India-Us relations : assessing India’s soft power
Das, Ajaya Kumar
Date of Issue2015
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
How do we think about “soft power” theoretically and how do we study it empirically? What is the relationship between economic and military hard power and soft power traditionally understood as based on culture, political values and foreign policy? These questions guide this study of India’s soft power and how it influenced India’s relations with the United States. The puzzling question it aims to answer is why India has been able to exercise its soft power in its relations with the US more effectively in the post-1998 period as compared to the Nehru era (1947-1964). From the power analysis standpoint, India’s ability to affect the US in order to accomplish its preferences through attraction is its exercise of soft power. What explains the greater effectiveness of India’s soft power in terms of its preferred outcomes in the post-1998 period when compared to that of the Nehru period? The explanation for this puzzle addresses all the questions raised above, which, although considered by some scholars including Joseph S. Nye at the conceptual level, has not been studied empirically. Even at the conceptual level, disagreements exist, especially with respect to the relationship between soft and hard power. Soft power, as this thesis demonstrates, is enabled by hard power. It can also be undermined by hard power. Its greater effectiveness, therefore, depends on a high level of economic and military hard power resources. No one has thus far systematically shown the dependence of soft power on hard power. The relationship between soft and hard power is sometimes conceptualised in the form of “smart power” and “cosmopolitan power” for optimisation of a state’s influence. This study, however, does not delve into this issue. Instead, it focuses on the greater efficacy of soft power, which needs the support of hard power resources. The present study sheds light on India’s relationship with the US by using soft power as a central explanatory variable. As far as the level of hard power required to make soft power more effective is concerned, there was a tipping point in the case of India. It was the 1998 nuclear tests after which the US began to give positive attention to India and to think of it as a rising strategic player. There was a gap, of course, as the US imposed sanctions after the tests, but the “Singh-Talbott talks” brought about the first sign of change. The real transformation happened with the 2005 US–India Civil Nuclear Agreement. With no other “proliferator” has such understanding on the part of the US happened. In India’s case, the acceptance of it as a responsible and a democratic power reflects its soft power attraction: the nuclear breakout was a hard power (nuclear) shift accompanied by soft power attraction. So long as India was a covert nuclear power, the tipping point had not been reached and its attraction by itself was not enough to remove non-proliferation pressure. After the tests, everything changed: the US de-hyphenated India from Pakistan, ended India’s nuclear isolation, and began defence cooperation with it in earnest. This study uses the “process tracing” method to show empirically the causal processes that link India’s relative effectiveness of soft power with low or high levels of hard power. The effectiveness of soft power is measured in terms of India’s success in achieving preferred policy outcomes through the mechanism of attraction and persuasion. Despite increasing interest in India’s soft power, both among scholars and diplomats, there is hardly any rigorous and systematic case study of successful projection of India’s soft power. This study attempts to fill that gap and seeks to contribute empirically to the literature on relational soft power, while also offering policymakers guidance as to how soft power can be usefully approached and effectively utilised.