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Is India Ending its Strategic Restraint Doctrine?

Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of The Washington Quarterly, a publication of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

INTRODUCTION

One of the most remarkable attributes of India as an independent state has been its reticence to use force as an instrument of policy. From the delay in sending troops to defend Kashmir in 1947 to the 24-year hiatus in testing nuclear weapons before 1998, Indian decisions on military force have come as an unwelcome last resort, and with rare exception, have been counterproductive, solidifying the wisdom of restraint.

India’s rapid economic growth, ambitious military modernization—particularly the 1998 nuclear tests—and rapprochement with the United States have raised the prospect of India’s rise to great-power status, including an end to the country’s enduring strategic restraint. With more options available, will India finally abandon its long-standing international political-military posture? The consequences of an end to restraint could be revolutionary, but the doctrine’s strong roots—and its survival despite failures, including against China and Pakistan—suggest that it will endure.

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