The Pulse

India Proves its Great Power Status by Sending Troops into Myanmar

What does India’s recent use of force in Myanmar tell us about its power status?

India Proves its Great Power Status by Sending Troops into Myanmar
Credit: Flickr/ Ash Carter

It has been said that to be treated like a king, one ought to act like a king. For a country to be treated like a great power, it must act like a great power, and that requires a bit of throwing your weight around—though any wise statesman should know the limitations of their nations’ capacities and not get carried away by hubris. Interventionism for the sake of interventionism—policing the world, exporting governmental ideologies, and building nations halfway around the world—is idealism at its worst. But realism at its best is when great powers take necessary actions to bolster their interests in relevant areas, especially in their own neighborhoods.

It is natural for great powers to have their own variations of the “Monroe Doctrine,” whether (or however) articulated or not, and this is nothing to be ashamed about. Although John Kerry claimed that the Monroe Doctrine was dead back in 2013, nobody really believes that and it is obvious that the United States will unapologetically pursue its interests in the Western Hemisphere. Former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in 2010 that “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” Today, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran are actively intervening in their neighbors for the sake of their interests. That is why India’s recent military foray into Myanmar is to be praised as being the appropriate response for a state that styles itself as relevant and powerful as India does.

As The Diplomat recently reported, India faces a renewed threat from militancy in its northeast. A new umbrella organization with its headquarters in Myanmar, the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (ULFSEA), a conglomerate of various insurgent organizations based in Manipur launched a deadly attack on Indian soldiers in Northeast India, killing at least twenty. Northeast India is home to dozens of armed, militant groups. The reasons for these rebellions are a complex mix of government policy, economics, ethnic tensions, and there is no doubt that the Indian government needs to employ a mix of nuance and diplomacy to resolve the major problems plaguing its northeast. But this doesn’t mean it should turn a blind eye to the countless rebellions in its northeast and eschew a military response. After all, no self-respecting would-be superpower—a well-ordered, sovereign state ought to have a monopoly of violence within its borders after all—can tolerate the presence of armed militancy within its territory. As Lord Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones fame wisely told King Joffrey: “When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet.”

India has faced rebellion and chaos in its northeast long enough; it is time it took the initiative, under a more assertive prime minister, Narendra Modi, and serve its enemies steel and fire, which is exactly what it did in Myanmar on Tuesday morning, earlier this week. Indian commandos struck at least one rebel camp in western Myanmar. Moreover, India had the cooperation of Myanmar, which has faced enormous difficulties itself in fighting multiple armed grounds throughout its forested and hilly border regions (this has caused headaches for China, too). And while India’s operation in Myanmar have been described as an “unusual display of aggressive intent,” it marks a much needed milestone for India and is a harbinger of what is to come. While India has long had the capacity for such operations, it has not always had the will for such actions that it presently has.

India’s counter-insurgency strategy is likely to enter a new phase now, and India’s strategy in Myanmar could potentially be employed elsewhere. According to reports, “Indian junior Information Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore told TV channels that the ‘hot pursuit strikes’ had been authorised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” He added that “Attacks on Indians are not acceptable. This is also a message to our neighbours who shelter terrorists.” This is obviously understood as a reference to Pakistan, which reacted forcefully to the news. According to Dawn, on Wednesday, Pakistan’s “Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said India should not mistake Pakistan for Myanmar, adding ‘our armed forces are fully capable of responding to any foreign aggression and Indian leaders should stop daydreaming.’” This statement, however, can also be interpreted as a tacit admission that Pakistan, does, in fact, harbor terrorists. India’s Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar noted on Thursday that “those who fear India’s new posture have already started reacting.”