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Tag Archives | Power

China building indigenous second aircraft carrier

China has confirmed the building of its second aircraft carrier, but the first carrier in the indigenous category.  Military observers say that the second aircraft would be completely different from the country’s first carrier Liaoning a Soviet designed carrier purchased in 2012. The new carrier will be built with a brand new propulsion system, and the IHS Jane first noted the new hull under construction. Further the carrier would be  designed to accommodate the native  developed J-15 fighters and an  upgradation from the first aircraft carrier Liaoning.



The image shows an overview of the Dalian shipyard in Northern China where China is building its indigenous second aircraft carrier.  White Paper entitled “China’s Military Strategy” is an endeavour to rejuvenate China’s capability. As the White Paper testifies it is important and relevant that China develops its maritime forces in way that it safeguards China’s national interest. The second aircraft carrier is a move toward this direction. Enhancing China’s blue water naval capability as a means to contain the US pivot in East Asia is an important directive towards this interest. China is currently working on the aircraft capability that would be on par with the USS Nimitz class super carriers. It is also speculated that the Chinese aircraft could be much smaller than the aircraft used by United States. There is also a good possibility that the new aircraft carrier might be stationed at a new facility on Hainan Island near the South China Sea. A  showcase of China’s might over the South China Sea.

The most critical objective of the program is the visualization of a blue water navy that could be operable beyond the first and second island chains. Beijing is keen to bolster its naval capabilites  as means to safeguard its maritime security. Further with China embroiled in conflict over East and South China Sea and the presence of United States in the region, convinces China to further enhance its deterrent capability. A raison d’être for China’s military expansion which is more global in nature rather than just looking at homeland defence.

Is China’s military expansion a tactics to  counter US primacy in the region or  stratagem of    reaching the Oceans, a part of its maritime strategy. Further it could be a modicum to  protect its Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) vital to China’s modernisation drive.  Despite several factors have been attributed to China’s expanded maritime interest, there is an interesting theory that unfolds China’s motivation. With China embroiled in maritime conflict in East Asia with Japan, the presence of United States a long time ally of Japan poses a major challenge to Chinese supremacy and rise. Further there is also a growing triple entente between Japan-United States-India which could be used to counter weight China.  Though India unlike the United States is not a traditional partner in East Asia, but today it is making a concerted effort to drive its economic, military and foreign policies eastward. There is a strong possibility that a Quadripolar Structure could emerge thus reframing the geo-strategic order of East Asia.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.



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The reality of political opposition

A politician’s first goal is to stay in power and staying in power requires winning consecutive elections – Varun Ramachandra (_quale)

Policy analysis through models and frameworks is useful because it holds the potential to distill complex ideas in a simple manner without stripping the essentials. Therefore, it makes sense to analyse why governmental level reforms are hard to achieve through these very models.  Usually, we trivialise the process of reforms at the governmental level, but reforms are complex processes  involving multiple stakeholders (including politicians and policy makers). Political realities, parties’ own political future, and a multiverse of public opinions are considered before taking a decision.

“Overton window” is one such model that helps us achieve the said objective. This concept was first developed by Joe Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Overton Window describes the realm of political acceptability within which politicians and policymakers operate. This realm (window) is determined by what politicians believe will win them their next election. As described by this introductory essay in Mackinac Center, “Policies inside the window are politically acceptable, meaning officeholders believe they can support the policies and survive the next election. Policies outside the window, either higher or lower, are politically unacceptable at the moment”


(Figure shows the Overton Window– more freedom refers to less government intervention, less freedom refers to higher government intervention)

A politician’s first goal is to stay in power and staying in power requires winning consecutive elections. Therefore, policy changes occur only within this window of reality. The window moves if and only if the move has the potential to lead towards another electoral victory. It is often thought that politicians with enough credentials can move the window either side, however that is very rarely the case. History has shown us very few leaders who have expanded this window, but these leaders are exceptions that validate the general rule (of course, the analysis holds true only in case of democracies and not in an authoritarian setup).

