US, briefly aligned with the US. This led to fears of the two most powerful actors combining strategies to jointly dictate the agenda. However, China did not follow through with any sort of G 2 arrangement citing domestic concerns. G-20 is also the battlefield for developed countries grappling with the rise of emerging countries. While the G20 emerged as the major platform for global politics, the expansion of its agenda and its relevance amidst dynamic geopolitical and economic contexts in the future will determine its prospects.

The G-20 has other instrumental benefits, namely the formation of a new and updated concentration of power and has cross regional reach.  The growing strength of the G-20 as a forum however does not mean that G-20 decisions are effective. G-20 pessimists often cite lack of progress on curtailing currency wars and macroeconomic imbalances and repeatedly express disappointment over the outcome of the G-20 summits. Global governance, even with just twenty members and consensus based decision making, is an arduous task.

The G-20 demonstrates that in a multipolar world, emerging powers have to share the burden of leadership with great powers. However, it has realised very little since 2009 despite much talk. China’s assumption of presidency could provide the group with the push it needs to effect any major change. However, the agenda for discussions remains unclear thus making durable solutions to the problems of global governance implausible.

[1]  Marcin Szczepański and Etienne Bassot, “The Group of Twenty (G20): Setting the Global Agenda”,  European Parliamentary Research Service (Brussels: January 2015) p.8

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The Olympics is not just about sportsmanship

It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Bomb scares, doping allegations, unready rooms, sexual harassment and the clinking of gold medals have turned all eyes to Rio. The 2016 Olympics is sure to be exciting but the mega event is also important because of its geopolitical undercurrents. Indeed, the Olympic Torch may represent ‘peace, unity and friendship’ but the Games have always been about more than sportsmanship. The objective is to carry out sports diplomacy, however the result is often dictated by power politics. This year, for instance, the participation of the first ever team of displaced athletes named ‘Team Refugees’ brings light to the instability of political regimes around the world and the impact it has on civilians. Not only does this indicate an erosion of nationalism but also the fragile state of peace of the post Cold War world.

The Olympics display elements of nation branding embedded in the practices and traditions. It is an opportunity for countries to display their soft power as well as attract investment and tourism. A simultaneous narrative is often one of urban development (or lack of) as countries strive to boost infrastructure and provide ‘worldclass facilities’. Ten years ago, Brazil was touted as one the strongest economies in the world and its hosting the Olympics was to indicate its standing among middle powers. The choice of Brazil as a host city somehow became representative of the North-South debate as, it is the first South American host and the sole in the southern hemisphere.

However, the Rio Olympics seem to have had the opposite impression. The awaited impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the huge corruption scandal and the terrible recession instead showcase the simmering political discord within the country.  The construction of Olympic specific infrastructure is also problematic because it highlights issues of national importance. Generally, there is a trend of the hosts using the mega event to ramp up the infrastructure in cities. On the other hand, this has also exposed the various pitfalls within the cities themselves. Questions about the preparedness of Rio, has also brought the spotlight to the various problems in Brazil, from the amount of air pollution and the political instability, to high unemployment rates, the crime rates in the city to the pandemic Zika virus.

The criticism levied against Rio is not unique; the Olympics is beset by criticism and political signaling. A set of protestors outside the mega-event has become a regular feature. The 2012 Winter Olympics at Sochi saw massive demonstrations by LGBT activists as well as Georgian protestors. The suppression of Tibetans gained widespread coverage during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Poverty whether it is in Rio, Athens, Beijing or London is a common narrative for host countries. This year, it has gained even more prominence with the popularity of favela tours that are supposed to boost cultural understanding and tourism revenues but have been criticised as voyeuristic slum tourism.

Through political history, the Olympics were reflective of the power politics of the time and were characterised by patterns of political gesturing. The Games were cancelled thrice because of the two World Wars. During the Cold War, antagonism between the two bipolar states was remarkable in the Olympic Games as the raking of medals was a metaphor for the prowess of a superpower. The Olympics have often been sites for geopolitics to be played out as countries boycotted the games to display political displeasure. Of course, the most remarkable event in the history of the Olympics were the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in which 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian extremists.

