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India's global ambition and the nuclear deal

Unlike China, India doesn't have a clear vision for its role in the world.

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For three decades, India has craved a nuclear energy deal that would bring prestige and advanced technology. Yet when the coalition government declared this week that it would move ahead with one, it triggered a crisis and a no-confidence motion in Parliament, which it had to scramble to survive.

Watching this drama unfold, the international community may be forgiven for feeling a little baffled. After all, the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal is immensely advantageous for India. It allows India to buy nuclear technology from the US in exchange for abiding by International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. It would give India's growing economy much-needed energy without endangering its strategic capabilities or influencing its sovereignty in foreign policy.

To understand the political anguish and hand-wringing in India over a nuclear deal with the US, one needs to understand a very simple fact. Unlike China, its rival rising power, India lacks a grand strategy or concept of its role in the world. India thinks it should be a great power but has no clear vision of its path. In contrast, China thinks it is a great power and expends a great deal of time and energy outlining its "peaceful rise" to itself and the world.

China's rise on the world stage is constantly discussed by Chinese academics, journalists, policy experts, political leaders, and the elite. This discourse emphasizes that despite China's growing power and the need for resources and markets, it will not pursue militarization and hegemony as Germany and Japan did before and during World War II.

Rather, it intends to rise peacefully and harmoniously. Simultaneously, this idea draws on the concept of ("all under heaven") which, simply put, promotes order over chaos and has been key to understanding governance in China for the past 2,000 years. With defined ideas of the world and their role in the world, China acts like a confident great power and pursues its international goals with single-minded zeal.

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