The Impact of PM Modi's Global South Policy on the Military Strategy of India

Satoru Nagao

Since the "Global South" has emerged as a main topic of world politics, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the flag as its leader. Speaking at the Global South Summit in January, Modi said, "Your voice is India's voice" in front of other Global South countries and has brought the agenda of the Global South to the international community.1

Such a policy is a new move. India's Non-Aligned Movement policy, put in place just after independence, was an effort to show India's independence in a bipolar world during the Cold War. However, Modi did not join the annual summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, there is a big difference between India's traditional Non-Aligned Movement policy and the recent Global South policy. Indeed, Modi has increasingly referred to the "Global South" since India began its presidency of the G20. Thus, it is a new move.

Therefore, in this article, I will examine the military background of Modi's Global South policy. There are three features of this military strategy. First, the traditional threats of India are China and Pakistan. But recently, China has become more of a priority than Pakistan. Second, to deal with China, India is seeking to cooperate with Western countries like the United States. And third, India wants to strengthen its domestic capability through its "Make in India" weapons development and production program. After analyzing the relationship between these features of India's military strategy and its new Global South policy, this article will provide policy recommendations on what Japan should do.

1.Competition with China in the Global South

(1) Increasing China's activities in the Indian Ocean region

For India, China and Pakistan have been traditional threats. Especially after the Cold War, Pakistan-supported terrorism in India-controlled Kashmir was a priority. Figure 1 shows data of fatalities from terrorism in India-controlled Kashmir. The number increased after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and started to decrease after the United States damaged Islamic extremists in Afghanistan in 2001-02. This figure indicates that well-trained Islamic extremists in Afghanistan were diverted to India-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan and committed terrorism there. At the same time, the number of fatalities declined considerably and the threat from Pakistan was not the top priority for India in the 2010s.

Figure 1: Fatalities from terrorism in India-controlled Kashmir

Source: Database of Institute for Conflict Management (

In the case of the threat of China, the number of incursions increased in the 2010s. Figure 2 indicates that the number of incursions along the India-China border was 213 in 2011 but increased to 633 in 2019. This means that China entered the Indian side more than once each day on average. In 2020, bigger Chinese troops entered the Indian side with arms and crushed the Indian troops. Twenty Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives and 76 were injured (Chinese fatalities are unknown). Since then, both sides have deployed large numbers of troops with high-tech weapons and the tension has continued. Thus, since the 2010s, China has been a priority as a threat to India.

Figure 2: The number of China's incursion into the India-China border

Source: Author

China's activities in the Indian Ocean region are also a threat to India. China has invested in many infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Because China charges high-interest rates, it creates huge debt for recipients. (Generally, the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank charge 0.25-3% as interest. In the case of China's BRI, the interest rate is 6-8%.2) Thus China can wield strong influence over its loan recipients. For example, Djibouti, which has a huge debt to China, leased a big naval base from China. Sri Lanka gave China the right to control their Hambantota port for 99 years. In Pakistan, Chinese troops are deploying in the port China developed too.

China also provides weapons to this region. Their high-tech, sensitive machines are used under rough conditions and are prone to breakage. Thus, it requires constant maintenance and repair. If countries receive Chinese weapons, they rely on a supply line of repair parts from China. China exports submarines to Pakistan and Bangladesh, and provides frigates to Sri Lanka. Myanmar also got China-Pakistan joint-developed JF-17 fighter jets. Through these arms exports, China has increased its influence on recipient countries.

China is deploying its military in this region. Since 2008, China has deployed naval ships for counter-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia. But China has started to deploy many submarines under the guise of "anti-piracy," despite these submarines not being effective in dealing with piracy. Chinese naval fleets have already called at ports in all the coastal countries around India. And China has been continuously deploying six to eight naval ships in the northern part of the Indian Ocean.3 When the pro-China government of the Maldives faced a serious situation in 2018, China sent 14 warships to the Indian Ocean.

Figure 3 shows China's activities in the Indian Ocean region. Combined with the India-China border, China's activities are surrounding India to contain its influences.

