India's 'non-alignment' conundrum: A twentieth-century policy in a changing world

Harsh V. Pant, Julie M. Super

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36 Citations (Scopus)


The idea of non-alignment has remained a central component of Indian identity in global politics that is manifest in continuities: since independence in 1947 India has been in pursuit of strategic autonomy, a quest that in practice has led to semi-alliances fashioned under the cover of non-alignment and shaped by regional dynamics. In this setting, the rise of China now raises an interesting conundrum for Indian policy-makers as New Delhi seeks to balance the benefits and risks of an increasingly assertive neighbour and a network of alliances with like-minded countries. This article approaches this enigma by delineating continuities of non-alignment from the early roots of the policy, through the Cold War-era and into the modern-day international system. Though domestic factors have had a significant influence on the trajectory of Indian foreign policy, the continuities of non-alignment have prevailed through changes in leadership and domestic vicissitudes. By exploring the foundation of non-alignment and how India has operationalized the policy, this article maintains that to some extent continuity will persist: India will likely continue its rhetoric in favour of strategic autonomy while moving closer to the West and its allies in practice. Yet in order to effectively balance China's growing influence, India will need to be more assertive in building these alliances, as the success of its modern-day pursuit of strategic autonomy may well rest on a strong foundation of strategic partnerships. The coming to office in May 2014 of the National Democratic Alliance government led by Narendra Modi has signalled a move away from even the rhetoric of non-alignment, with significant implications for the future of Indian foreign policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-764
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Affairs (London)
Issue number4
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jul 2015


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