By Dr Subhash Kapila
Strategically strange is the emerging forceful reality in the second decade of the 21st Century that India as the largest democracy in the world and the United States as the most powerful democracy in the world have “The China Threat” staring squarely staring in their faces. China in its normal senses would have not dared to pose “The China Threat” against a combination of India and the United States, no inconsequent nations, had it not for the correct readings of Indian and United States strategic minds by China and their follow-up policy formulations.
In Chinese strategic perceptions, India stands characterized by strategic timidity, a political leadership and policy planning apparatus devoid of strategic culture and more significantly with no credible and visible Indian initiatives to strengthen India’s war preparedness and defense postures against ‘The China Threat”. In Chinese strategic perceptions the image of Indian strategic timidity gets further reinforced by India’s reluctance to enter into credible strategic partnerships which could add military muscular strength to India’s strategic postures arising out of hangovers of the Nehruvian Syndrome and also the hangover of India’s now defunct Non-Alignment policies. India’s continuing ‘China Appeasement ‘policies of the last seven years further reinforce this Chinese perception.
China’s strategic perceptions on India as articulated above stand further reinforced by the fact that India to off-set her strategic weaknesses against China has not been able to co-opt a credible countervailing Power to offset the strategic imbalance in Asia. An unwritten sub-text of the United States-India Strategic Partnership was India’s enlistment of the United States as a countervailing Power against China. The United States decision to forge the United States-India Strategic Partnership with India and its articulations that the United States would assist India to emerge as a global player was impelled by the same unwritten objectives.
The United States mindful of the fact that India may take a long time to break out of its strategic coyness to enter into substantial formal strategic alignments adopted the alternative path of assisting India to build her power potential so that there would be in place in the strategic environment of Asia an existential containment entity against China albeit with balancing power potentials.
The United States as the singular global Superpower, for a curious mix of geostrategic and geopolitical factors, has like India followed a ’China Appeasement’ policy. United States “China Hedging Strategy” is a product of not its fears of any strategic inadequacy against Chinese militarism but is a product of the Cold War fixations on Russia which still heavily persist in the mindsets of Washington policy planners. But the end result is that American strategic ambivalence on China becomes an impediment for India to forge ahead into a more substantial strategic engagement with the United States on coping with ‘The China Threat’.
The United States however has taken some credible steps in its Pacific Strategy to cope with the emerging ‘China Threat ‘in terms of carrying out relocation of its Forces from a northward focus to a southward shift of the strategic center of gravity of its strategic assets in the form of strategic bombers, strategic nuclear attack submarines and missiles, especially to Guam.. These stand covered in a recent Paper (SAAG Paper No. 4674 dated 31 August 2011) of this Author entitled “ East Asia: United States Gears-up to Meet China Threat”.
The Indian policy establishment rather than preparing India to face ‘The China Threat’ in terms of the manifestation of its military capabilities is wasting precious time in deciphering China’s strategic end-game intentions against India as if these were no evident for more than fifty years.
‘The China Threat’ is a live threat in 2011 for both India and the United States. China is no longer emphasizing its traditional jargon of China’s peaceful rise. China is increasingly becoming belligerent with both India and the United States ranging from military brinkmanship in Ladakh and POK to challenging the United States in the South China Sea region. Buoyed by its military rise which was not checkmated so far by the United States, China seems to be emboldened to flex its muscles.
Strong imperatives therefore exist for India and the United States to forge strategic convergences to cope with ‘The China Threat’ which can no longer be wished away by either nation. In this direction, this Paper is not intended to be a research paper but an analytical exercise to focus India’s strategic planners on salient issues having a bearing on the main theme.
The Global Power-Play and Indian Strategic Imperatives for Co-opting a Countervailing Global Power
During the Cold War India co-opted the Former Soviet Union as a countervailing power to checkmate United States and Western pressures against India’s professed policy of non-alignment whereas in actual fact enlisting the Soviet Union as a countervailing power inherently could not be classified as true non-alignment. It can be read as India’s compulsions arising from ‘strategic realism’. In the first decade of the 21st Century when the global power play has become more complex and challenging for India due to the persistent adversarial stances of China against India, it is strange to find public articulations by eminent personalities that India’s strategic culture evolving still perforce would be still determined by years of non-alignment ideologies and pacific outlook.
No wonder whenever there is talk of India entering into strategic partnerships and more specifically the United States a new euphuism has been countered that India must maintain her strategic autonomy . Admittedly so, but that does not imply that by entering into a strategic partnership with a major power India is mortgaging her strategic options or being reduced to a satellite.
‘Strategic Realism’ should once again impel India towards enlisting a countervailing power to strategically balance the worsening military situation for India by China’s persistent adversarial stances where China’s cumulative strategic gains are now impacting at India’s doorsteps in the North East, Northern peripheries, Western and North Western peripheries and in the Indian Ocean, and therefore dictate an urgent need to co-opt a countervailing Power to Chinese strategy of confining India in South Asian confines.
Russia as the traditional countervailing power choice today is not in a position to restrain China for reasons that are well known. Powerful nations do not provide countervailing power for a strategically disadvantaged nation out of any moral considerations. There has to be an element of shared strategic convergences and presumably ‘The China Threat” was the underlying reason, though not publicly articulated by both nations which prompted the quest for a US-India Strategic Partnership in end -2000 and the US-India strategic agreements signed in 2005 at the Washington Summit.
India has no choice but to co-opt the United States as a countervailing Power against China till such time India like China undergoes rapid military upgradations on a fast track. That itself on current indications, with the political leadership engrossed in domestic political crises and ensuring its political survival and a bureaucracy somnolent in masterly incompetence arising from political uncertainties leaves India far far away from a self-reliant military capability to counter “The China Threat”.
