The Security Studies Seminar is a monthly seminar series that aims to comprehensively discuss a new piece of academic research on matters pertaining to Indian and international security, with the author.

In the 72 years since India achieved independence, many believe that the country is destined to rise as a global power. While India has achieved much in obtaining a higher global status, its quest of great power status remains unfinished. What kind of opportunities has India leveraged or missed in this pursuit? What are the external and internal constraints that hamper its progress? Finally, what does the future hold for India’s status elevation?

Carnegie India hosted T.V. Paul as he discussed the oppprtunities and constraints that India faces as it navigates its rise in the 21st century. The discussion was moderated by Srinath Raghavan.

Discussion Highlights

  • Attaining Great Power Status: Participants stated that in international relations, the study of great powers is an area of major focus, from the works of classical realists like Machiavelli to neoclassical realists such as Robert Gilpin. They noted, in the Indian context, foreign policy continues to center around the pursuit of prosperity and security.  These twin goals contribute to India’s ambition for great power status. Participants explained that great power status, synonymous with institutionalized global power status, is the result of systemic recognition. The degree to which a state is accepted, and part of exclusive international institutions is a sign of great power status, institutional recognition is central to a state being a great power, they noted. Participants further highlighted that prestige and global power status are interlinked. 
  • Pursuit of Great Power Status: Participants observed two reasons why states pursue great power status – psychological factors and material benefits. They explained, psychological factors relate to the need for recognition, the quest to be accepted as a great power by other states. Participants added that material benefits relate to high power states having access to superior resources, enjoying greater security, and exercising more power, specifically in contrast to low power states. Participants highlighted how individuals from high power states travel under relaxed immigration norms globally to illustrate just one of the material benefits that great power states have. Participants then explored the reasons for India’s pursuit for great power under Nehru post-independence. They explained that it emerged from historical perceptions of India being a great civilization, the notion that India should take a leadership role and champion the cause of other post-colonial states during that period.
  • Barriers to Attaining Great Power Status: Participants explored the factors that deter India from gaining great power status. They explained that problems with state capacity, inequitable growth, and internal divisions hamper India’s prospects. Participants stated that India lacks the ability to create and implement robust regulatory frameworks that can ensure the formulation and application of policies to achieve collective goods like security, order, and welfare for its citizens in a legitimate manner. They further explained that a lack of inclusive and equitable economic growth and development, along with rising inequality in the country also deters India from achieving great power status. Participants also pointed to growing social, ethnic, and communal divisions as further barriers to India’s pursuit of great power status.
  • India as a Great Power: Participants added that since India’s liberalization in 1991, the country has come a long way. Many constraints that held India back in the international system no longer hold, they noted. Participants observed that India’s defensive realist posture of balancing in the international system has held well and, as a result, India has good relations with most great powers including the United States and China. Participants stated that India should now build on this unique strategic opportunity and leverage economic and technological advancements to become a great power.

This event summary was prepared by Suchet Vir Singh, a research intern at Carnegie India


T.V. Paul

T.V. Paul is the James McGill Professor of International Relations in the department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Paul specializes in international relations, especially international security and South Asia.


Srinath Raghavan

Srinath Raghavan is a senior fellow at Carnegie India. He is also a professor of International Relations and History at Ashoka University. His primary research focus is on the contemporary and historical aspects of India’s foreign and security policies.