The messy history of the Olympic Games has translated into a devoted fan following for various sports, with technology allowing for live broadcast and constant reminders. It is an important nation building activity, turning a politically indifferent aam aadmi into a patriotic tally keeper. It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity. What ensues however, is a extravagant display of games and geopolitics, which sometimes intertwine.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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No One Saw the Joint Statement

ASEAN adopted a rare tough stance on the South China Sea expressed in a Joint Statement and then immediately retracted it, indicating divisions amongst members.

by Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

There was a statement and then there wasn’t. The China-ASEAN Special Foreign Minister’s Meeting, organised after a gap of three years, was convened on June 14th to discuss relevant issues before the ASEAN-China Summit to be held later this year. After the meeting, Malaysia released a Joint Statement on behalf of ASEAN. The statement was remarkable because ASEAN seemed to have strayed away from diplomatic niceties and had taken a stern stance on the South China Sea. AFP reported that the statement read,

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea…We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea…We articulated ASEAN’s commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes…This includes “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the UN Charter…”

While the ASEAN refrains from mentioning China by name, the statement is important because it conveys the institution’s anxiety about the tensions in the South China Sea. Generally, the ASEAN calls for all parties to conform to the 2002 Code of Conduct and attempt to solve the issue peacefully. ASEAN does not directly take part in the conflict. Instead, it tries to act as a facilitator to resolve the conflict as it affects the national interests of several of its members and has implications for the whole region. As the South China Sea is an important shipping route, countries around the world are interested in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the areas.

Less than three hours later, the statement was retracted by the Malaysian government who said that it was not the official statement but the media guideline. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia released individual official statements where they stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Officials from Vietnam and Indonesia later said that the retracted statement was in line with the ASEAN standpoint.  The objection to the statement reportedly came from Laos (the current chairman of ASEAN) and Cambodia, both of whom share close relations with China. The episode evokes memories of the 2012 ASEAN Summit when the institution failed to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years due to Cambodia’s objection to inclusion of the South China Sea issue in the statement.

ASEAN’s success as a multilateral institution lay in its unanimity and consensus based decision making. However for the last few years, arriving at the ASEAN consensus is becoming increasingly divisive, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei-Darussalem (along with Taiwan) all have contesting claims to the boundaries of the South China Sea, most of which has been claimed by China under its ambiguous nine-dash line. As China began projects of land reclamation, construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, its military modernisation and increasingly assertive posture has worried the other claimants.

China is also using its bilateral relations with countries like Laos and Cambodia to undermine the multilateral consensus of the ASEAN. Some reports also debate if China’s ‘salami slicing strategy’ has now extended to Malaysia by leveraging its purchase of the debt ridden state entity, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (IMDB) reducing domestic pressure on Najib Razak in return for geopolitical payoffs. China denied the use of pressure either to influence ASEAN proceedings in this case or any others. The reasons behind the retraction of the rare tough stance taken by ASEAN remain unexplained. What it does indicate is that the ASEAN countries have failed to reconcile with a common viewpoint on the South China Sea issue.

The incident is also poignant because the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to deliver a judgement on the second round of hearings on the arbitration proceedings initiated by Philippines in 2013. While China contests the validity of an arbitration proceeding, the decision will be an important geopolitical marker, depending on how different countries respond to it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The Nuclear doctrines of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kissinger

A simple framework to understand the nuclear strategy positions of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kissinger in the early cold war.

Immediately after the Second World War there was common perception that the war in Europe was not over, with the division of Germany into American and Soviet spheres of influence, another major war, perhaps a nuclear one, awaited the continent. Indeed, much of economic diplomacy that took place in the West during this period can be read from this lens. The fact that before 1950-1955, considerations of reconstruction was restricted solely to the European continent, even though the war had ravaged distant lands such as present day Myanmar, and China, testifies to that fact. However, such fears of Europe being embroiled in war turned out misplaced, the reasons for which are beyond the scope of this short essay. Indeed, if the cold war was cold it was so only in the European continent. The violence of the cold war was strong in the turbulent and stormy politics of development in newly decolonised nations. One could argue that institutions for reconstruction and development took interest in “peripheral” areas only once this fact was recognised. The fear that a nuclear war could potentially break-out from such an engagement exercised many minds in the American academy, Foreign Service, and politics. That different schools of thought emerged to understand and combat this threat is unsurprising given the nature of the threat and its far reaching implications.

