How the Cold War Affected Modern Day India and Its Relation with Other Countries

How the Cold War Affected Modern Day India and Its Relation with Other Countries


In contemporary world politics, the end of the Second World War in 1945 is a landmark event. It also marked the beginning of the Cold War. The Cold War was a result of the emergence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States as the two superpowers on the global stage rival to each other. Keen on expanding their spheres of influence, the US and the USSR divided the world into two alliance systems. Every allied country was expected to remain loyal to its protective superpower (Chadda, 1997).

The smaller countries within the alliance blocs utilized the tie to the superpowers for their interests. The alliance offered these states protection, arms, and economic support against their local economic rivals, particularly the regional neighbor states (Munis, 1991). The emergence of the two power blocs led by the US and USSR threatened to divide the whole world into two blocs. Many states in Western Europe allied with the United States. Those of Eastern Europe sided with the Soviet Union. The western alliance bloc was formed into an organization that was known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) led by the United States. The eastern alliance bloc was also formalized into an organization known as the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union (Chadda, 1997).

The two superpowers also used their military power to influence countries to join their respective alliances. Many countries like India who had just gained independence feared that they would lose their freedom by joining the alliances (R, 1955). It was in this context that led to the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The movement gave the newly independent states of Latin America, Asia, and Africa a third option of staying out and not joining either alliance.

For most newly independent countries, economic development was vital. A country like India understood that without sustained development, it will not be truly independent. India knew that unsustainable development will force it to remain dependent on developed countries including the colonial powers to sustain its economy and development. As such, the goal of being non-aligned changed to giving importance and focus on economic and security issues facing the country (Munis, 1991).

Despite proclaiming a non-alignment posture, India still developed close relations with both superpowers (Munis, 1991). Taking the non-aligned position served India’s interest in two key ways. Non-alignment allowed India to make international decisions and take a stand that solely served the country’s interest rather than that of the superpowers and their allied states (Mazumdar, 2011). A non-aligned position also enabled India to balance the two superpowers against each other. For example, when India felt that it was being unduly pressurized or ignored by either the USSR or the United States, it could tilt towards the other superpower. As such, neither superpower could bully or take India for granted (Chiriyankandath, 2004).

Analysis of India’s modern-day non-alignment foreign policy

India has for a long time aspired to rise as a major player within the international system. To some extent, it is positioned to become a dominant presence within the Indian Ocean region. However, India presently faces a major shift in power dynamics following the rise of China which has affected its pursuit of constructive relations with other countries in the region. Other than the unresolved border dispute between the two states, India is concerned with China’s increasing presence within its region where small countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh have welcomed China’s investments and soft power (Bhagavan, 2019). With China exerting its power within the region and increasing prominence on the international scene, India took significant steps towards developing ties with the United States and its allies within the Asia-Pacific region (Chadda, 1997).

Despite India’s shift towards strategic partnerships, it has continued to attach importance to its strategic autonomy. In 2012, non-alignment made re-entrance in India’s international policy and politics following the release of the Non-alignment 2.0 document (Bhagavan, 2019). This was a policy document created by India’s prominent policymakers. It brought back and re-activated Nehru’s post-Cold War strategic autonomy ideas into full revival for modern-day India.

India’s modern-day non-alignment foreign policy echoes Nehru’s ideas by focusing and placing importance on internal development and maximizing room to shift alliances and ties on the global scene (Chiriyankandath, 2004). It is also reactive and guided by global events and changes (Basu, 2004). Bhagavan (2019) states that the basis of reviving the post-Cold War non-alignment policy within the context of global politics was to ensure India’s regional and global strategic autonomy and to address the country’s poverty problems. Modern-day India’s non-alignment policy calls for global economic engagement, strengthening of its domestic institutions, taking an active role in shaping global politics and a sustained effort to prevent triggering hostility with other countries especially those within its region (Bhagavan, 2019).

India’s present-day non-alignment international policy cautions India against entering into economic and political alliances with other countries if such ties would compromise its economic and development interests. For example, modern-day India is very cautious with the United States as an ally. The United States (particularly the current government) is known to be too demanding in its alliance and resentful of other ties that a country may pursue (Bhagavan, 2019). As such, India’s policymakers fear that a formal alliance with the United States risks eroding the country’s strategic autonomy. It is in this regard that India has continued to place importance on its international non-alignment policy. Modern-day India believes that it will benefit most by maintaining equal distance from China and the United States, pursue an alliance with both countries, and using its economic and political position as an ally as leverage against both countries (Mazumdar, 2011).