Figure 3: China's activities in the Indian Ocean region

Source: Author

(2) India's response and its limitations

India needs to reply to these threats from China. India has tried to win back the countries that are under China's influence through military diplomacy. For example, India has increased the number of foreign students in its military academies. If India accepts more students from foreign militaries, eventually these foreign students will become the top brass of their countries' armed forces, and their connection to India will contribute to expanding India's influence. India is also involved in capacity-building projects and has dispatched naval and coast guard ships and helicopters to these countries and has trained their local armed forces (Figure 4). Building ports in the Seychelles and Mauritius for local naval or maritime forces is also useful because the Indian Navy can use the same ports. India is also building the Sabang port in Indonesia, and its navy can use that port in the near future.

Figure 4: India's military diplomacy in the Indian Ocean region

Source: Author

Although weapons made by India do not currently occupy a big share in the world arms trade, India is expanding its arms exports. India donated a corvette ship to Vietnam, providing advanced training for crews of submarines and fighter jets. India also trains crews of fighter jets of the Malaysian Air Force and provides maintenance on the fighter jets of the Indonesian Air Force. The Singapore Army and Air Force are using India's training facilities. To discourage Bangladesh from buying new Chinese fighter jets, India will cover the $5 million budget of the Bangladesh Air Force, which can use these funds to buy spare parts of current Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets and collect information to buy new fighter jets. India expands its influence through these activities (see Figure 5).

Because India's defense products have been improving in recent years, India can donate patrol vessels to Vietnam and Sri Lanka. And for the Philippines, India is exporting BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, which provide a relatively big security boost. India is also planning to export BrahMos missiles and Akash surface-to-air missiles to Vietnam.

Figure 5: India's military diplomacy in the South China Sea

Source: Author

Given the security environment, the Global South is the arena in which China is expanding its influence to contain India. This means that the Global South is the most important area in which India should compete for influence with China.

2. Seeking to cooperate with Western countries

To deal with China's huge threats, India is seeking cooperation with Western countries, especially under the current Modi government.

Since the 1970s, India has cooperated with the Soviet Union. In 1971, the two countries signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, an alliance treaty. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia continued to cooperate with India. That is why nearly half of the weapons Indian armed forces possess are Russian-made. Through providing spare parts and ammunition, Russia has a strong influence on the security of India.

However, recent weapons trade (based on monetary base) indicates that India has imported more Western weapons than Russian ones, especially after 2014 when the current Modi government was sworn in. Figure 6 includes data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) that shows the share of total arms imports from 1950 to 2022. In this figure, I combine the arms exports from the US, UK, France, and Israel on the top. At the bottom are arms from the Soviet Union and Russia. Since 2019, arms from the four Western countries have been exceeding Russian arms .

Figure 6: Increasing share of arms imports from Western countries

Source: SIPRI database ( )

In the past, the Soviet Union hesitated to export weapons to China and Pakistan, which are both threats to India. However, after the Cold War, Russia exported many weapons to China. And recently, because Pakistan imports Chinese fighter jets that use Russian engines, Russian arms exports to Pakistan have increased. Therefore, India can no longer trust Russia's dealings with China. For India, cooperation with Western countries is becoming increasingly important.

3. "Make in India"

Because India was a colony of the British Empire, it has not wanted to rely on Western countries too heavily. As India's economy is rising, it is becoming increasingly interested in making its own weapons and exporting them to other countries. This is the third feature of India's recent military strategy.

India has wanted to develop weapons since its independence in 1947. India succeeded in developing howitzers. In the 1960s, India collaborated with a German developer and made the first indigenous developed fighter jet. In the 1980s, an indigenous-developed frigate was also achieved. India developed ballistic missiles, tanks, and light fighter jets in the 1990s and 2000s. Despite such development, the Indian armed forces did not trust these weapons. Indigenous-developed weapons occupied only 10-20 percent of their total weapons stock.

Under the Modi government this process has changed. It started the "Make in India" program and demanded more use of indigenous weapons. At the same time, the Modi government eased the restrictions on Foreign Direct Investment from foreign countries and the private sector. Every year, on January 26, India holds a military parade for the Republic Day of India, and the weapons showcased in the parade are important. Recently, many featured weapons, including tanks and howitzers, were changed from foreign-made to indigenous-made.

