Evolving Moon Diplomacy for India amidst Great Power Competition


  US hails Chandrayan-3 landing as historic

by Sudhanshu Tripathi            29 August 2023

The successful moon landing of Chandrayan-3 has turned incredible into reality for India, and that has been acknowledged by the whole world. The country has indeed jumped towards a higher orbit of influence and power among the global community of sovereign nations. Indeed an aspiring power has achieved an unprecedented feat nearly 240,000 miles from Earth. India’s space program originated during the sixties of the previous century, and in pursuance of that, the country has launched numerous satellites so far. In fact, the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 has already confirmed the presence of craters on the south pole of the moon which contain ice as scientists still affirm. Unfortunately, the previous attempt in 2019 to execute a soft landing on the moon failed.

In addition to New Delhi’s considerable hike of social and political prestige across the world, the commendable feat may also be accompanied by a significant boost to the prospects of India’s possible Moon Diplomacy, thereby ensuring better bargaining power for the country vis-à-vis most of the mighty powers in the world. Although the symbolism of India’s moon landing is hard to overstate this achievement represents a moment of arrival for India, with clear political gains for PM Narendra Modi.

While this rare achievement will in likelihood enhance the country’s prospects of cooperation with other space-exploring agencies in the world, it shall also result in massive economic gains for India. Launching indigenous rockets to carry into space the satellites of many other countries is a lucrative business for such a technology-capable country with hefty economic rewards to accrue to its coffers. And that may touch the trillion-dollar economy given senior officials of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology. Again, the success may kick start private space exploration programmes in the country as well. Also, India’s moon landing can enhance ongoing space research that has contributed to the development of communication and remote-sensing technologies. Despite being a distant reality, India’s dream to achieve a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council and join the Nuclear Suppliers Group may possibly find fruition but it very much depends on the wishes of a much smaller group of countries that have already been to the moon, alongside only China, Russia, and the United States. And many aspirants to jump to the moon – including Russia, Japan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates – have not yet landed on its south pole.

Further, though there is scientific and technological success in the field of space exploration, the totality of results to calculate in terms of national power for the country is perhaps beyond one’s perception. Notwithstanding the global applaud over the success, it may not possibly find favour with the aggressive and imperialist designs of China and hostile intentions of Pakistan – both against India – and altogether, that may possibly witness adverse consequence/s due to their long-held animosity against the country. As Sino-India tensions and continuing standoff on the international borders between the two asymmetric powers continue to be far away from amicable resolution despite several rounds of bilateral talks at various levels besides hostile relations with Pakistan consistently supporting cross-border terror into India, the likely emerging diplomacy may accomplish enough clout and consequent addition to its rising technological power and that may help the country to balance the fast-risen aggressive, assertion-oriented and imperialist power-profile of China including Pakistan not only in the East but also in all over the world.

This spectacular achievement by the country may possibly lead to a few unexpected and unpalatable after-effects due to tough power rivalry in the world as the international arena is still perhaps the most unregulated and free-for-all phenomenon where naked power rules the roost, that an illustrious realist scholar of the previous century Hans Morgenthau had sketched in his classic work Power among Nations. The same spirit has been carried by another contemporary realist scholar, John Mearsheimer, who has pointed out those structures that inevitably cause tensions between different competing nations as significant power players in the world. In fact, India had already suffered such adverse consequences in terms of several harsh sanctions imposed by the Western states led by the US when it successfully conducted its first nuclear explosion on 18th May 1974 for peaceful purposes.

As India has now become an influential power player among a few top-level players like the US, Russia, and China, it essentially needs to leverage its diplomacy to carry on its sincere efforts uninterrupted to further explore the unfathomed fields of knowledge in the overall interest of humanity, either in space or below the surface of the earth or deep inside oceans. These are the probable areas where humanity can find solace in times to come when rising temperatures, melting glaciers leading to submerging of island-nations, increasing environment pollution, soil erosion, scarcity of water and food resources, energy crisis accompanied by several natural disasters viz. earthquake, heavy downpour, famine and several man-made calamities due to excessive extraction of natural resources without their replenishment will finally turn the earth inhospitable for the human beings. Further, India’s space research has also helped monitor underground water levels and predict weather patterns back home on Earth—which is especially significant in most countries vulnerable to climate change. Again, the presence of water that can be refined into rocket fuel suggests an opportunity for other countries to use the south pole on the moon as a base for deeper space exploration. Also, the space experts highlight that the Chandrayaan-3 mission can accelerate efforts to fight climate change besides conducting focused research on Helium-3. In fact, Helium-3 is a helium isotope that is found in abundance on the moon and that may serve as a potential source of renewable energy.

However, the mission could introduce a new phase of great power competition by accelerating a long-running race towards space. India and Russia—partners on Earth—have competed to become the first country to land on the lunar south pole; a Russian attempt failed just a few days ago. While anticipating the immense possibility of such competition, the US proposed and forged the Artemis Accords in 2020, intending to promote space cooperation through shared rules and principles. Although the Accord has been accepted by many American allies and partners, including India, Russia, and China, they have, so far, not reciprocated. However, the geopolitical competition will likely intensify, which may shift the popular perception being upheld on Earth regarding the moon and still far beyond into space.

Notwithstanding these possibilities, space exploration has found an added thrust with Chandrayaan’s success, wherein India and many more nations will try their strength, leading to better prospects for humanity. Hence the ongoing endeavour in search of future hospitable destinations for mankind, or the required living preconditions for the sustenance of life like water or oxygen or fertile soil, to name a few, must be collectively pursued so that no competitive rivalry may stall such noble pursuit for their common welfare. It is here that India can mitigate the possible suspicions among other competing nations through its aforesaid moon diplomacy for forging better friendly and cordial relations by evolving better cooperative endeavours not only in space exploration but also in other fields, as mentioned above and even beyond. This is very much required today by New Delhi as the same mission by a significant global power, Russia, by its very powerful spacecraft Luna-25, had unfortunately failed just a few days ago. Hence, India must avoid falling into the gritty eyes of other jealous nations like China and Pakistan, apart from a few other smaller states like Nepal, Sikkim, and Bangladesh, which are always wary of the country’s upward rising profile due to asymmetric geographical and economic determinants between India and each one of them.

Thus, this achievement may witness substantive benefits to New Delhi apart from the world. Further, the likely consolidating power profile of India through its possible moon diplomacy can considerably boost its image vis-à-vis Beijing and Islamabad. And that will essentially benefit global humanity as India’s approach in exploring the ever-wider areas of knowledge has always been for peaceful purposes only, and that still continues in the larger interest of global humanity, thereby upholding the true spirit of vasudhaiv kutumbakam or the whole world is a family. This may become possible as nothing is beyond human endeavour.