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Subcontinental Drift

Domestic Politics and India's Foreign Policy

How domestic constraints hamper India's foreign policy and its potential as a superpower

One of the most important developments in today's changing international system is the emergence of India as a rising power. However, Rajesh Basrur finds that India is hobbled by serious domestic constraints. Subcontinental Drift explains why India's foreign policy is often characterized by multiple hesitations, delays, and diversions that may ultimately hamper its rise.

Basrur analyzes the concept of policy drift through the lens of neoclassical realist theory to reveal why this drift occurs so regularly in Indian foreign policy and how it affects India's quest for major power status. Using four cases — the India-US strategic partnership, India-Sri Lanka relations, India's nuclear strategy, and crossborder terrorism — Basrur identifies two basic explanations for India's indecision on critical issues. The first, involuntary drift, is related to the distribution of domestic material power, while the second, voluntary drift, is produced by a responsibility deficit.

Basrur develops a fresh theoretical basis for understanding the relationship between India's foreign and domestic policies and introduces a series of theoretical refinements to neoclassical realism. Subcontinental Drift also provides advice on how policy makers might lower the costs of policy drift. This innovative analysis is essential to understanding the constraints around India's foreign and domestic security decisions and how they will affect its rise.

About the Author

Rajesh Basrur is a senior fellow in the South Asia Program at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Concurrently, he is a research associate with the Contemporary South Asian Studies Program at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies in the University of Oxford. Previously, he was a professor of international relations at the Rajaratnam School; he taught at the University of Mumbai; and he held numerous visiting positions, including at the University of Oxford, Stanford University, and the Brookings Institution. He is the author (with Kate Sullivan de Estrada) of Rising India: Status and Power, South Asia's Cold War, and Minimum Deterrence and India's Nuclear Security.

Reviews

"This is a remarkably deft treatment of Indian foreign policy drift — both 'involuntary' and 'voluntary.' Drawing on neoclassical realism and imaginatively customized to account for the relevant empirics, Subcontinental Drift makes an original contribution to international relations scholarship focused on India without losing sight of fundamental normative concerns." — Siddharth Mallavarapu, professor of international relations and governance studies, Shiv Nadar University, India

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