Such a change was accelerated by Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Russia needs many weapons to continue its war and has failed to provide enough weapons, spare parts, and ammunition to India. Since the war started in February 2022, India has identified more than 100 vital parts of Russian weapons and decided to replace these parts with indigenous ones.

This situation also demands that India export weapons. The reason that India has not produced weapons itself was due to export restrictions. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union permitted India to license production but did not permit it to export these licensed products to third countries. For example, at that time Egypt was using Soviet-developed weapons. India could have exported repair parts to Egypt if the Soviet Union had permitted India to do so, but the Soviet Union did not. As a result, the production line was closed and production know-how disappeared. Thus, for India, exporting is a vital part of building arms production capability. Their market is Global South countries.

4. The Global South in India's military strategy

There are three connecting points between India's military strategy and Modi's Global South policy. First, the Global South policy for India is a counter-China strategy. India believes that they must win the competition for influence in the Global South.

Second, to deal with China, India needs cooperation with Western countries. This alignment has strengthened under the Modi government and is reflected in his Global South policy. For example, in 2023, India took over the presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). But at the National Security Advisor-level summit of the SCO, the China and Pakistan delegations only participated online, despite other members joining in person. Finally, the SCO summit (President- and Prime Minister-level) itself was online. The SCO failed to show a strong presence as an anti-Western movement. In the case of the BRICS summit, similar things have happened. India opposed China and Russia's move to make BRICS into an anti-Western group by including many anti-Western new members. Ultimately, the new members of BRICS were not strongly anti-Western. At the G20 summit, where India holds the presidency this year, this attitude of cooperation toward the West was reflected strongly. Both Xi Jinping and Putin were absent. And only G7 and Global South countries joined in. India was the bridge between the G7 and the Global South at this summit, and this was favorable for Western countries. After the G20 summit, Foreign Minister Jaishankar visited the Hudson Institute and said India is not a Western country but neither is it anti-Western.4 This is characteristic of Modi's Global South policy. It means that Modi's Global South policy is to seek cooperation with Western countries—a departure from the days of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War.

Third, India's "Make in India" policy in its military strategy has the potential to erase China's influence in the Global South. India is seeking to export weapons to Global South countries. Most Global South countries cannot buy expensive weapons from the United States, Europe, or Russia, and these countries could be a market for India's arms exports. The feature of India's weaponry is low price and cost-effectiveness. Currently, these countries are buying low-cost weapons from China. If India joins the arms trade competition, there is a strong possibility that it could compete with China and diminish its influence.

5. Policy recommendations for Japan

In light of the above, there are three recommendations. First, Japan and India can cooperate with each other to tackle China's influence in the Global South through infrastructure projects, reducing debt, capacity-building for local armed forces, etc., because Japan and India share the same national interest in countering China's influence. Modi's Global South policy indicates that in many areas Japan and India can and should cooperate. A recent example is Japan-India-France cooperation to reduce the debt of Sri Lanka. In this case, China is negotiating with Sri Lanka independently. China's project is less transparent and doesn't involve the cooperation of other countries. But the projects of Japan-India-France are high transparency and high cooperation.

Modi's Global South policy is not anti-Western, which is good for Japan. Because Western countries are former colonial masters of the Global South, there are many problems in the relations between Western countries and Global South countries. Japan and India can usefully cooperate with each other to be a bridge between Western countries and Global South countries.

In addition, the "Make in India" weapons policy will provide an opportunity for Japan. Indeed, India is importing many parts to augment its indigenous arms development program. For example, the engine of the indigenous-developed Tejas fighter jet is an American one. When Modi visited the US in 2023, the engine for fighter jets was an important topic. The more India exports India-developed fighter jets, the more engines the US can sell. This means that India's arms exports will help both India and the US sell weapons and expand influence in the Global South. Japan should join this movement. Currently, Japan is planning to sell a "Unicorn" antenna for an indigenous naval ship of India. Such exports of weapons parts for the "Make in India" project should be more robust.

Under the rising threat of China, a rising India will provide many opportunities to Japan. Japan should be active in cooperating with Modi's Global South policy. Such a policy will contribute to Japan's interests in countering China.

(Research Fellow, Hudson Institute)

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