Does a Country Make Its People Great?
By Staff News & Analysis - March 29, 2013

Can India become a great power? … India's lack of a strategic culture hobbles its ambition to be a force in the world … Nobody doubts that China has joined the ranks of the great powers: the idea of a G2 with America is mooted, albeit prematurely. India is often spoken of in the same breath as China because of its billion-plus population, economic promise, value as a trading partner and growing military capabilities. All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council support—however grudgingly—India's claim to join them. But whereas China's rise is a given, India is still widely seen as a nearly-power that cannot quite get its act together. – Economist

Dominant Social Theme: A pity about India. She has all the promise in the world.

Free-Market Analysis: We used the word "she" in the above dominant social theme to illustrate a point. We have no idea what sex India is. In fact, from what we can tell, India is actually an arbitrary series of lines on a map representing dirt, rocks, trees, rivers, etc.

Lots of people live in India, and are referred to by others as Indians, though if you went to India, you might find that such people have as many differences as similarities. Some might be more like people from other countries than their own.

The reason to mention this is to make the larger point that analyses such as this one in The Economist – and Economist editors LOVE to write about countries as if they were somehow alive – inevitably seem to us to begin at the wrong place.

Countries do not have free will. Nor are countries "great powers." What happens is that through a complex cultural interaction, certain elite families and groups rise to the top of a given power structure and impose their will on everyone else. Sometimes this is a peaceful process and sometimes not.

So the correct question to ask when regarding India is whether its top elites have globalist ambitions and whether these ambitions are a good fit with similar ambitions elsewhere. We don't necessarily have the answer to that question, nor do we even think it is a very interesting one. But The Economist obviously does … and natters on insistently as follows:

That is a pity, for as a great power, India would have much to offer. Although poorer and less economically dynamic than China, India has soft power in abundance. It is committed to democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights. As a victim of jihadist violence, it is in the front rank of the fight against terrorism. It has a huge and talented diaspora. It may not want to be co-opted by the West but it shares many Western values. It is confident and culturally rich. If it had a permanent Security Council seat (which it has earned by being one of the most consistent contributors to UN peacekeeping operations) it would not instinctively excuse and defend brutal regimes. Unlike China and Russia, it has few skeletons in its cupboard. With its enormous coastline and respected navy (rated by its American counterpart, with which it often holds exercises, as up to NATO standard) India is well-placed to provide security in a critical part of the global commons.

The modest power … Yet India's huge potential to be a force for stability and an upholder of the rules-based international system is far from being realised. One big reason is that the country lacks the culture to pursue an active security policy. Despite a rapidly rising defence budget, forecast to be the world's fourth-largest by 2020, India's politicians and bureaucrats show little interest in grand strategy … The foreign service is ridiculously feeble—India's 1.2 billion people are represented by about the same number of diplomats as Singapore's 5m. The leadership of the armed forces and the political-bureaucratic establishment operate in different worlds. The defence ministry is chronically short of military expertise.

These weaknesses partly reflect a pragmatic desire to make economic development at home the priority. India has also wisely kept generals out of politics (a lesson ignored elsewhere in Asia, not least by Pakistan, with usually parlous results). But Nehruvian ideology also plays a role. At home, India mercifully gave up Fabian economics in the 1990s (and reaped the rewards). But diplomatically, 66 years after the British left, it still clings to the post-independence creeds of semi-pacifism and "non-alignment": the West is not to be trusted.

See all the generalities? If they were a rash, this would be one gravely ill article. In fact, it is. Full of inchoate assumptions, it doesn't seem to us to shed much light on what's really going on under the surface of this great continent.

The Economist article, in treating India as a person, suggests that a strong military, a more robust world presence, an expanded government and an energetic civil service would lead to India's emergence as a major "force."

We probably disagree with every one of these proscriptions. We don't think that India needs to have armed forces that rival the largest in the world, nor does India need an expanded government bureauracracy. Indian people, in fact, may be succeeding – to the degree that that they are – despite these facilities rather than because of them.

After Thoughts

We will stick with Ludwig von Mises: It is individual human action that makes a tribe or a culture or even a country great. Not vice versa.

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