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India: Security Perceptions
Country Study > Chapter 9 > Foreign Relations > Determinants of Foreign Relations > Security Perceptions


The British colonial rulers regarded most of South Asia as a strategic unit and endeavored to exclude external powers from the region. In defending this strategic unit, the British established a barrier of buffer states around India, attempting to cut off India from Russia and China, which could threaten from the north, and used naval power to protect India from the south. India's postindependence leaders adapted this concept by defining a position in cultural as well as geographical terms. This view led them to view India as the region's preeminent power whose right to involve itself in its neighbor's affairs was justified in terms of the common ethnicity and common security needs of South Asia.

This geostrategic perception affected India's foreign relations in three ways. First, India endeavored, by treaty, alliance, or threats of force or economic embargo, to overturn any move by its neighbors that it deemed inimical to its own security interests. Of its neighbors, only Pakistan and China have been able to resist or thwart Indian actions. The Indian elite regarded their country as a regional peacekeeper whose moves were entirely defensive, rather than as a regional enforcer who imposed onerous conditions on its neighbors by virtue of its size and military might. Second, India viewed the intrusion of extraregional powers into South Asia as a threat to Indian security and to India's position as the predominant country in the region. India opposed any attempts by powers external to the region, whether by invitation of New Delhi's neighbors or not, to involve themselves or to establish a presence in the region. Therefore India was critical of Pakistan's alliance with China, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the United States naval presence on Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean and its military relations with Pakistan. India also resisted Moscow's entreaties to grant the Soviet navy base rights despite the 1971 friendship treaty with the Soviet Union.

India's program to build the military might necessary to defend its territory and security interests became intertwined in its foreign policy. New Delhi's defense buildup -- particularly its covert nuclear weapons program and its drive to develop ballistic missiles -- affected relations with Pakistan, China, and the United States. India's refusal to sign the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons stemmed as much from Pakistan's similar stance as from India's belief that the treaty discriminated against the development of peaceful nuclear technology by nonnuclear weapons states and failed to prevent the qualitative and quantitative vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons among the nations already possessing nuclear arms. In 1995, when 174 other nations approved an indefinite extension of the treaty, India continued to refuse to sign, denouncing the treaty as "perpetuating nuclear discrimination." In addition, in the early 1990s India's sizable defense expenditures became an issue in New Delhi's attempts to secure assistance from developed countries and multilateral lending bodies.

Data as of September 1995

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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