This short piece therefore provides a basic framework to capture the main ideas about nuclear warfare. The framework is restricted to the period up until approximately 1965. When the war in Vietnam was launched and when it was soon understood that the war would prolong for a long time, there was some rethinking by major policymakers, plus new American presidents such as JFK brought in their own ideas and their own nuances to the table.


Nothing hit the Americans like when they were routed in the 38th parallel by the Chinese. Immediately, some sections of American foreign policy making began clamoring for nuclear weapons to be used against the North Korean and Chinese forces which were supported by the Soviets. Truman, in the media did respond positively to the section who demanded use of nuclear weapons, however when it came down to actual military response, he hesitated. He wanted to restrict the engagement only to conventional war and only to very geographically specific regions, in this case, Korea. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of the Second World War was still very passionately felt.

Eisenhower became president in 1953. The Korean War, quite embarrassingly for the Americans, ended in a stalemate. Such frustrations were channeled into developing an aggressive nuclear strategy. Eisenhower was wary of regional battles draining the economic wealth of America. He therefore proposed “massive retaliation” and primarily of the nuclear sort, to break the Soviets in a manner which was economically efficient and less costly. The primary objective was deterrence.

Kissinger in his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy responded to these various streams of thought. Kissinger countered Eisenhower’s ‘massive retaliation – total annihilation’ thesis by arguing that since there was great ambiguity about what constituted threat, what actions warranted retaliation, where the “nuclear red-lines” should be drawn, Kissinger hence highlighted a practical consideration: that the cost of the Soviet Union opening another front should be made as expensive as possible. Additionally, the idea of massive retaliation assumed a certain scale of conflict, or rather, converted every type of conflict into the largest possible scale. He added that in the context of survival of both the nations; within the nuclear-red lines, limited nuclear war is the most logical strategic position because it not only guarantees the survival of both the nations, and therefore is mutually beneficial, but it enables the conditions of what Clausewitz considered war to be: politics in another form. Diplomatic maneuverability was important, especially when things weren’t defined properly.

This brief essay has briefly highlighted the strategic thinking of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kissinger, but has left out the deeper question about the relationship between nuclear weapons and foreign policy; of how the cold war dynamics shaped the thinking about the concept of power. The invention (and use) of the nuclear bomb, for instance, reduced the economic constraints to power. Also it leaves out the  interesting history of how public opinion shaped foreign policy in the cold war; and the relationship between the academic world and the world of policy. Indeed, if one wants to study, what my colleague, Pavan Srinath calls the “scholar-warrior”, one must look at American strategic policy making during the cold war.

Adhip Amin is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. Adhip tweets @AdhipAmin1.

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Reflections on India’s Nepal policy

What should India do in response to the protests on the Indo—Nepal border?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Creating a new Republic is, at any rate, a gargantuan task. Seldom do states come out unscathed from the process. The task is compounded further in a networked society where failure to reconcile conflicting political demands can quickly escalate into a political crisis.

This is exactly the situation that Nepal’s seventh constitution has led the state to. Failure to accommodate the interests of the people from southern Nepal has led to widespread protests in the Terai region. Because of these protests, the flow of essential supplies into the landlocked country from India has ebbed, leading the pahadis of Kathmandu to label these protests as India sponsored interference. The Indian government has denied any blockade of trade, but has publicly expressed that some sections of the new constitution do not have broad-based ownership and acceptance.

The political protests have shifted the focus back to India—Nepal relations. While many commentators have opined on the hits and misses of the new constitution itself, there’s no assessment of how the latest political upheaval in Kathmandu is going to impact India’s national interests.

Before addressing India’s concerns, a brief review of the geopolitical realities of India—Nepal relations will help understand the situation better. First, Nepal being a landlocked country is heavily dependent on India. Dependence on another nation-state for its own survival is suicidal in international relations. So, it is perfectly understandable that any dispensation in Nepal will seek to reduce this dependence on India by breaking the Himalayan barrier and securing alternate trade and travel routes through Tibet.