The word reform in the modern context refers to improving existing conditions or practices, and therefore it surprises many of us when we see opposition parties opposing reforms that an existing government tries to bring about. It is also true that depending on a person’s political ideology, certain reforms may not be thought of as reforms at all. This conundrum leads us to conclude that opposition to reforms might stem from 2 sources

  • From those who assess that the “proposed” change is outside their own Overton Window, thereby not opposing it might lead to electoral failure.
  • From those who assess that the proposed change is well within the “Overton window” of the ruling party, thereby ensuring the continuity of the existing ruling party.

It is not unusual to hear the term “opposition for the sake opposition sake”, while this is true in the larger context, from a political party’s viewpoint the quote transforms itself into “opposition for the sake of winning the next election”.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at the Takshashila Institution, he tweets @_quale 

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The Power of Foreign Aid

The role that foreign aid plays in determining the power of a nation is all the more relevant today – where there are a rising number of donors and a large number of recipients.

My previous post dwelt with the role that diplomacy plays in determining the power of a nation. This post discusses the role of foreign aid in geopolitics. Foreign aid falls under one of the three elements of national power theorized by Kautilya – ‘Prabhavashakti’ which is described as the combined power of the army and the treasury.

Foreign aid can be widely defined as the voluntary transfer of economic resources from one country or a group of nations to another. Aid has many forms. It includes monetary assistance given for recovering from natural disasters or wars, military aid given in the form of training or hardware and development assistance for infrastructure. It does not include market based flows like FDI, FII or remittances. The intention of this post is to explore the influence a donor wields on the recipient country and vice versa through the variety of aid flows described. The aspects like the effective utilization of aid or its contribution to the economic growth or prosperity of the recipient are not the foci of this post.

 Why the role of foreign aid is all the more relevant today?

A brief history of the ‘aid industry’ will help understand it better. Large scale aid as an arm of foreign policy was used under the Marshall Plan at the end of WWII when US tried to rebuild the shaken western European economies. Subsequently, during the cold war, foreign aid was essentially used as a bargaining chip by the OECD nations to curb communism in infant nations and by Soviet Union to spread it.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, OECD nations remained the sole practitioners of large scale foreign aid distribution. After 9/11, the nature and destination of foreign aid was altered significantly. Usage of foreign aid to help nations counter terrorist movements became more commonplace. In recent times, countries like Brazil, India, China and Saudi Arabia have become donors to a number of nations. The aid these nations give is generally less tied to conditions than the OECD-style aid. This has thus changed the rules of the aid economy making it behave like a multi-player game.

How does giving aid impact the power of the donor?

One viewpoint suggests that aid can make countries tow your line. When the aid amount is a significant portion of the recipient’s GDP, the influence that the donor wields on the recipient becomes significant. For example, countries like Kyrgyzstan welcomed the US air base in Manas as the rent obtained from this air base was itself around 3% of the country’s national budget. Saudi Arabia has postured successfully as an adherent to the tenet of charity in Islam – it is one of the largest providers of aid to Palestine and wields significant influence there.

Donors give more to countries in which they have political or economic interests, rather than to countries that actually need aid or could effectively use it. A series of studies point out that nations that become temporary members of the UNSC receive more foreign aid and do so only for the period around their membership. Temporary members are also more likely to receive a World Bank project. This indicates that donors use foreign aid to increase their sphere of influence in the UN as well.

The attempts of donors to influence recipient nation’s behavior depend on how substitutable one donor is for another. This point is particularly relevant today as the number of aid donors has increased dramatically. Thus, in our neighborhood, the question before India is not about whether to give aid to Bhutan or Nepal, it is about how much and under what conditions. This is because these countries now have China as a potential donor in case India turns away from them.

How does receiving aid impact the power of the recipient?

Even though the multi-player donor scenario has increased the bargaining power of the recipients, an economy dependent on aid reduces the power of the recipient. Some views indicate that recipient nations governed by dictatorships are likely to choose the foreign aid source that is cheapest (with heavy concessions) but can affect the recipient negatively in the long run.