Present-day India’s non-alignment policy acknowledges the changing global strategic environment (Bhagavan, 2019). As such, it is not expected that India will drop the non-alignment idea any time soon because it forms part of the country’s national identity (Basu, 2004). India’s non-alignment 2.0 international relations policy encourages the country to enter into defense alliances with other regional states to balance China’s power expansion ambitions. Since the policy’s publication in 2012, India has advanced its alliance with its Asian allies and the United States (Bhagavan, 2019).

With the remarkable rise of China, the post-Cold War non-alignment policy will not be sufficient. Other regional states are also looking up to India to take up its role within the region and balance the increasingly assertive China (Mazumdar, 2011). Although it is India’s interest to do so, if it does not step up to the challenge, India will be forced to make the hard decisions. This is contrary to its non-alignment policy of avoiding hard decisions that can trigger hostility (Chiriyankandath, 2004).


Identifying an effective strategy within the international scene inevitably requires a balancing policy. For India, the non-alignment foreign affairs policy has been the country’s solution to this problem. The policy has also been India’s influential tenet of its security and foreign policy since it got its independence during the Cold War period. With lessons from the Cold War, adopting the non-alignment enabled India to avoid many problems and limitations of being tied to a formal alliance (Bhagavan, 2019). India’s post-Cold war non-alignment policy also puts it in a position to shape its foreign policy reactively, often in relation to China and Pakistan (Basu, 2004).  However, India now stands at a crossroads. With China’s present development and assertiveness as the Asian region and global power coupled with the rise of other middle powers in the region, India’s non-alignment and balancing strategy is increasingly becoming both important and complex (Mazumdar, 2011). According to Mazumdar (2011), the growth of China offers great opportunities for a positive alliance. However, territorial disputes between the two countries and a forward policy in the Asian region raise concern for India, particularly with Pakistan and in the Indian Ocean (Mazumdar, 2011).

Bhagavan (2019) notes that the effects and lessons from the Cold War made modern-day India revise and revive its non-alignment policy in 2012 to handle the changing international system. To adapt to the changing international politics and economy, the revised non-alignment foreign policy allows India to pursue political and trade ties with but maintaining a safe distance from, global powers while building cooperation with its regional neighbor states. Presently, ties with its regional neighbors have boosted India’s economy and defense capability. As a pillar of the United States’ pivot to Asia, India has acquired an important role as the region’s power broker (Bhagavan, 2019).

India’s growing international profile has reshaped the country’s approach to major political and trade partnerships in the changing global system (Chiriyankandath, 2004). Although India does not seem to be thinking of dropping its non-alignment policy, it is high time that it pursues strategic autonomy separately from non-alignment. India stands to benefit most from leveraging partnerships instead of shunning them. While modern-day India is charting new territories with its modern post-Cold War non-alignment foreign policy, it needs to increase engagement with its partners and regional friends. This will enable India to effectively develop leverage when dealing with both its competitors and adversaries. Today, India’s foreign policy has placed it in a good position to define its bilateral partnerships on its own terms. Pursuing both non-alignment and strategic autonomy would enable modern-day India to effectively engage with its partners and other countries that can assist its rise to regional and global prominence (Mazumdar, 2011).



Basu, A. K. (2004). Restructuring India’s Foreign Policy: A Post-Cold War Review. Jadavpur  Journal of International Relations, 8(1), 123–133.

Chadda M. (1997) Indo-Russian relations in the post-cold war era. In: Malik H. (eds) The  roles of the United States, Russia and China in the new world order. Palgrave  Macmillan, London.

Chiriyankandath, J. (2004). Realigning India: Indian Foreign Policy After the Cold War. The  Round Table, 93(374), 199–211. doi:10.1080/00358530410001679567

Mazumdar, A. (2011). India’s Search for a Post-Cold War Foreign Policy: Domestic Constraints  and Obstacles. India Quarterly, 67(2), 165-182.

Muni, S. (1991). India and the Post-Cold War World: Opportunities and Challenges. Asian  Survey, 31(9), 862-874. doi:10.2307/2645300

R. (1955). India and the Cold War. Middle East Journal, 9(3), 256-268.

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