Second, some anti-India sentiments in the hill regions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This is because any move by India on behalf of the ethnically similar Madhesis is likely to be seen in Kathmandu as a proof of India’s hegemonic stance. Issues of identity are sensitive and can quickly cloud even good karma from the past such as India’s effort in Nepal’s reconstruction following the disastrous earthquake or the fact that as much as 6 million Nepalese prefer to stay and work in India.

With these two conditions as the starting point, what does India seek from Nepal going ahead? One, Nepal has long been used as a conduit by terrorists from Pakistan. Thus, India wants sufficient leverage in Kathmandu such that terrorists attempting to use Nepal can be eliminated.

Second, Nepal is also the route for many organised rackets including human trafficking, circulation of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) and drug peddling. Again, India would want cooperation from Nepal to address these mutual concerns.

Third, India fears that China sponsored Maoists can cause disturbances in the eastern part of India, though this fear has subsided following the waning of the Maoist movements in both India and Nepal. And fourth, India wants to limit the impact of the unrest in Nepal on its own people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Given these policy objectives and the geopolitical backdrop, India should not be eager to throw its weight behind any side in the ongoing confrontation in Nepal. India’s call of advocating for a representative constitution, without any attempt to project its power in Nepal is a reasonable policy option. Such an approach will calm the Indian borders while also ensuring that India retains enough power in Nepal to prevent it from becoming an anti-India laboratory.

The key for India is to have friends from across party lines in Nepal so that when the dust from the protest settles, India would be in a position to resume its collaboration with the new Republic seamlessly.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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The geopolitics of the nation of Bangalore

There is more to Bangalore geopolitics than meets the eye.

By Thejaswi Udupa

The most common narrative one hears about Bangalore is that of “two Bangalores”—the city, and the cantonment. This is about as useful as the tired “two Indias” trope. India cannot be explained away with such a simplistic dichotomy. Bangalore cannot be either.

In fact, if one looks at Bangalore as a nation, it has all the nuances that a large and complex nation such as India would. Secessionist movements, disputed territories, powerful non-state actors, everything.

Any country needs to have natural defences that make it tough for outsiders to invade. India has the Himalayas and the Thar Desert. Bangalore has two such too. The traffic jam at Silk Board Junction, and the traffic jam in the whole KR Puram-Mahadevpura-Whitefield region. Thanks to these defences that Bangalore has naturally developed without spending too much money, any invasion of outsiders has to happen at non-peak hours. Some say that the inordinate delays that we are seeing with Namma Metro is the act of Bangalore patriots who are worried about an efficient public transport dismantling Bangalore’s best natural defences—its traffic jams.

The most prominent secessionist movement in Bangalore is that of DPRK. Democratic People’s Republic of Koramangala. Just like its far-eastern namesake in Korea, this DPRK too isn’t democratic, or much of a republic. It is culturally so different from the rest of Bangalore that most citizens have no issues with Koramangala seceding. As long as they have access to Forum Mall, that is. Forum Mall is at a strategic location, and connects Bangalore on one side with Koramangala on the other. Or Forumangala, as some put it. If and when the DPRK freedom movement succeeds, Forum will become the ideal transit point between the two countries, and people can eat at Transit, the food court at Forum Mall while waiting for the visa formalities to be completed.

The largest of disputed territories in Bangalore is that of ToK. Tamil occupied Karnataka. These are large swathes of interconnected parcels of land in the South-Eastern quadrant of Bangalore. ToK’s existence is mostly under the radar, and people notice it only when the census figures come in once a decade with its linguistic break-ups, and suddenly people realise that nearly 25 percent of Bangalore’s population is Tamil. However, there are many who believe that ToK stands for Telugu owned Karnataka, as most of the land here is owned by Telugu landlords.

Forming an intricate set of enclaves and exclaves with ToK is Amit Pradesh. The existence of Amit Pradesh can be directly traced to the Aryan (Amit being the Aryan John Doe) invasion that happened simultaneously with the development of the IT industry in Bangalore. They came from north of Hebbal flyover, and set up camps at places close to where IT parks were coming up in ToK. The first few waves of Amits (and Ishas) were also the ones responsible for DPRK. The further waves just settled for Amit Pradesh. Just like ToK, Amit Pradesh stretches all the way from Marathahalli to Madivala, from Banaswadi to BTM.