Post 9/11, the military-aid complex is thriving. However, using military aid as the only solution may result in a principal-agent problem as military aid decreases the incentives of recipient governments to negotiate with terrorist groups. But because eliminating terrorist groups means reductions in military aid, recipient governments do not have an incentive to completely eradicate terrorist organizations operating within their territory.¹


Foreign aid continues to remain a major part of foreign policy of all the nations that seek a greater role on the global stage. However, how much power results from giving out aid depends on a variety of conditions like the aid’s contribution to the recipient’s GDP, recipient’s leadership and the number of other donors willing to compete for power.


1. Introduction to the Geopolitics of Foreign Aid – Helen V. Milner and Dustin Tingley


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Power Dynamics and its role in Geopolitics

Quite often, casual discussions and news coverage on geopolitical events result in value judgments. For example, the reaction to USA’s role in Afghanistan or Syria is criticized on the grounds that it is morally wrong  for USA and its allies to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. Such opinions however are simplistic as they assume that the laws and principles which apply to domestic affairs apply internationally as well. The reality is quite opposite – the morality of a nation-state within its boundaries is in most cases, based on a document like the constitution which every citizen and the government is expected to adhere to. A deviation from the principles of constitutionalism is thus considered wrong or inimical to the interests of the nation as a whole. On the other hand, the rules of the game that apply to international affairs and geopolitics are completely different. There is no constitution or a written code of conduct here. There is no sovereign authority that can impose itself on all the nations of the world. Much of international law is also based on prior consent of nations. This means that a state member of the international community is not obliged to abide by a type of international law, unless it has expressly consented to a particular course of conduct. The fundamental law which then applies to international relations is that of Power. As the Acorn explains, it is the law of the jungle, the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ that ensures the survival of a nation and determines its influence. The significance of power is reaffirmed by the existing structure of a global organization like the UN. While around 200 members are a part of it, the permanent UNSC members which have the power to veto are the five most powerful countries at the end of WW2, when the UN was constituted.

Power, thus is to geopolitics what force is to physics. Just as an external force can change the state of inertia of a body, power and influence can change the prevailing state of geopolitics. So it is not surprising that various thinkers, diplomats and think tanks have advanced some means or another of assessing national power. And since there is no common definition for what constitutes power, every research has tried to incorporate different elements of power to come up with a hierarchical structure of the world. Earlier researchers (Inis Claude, Kingsley Davis et al) in the 1960s adopted single variable approaches to measure national power with the lone variable being indicative of either the economy or the military strength of a nation. Thereafter, it was recognized that Power is multi-causal and hence multi-variable approaches to measure power were proposed by experts like Clifford German, Trellis et al. Subsequent researches differ in the selection of the variables and the models used to combine them. In recent times, India’s National Security Index and China’s Comprehensive National Power Index are variants of this multi-variable approach.

My project at Takshashila Institution also relates to forming a Global Power Index. As a first principle and starting point, I will be using the Kautilyan definition of Power. Kautilya, in Arthashastra, says that there are three elements of Power – the Power of Energy which comes from the drive of the ruler and his/her intellectual strength, the Power of counsel and diplomacy and the Power of the army and the treasury. The first source of Power roughly translates to the modern concept of ‘soft power’ while the other two relate to ‘hard power’ of a nation. Kautilya also gave subjective weights to these three sources of power. He says that the Power of the army and treasury is more important than the Power of Energy and the Power of counsel and diplomacy is more important than the other two.

Using the above principle as a reference point my second step would be to identify the various ways in which nations influence each other. The way nations influence each other is a result of the power dynamics situation between various nations. As this report mentions, even providing humanitarian aid to another nation is taken on the basis of how it affects the donor’s power vis-a-vis the other players in a region. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting on the various ways in which nations indulge in a show of strength and classify these actions on the basis of their power sources. For example, Pakistan’s policy of transferring nuclear bomb technology to Saudi Arabia makes it powerful. Other nations looking to build a nuclear deterrence will try to engage Pakistan in various ways to get a similar aid from that country.

The ultimate aim of a Global Power Index is to be able to predict how two nations would engage with each other. The last part of my project will deal with this.

Do help me with your thoughts, comments and suggestions!


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