Just like in India where there are many movements for separate states, there are a lot of places in Bangalore that seek to carve out their own identity and split from the larger region they are associated with. JP Nagar has for a while been campaigning for an identity of its own that is separate from that of Jayanagar. There is also a movement to split Malleswaram into two. The stretch from Central (near Mantri Square), to 5th Cross where you have Big Bazaar and Brand Factory wants to identify itself as Malleswaram (same spelling as the rest of Malleswaram, but the first syllable is pronounced differently—mull over it)

India’s internal divisions are defined by its river systems—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, Kaveri, etc. Bangalore’s rivers are its arterial roads—Mysore Road, Magadi Road, Tumkur Road, Bellary Road, Old Madras Road, Sarjapur Road, Hosur Road, Bannerghatta Road, and Kanakapura Road. While India is still making plans for a grand river linking system, Bangalore has done this many times over. Inner Ring Road, Intermediate Ring Road, Outer Ring Road, NICE Road, Peripheral Ring Road.

A significant chunk of India’s geopolitics is defined by its adversarial relationship with Pakistan. Similarly for Bangalore, it is Chennai (and by extension, the rest of Tamil Nadu). The Kashmir in this case is another K-word. Kaveri. If you are a Tamilian venturing outside of ToK, it is advisable that you scream “Kaveri Nammadu” in the most Kannadiga of accents to avoid trouble from those still waiting for their Kaveri Stage IV water supply connections to work.

I can go on with these analogies for a while yet, but I have proven my basic point. There is more to Bangalore geopolitics than meets the eye. I shall tell you the rest over a beNNe masala and strong coffee at CTR (a wonderful restaurant in Bangalore, and not DPRK, ToK, or Amit Pradesh)

Thejaswi Udupa’s day job involves attempting to break cartels in the construction industry using a few lines of code. He holds strong opinions on science fiction, heavy music, and the boundaries of Bangalore.

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A Survey of Indices Measuring Geopolitical Power

Brief descriptions of the prevalent indices of measuring geopolitical power.

One of the major propositions of the realist school of geopolitics is that the primary concern of all states is survival. A direct corollary is that nation-states aim at increasing their power and thereby enabling the continuance of their survival. Because of this centrality of power in geopolitics, its evaluation becomes extremely important for all the players.

Various measures for evaluating geopolitical power have been proposed throughout the history of the modern nation-states. This paper by the RAND Corporation is an exceptional resource to understand the traditional approaches to measuring national power. In this post however, the focus is on describing a few indices that are prevalent and popular. It must be noted that even the latest indices are incremental improvements over the traditional single and multivariable approaches to national power.

1. CINC (Comprehensive Index of National Capability): This index is a measure of hard power rather than a comprehensive indicator of overall national capability. The measure is obtained by taking a simple average of six ratios. These ratios measure population, urban population, iron and steel production, primary energy consumption, military expenditure and military personnel respectively. The Correlates of War webpage shows the variation of this index for the period 1816-2007. Even though it is primarily a ‘hard power’ index, it omits the significance of nuclear capabilities. Moreover, the role of modern technology aided weapons like drones has not been considered. Given that the world is more urban now than it is rural, giving equal weightages to both population and urban population leads to “double-counting” effect of the population variable.

2. GFP (Global Firepower Index): This index, like CINC measures a nation’s conventional military capability across land, sea and air. Some of the factors involved in the construction are number of armored vehicles, number of frigates & destroyers and the number of aircrafts. Thus, this index is ideally suited to a scenario where two nations are at a state of conventional war against each other. Again, this is not a comprehensive measure of overall national capability and it ignores the role of nuclear weapons in a state of war.

3. CNP (Comprehensive National Power): The roots of this quantitative measure of power lie in Deng Xiaoping’s statesmanship. This index tries to incorporate a wide variety of factors under the following heads: manpower, natural resources, military, economic activities, government control and regulation capability, science and technology capability and social development.

4. NPI (National Power Index): This index combines the weighted factors of GDP, defense spending, population and technology. This index uses the International Futures Model to arrive at the relative standing of nations. It allows forecasting the power variations up to the year 2060. A significant improvement over the other indices is that the weights for the factors can be varied according to four forecasted scenarios. The scenarios are based on the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental outlook study. They are classified as Markets First, Policy First, Security First and Sustainability First depending on the trade-off between the extent of economic growth and the impact on environment. A sample is here.

5. NSI (National Security Index): This is an index developed by Indian think-tanks based on defence capability, economic strength, effective population, technological capability and energy security. This index is not scenario-based and the methodology has not been made public.

I came across these indices as part of my project which aims to create a Global Power Index. This index will take into account scenarios like “Belligerence and War-like situations” and “World economic situation” to arrive at power calculations. The understanding behind this is that the determinants of power that matter more during a war-like situation are different than the ones that matter for economic growth. Thus, creating a single rating which excludes the importance of global scenarios oversimplifies the problem at hand.

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The Power of Conventional Military Capability

The capacity of a nation’s military resources needs to be consistent with its geopolitical ambitions

This post deals with the role that a nation’s military plays in determining its geopolitical status. Like my previous post on ‘Foreign Aid’, the military capability of a nation falls under the third element of national power theorized by Kautilya –‘Prabhavashakti’ which is described as the combined power of the army and the treasury.

What does conventional military capability mean?

This post specifically mentions ‘conventional’ military to differentiate it from other unconventional means of warfare like nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry. This differentiation stems from the fact that the application of these two means of warfare are not the same. The mere possession and threat of using  unconventional means of warfare like nuclear bombs are often seen as the ultimate bargaining tool in diplomacy[1]. Moreover, only a few nations in the world have these weapons and they try to prevent other nations from possessing it. On the other hand, conventional military in terms of an armed force is a salient feature of all nation states. Secondly, the nuclear weapon is the foremost factor contributing to the ‘balance of power’ between geopolitical entities. Because of its immense power to hurt, it is the foundation of deterrence theory, and it is most successful when it is held in reserve[2]. On the other hand, conventional military power is often deployed in various conflict situations across the world to reassert a nation’s hegemony.

The “capability” of military power refers to the ability to transform resources like soldiers, artillery into wartime effectiveness. Thus apart from the money allotted to the military or the number of foot soldiers; it also depends on a doctrine, the quality of leadership, effective organisation and the quality of training.

Why is military power important for a nation-state?

A powerful military is an important player in settling geopolitical issues and is employed in various scenarios today. It is used to fight internal insurgency or terrorism which weaken the bargaining power of a state globally. Against non-nuclear states, it is often used both as a deterrent and a real force. For example, USA’s threat of military action in Syria triggered a series of diplomatic actions that eventually led to the Syrian government agreeing to an assessment of its chemical weapons. In another case, Russia brutally crushed the Georgian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia on account of superior military power in the 2008 war. The role of conventional military is different when two nuclear powers are colliding as a full throttle use can lead to escalation and eventual use of the dreaded ‘bomb’. Thus the various geopolitical agents try to prevent an all-out war between nuclear states. Nevertheless, conventional weapons have been deployed in localized skirmishes between nuclear powers like the Indo-Pak Kargil conflict in 1999 and the Sino-russian border conflict in 1969.

Thus, a powerful armed force is desired by all aspiring geopolitical entities.

Contours of military power

The need for a strong army, navy and airforce is all too evident to be discussed in greater detail. However, a few elements of military power that can be game changers are worth mentioning here. Due to their ability to deliver air power in distant parts of the world, aircraft carriers have been the holy grail for nation-states. The usage of unmanned warfare like combat drones is beginning to have profound political effects. Since it makes war easier and safer for the belligerent nation, it increases the threat of warmongering. the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) military effort of USA which would make delivery of conventional weapons anywhere in the world possible within an hour while it takes a few days currently can be another game changing weapon.

Thus, due to its sheer influence in altering geopolitical equations, military capability in one form or the other, is used in all indices measuring the power of a state. Though nations realize the importance of ‘soft power’ and ‘economic might’ to become influential, it is far too perilous to do so without heeding to a proportional rise in military power.


[1] http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/nuclear-deterrence : policy issue brief

[2] Arms and Influence by Thomas Schelling (1966)

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