The common argument used is that India cannot afford to place all its eggs in one strategic basket. But then pray may I know which other baskets are presently in front of India to place her strategic eggs?
One has always argued in one’s earlier Papers that Russia continues and should continue to be a valued strategic partner for India The challenge for the Indian political leadership and diplomacy is to convince Russia that India’s opting for the United States as a countervailing Power is not aimed at Russia or Russian strategic interests but aimed to redress the strategic imbalance in Asian security generated by China’s not so peaceful rise and China’s undisguised hostile strategic games aimed against India. India could also make it transparently clear to Russia that India would not be a part of any US strategic moves hostile to Russia.
“The China Threat” to India and the United States: A Strategic Reality Check
China’s Grand Strategy to strategically checkmate India’s emergent global rise and confine it within South Asian precincts and to checkmate the United States in East Asia and the Pacific are well known in terms of political and military manifestations and need not be repeated in this Paper for an informed readership. What needs to be projected here is a strategic reality check which points towards pressing imperatives both for India and the United States to forge strategic convergences and joint initiatives to cope with “The China Threat” which promises to emerge more ominous and menacingly in the years to come.
India faces the stark reality that by itself for some time to come, it does not have the strategic and military strengths and capabilities to squarely face China in a military stand-off and a military showdown with China. In relation to “The China Threat’,in political terms India would not be able to muster a line-up of nations in South East Asia or South Asia into a strategic alignment against China. The Islamic nations of the Middle East are strategically and politically more on side of China than India. Similarly, neither the European Union nor Russia would be inclined to checkmate China engaged in a military showdown with India
Faced with such a stark strategic reality where India is ill-equipped to cope with the “China Threat’ on its own two legs, India has no option but to turn to the United States as a countervailing power against China. This is not possible rhetorically but would require more visible and active measures on the ground.
The United States. as I have periodically stressed in my Papers ,that future perspectives on Asian security environment suggest that the United States cannot stay ‘strategically embedded in Asia without co-opting India in her strategic and political formulations in American strategy for Asia and even further afield. The United States is fortunate that for more than fifty years it has crafted a credible strategic spider-web of mutual security treaties extending from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and extending to Singapore. However these nations are not militarily strong to act as game changers in any United States-China military showdown.
India offers the best hope for the United States in terms of providing strategic and political ballast to China’s apparent ambitions to dominate the Asia security environment. Economically, India offers a better long term economic partnership for the United States.
India is the only nation in Asia which can emerge as a strategic game-changer for the United States in the eventuality of any foreseeable United States-China military showdown.
India and the United States have strong imperatives to explore and forge strategic convergences to cope with ‘The China Threat” Both nations will however require to go in for drastic make-over of their respective strategic and political mind-sets in their policy establishments.
Pakistan Emerges as a Force Multiplier in “The China Threat” Against India and the United States
“The China Threat” against India and the United States gets complex and amplified with the emergence of Pakistan squarely on China’s side as recent downslide in Pakistan-United States relations indicate. Unprecedently, Pakistan for the first time in its total dependence on United States military and financial munificence has started baring its fangs against the United States, obviously with China’s backing.
This is a somber development in strategic terms and should not be dismissed as Pakistani brinkmanship and that Pakistan would soon revert to wagging its tail in front of the United States.
In relation to “The China Threat” to India and the United States the pronounced anti-American official stances of the Pakistan Army hierarchy generates many implications. India’s Pakistan policy dependent on the United States for using its leverages on Pakistan to sober its policy formulations on India and be restrained would now have to discount United States leverages on Pakistan.
In relation to “The China Threat” to the United States , Pakistan at Chinese bidding can be expected to redouble its role as ‘The Regional Spoiler State’ creating strategic and military problems that would suit China.
Analysts have missed the true import of Chinese soldiers numbering 12,000 to 15,000 being stationed in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir under the guise of reconstruction troops. This obtrusive strategic military presence in Pakistan is a significant signal to the United States that Pakistan is not alone in any confrontation with the United States. The Chinese boots on the ground in Pakistan need to be viewed as the the Chinese Forward Military Presence in Pakistan which can speedily be reinforced in the event of any US military intervention against Pakistan.
Many may be tempted to dismiss the above as born out of some conspiracy theory to discredit China and Pakistan but then historically it must be remembered that ignoring what was termed as conspiracy theories ultimately resulted in military disasters.
Some years back analysts had predicted that if ever there was a military showdown between the United Sates and China it would not be over Taiwan now but over Pakistan. That was an ominous prediction which now may well turn out to be true.
In the event of a Pakistan-India military conflict in the future, China would most likely not be limited to issue military ultimatums to India as in past conflicts. China by its strategic military obtrusiveness in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir poses an existential military threat by outflanking India defensive postures in Jammu and Kashmir and so also in Ladakh by virtue of its military presence in Pakistan. This stands pointed out and covered in detail in my SAAG Paper No. 4036 dated 13 September entitled “ China’s Obtrusive Presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Implications for India and United States”
India should expect that in that eventuality, China would actively use the Karakoram Highway for assisting Pakistan Army’s military adventurism against India both operationally and logistically. One would not be surprised that in such a contingency China may locate its submarines at Gwadur to pre-empt Indian naval blockade of Pakistan or any Indian amphibious operations on the Makran coastline.
In the eventuality of a China-United States military conflict in the future, Pakistan while not likely to be bold to open a ‘second front to favor China can surely be expected to assist China with a wide range of options with enhanced terrorism activities by Pakistan Army Islamic Jihadi terrorist outfits and military adventurism against India as a diversionary strategy and at the other end of the spectrum providing China with military logistics support both by land and air and more importantly oil and fuel supplies.
In more simple terms, in the event of a China-United States military conflict Pakistan can be expected to act as “pressure point” on China’s behalf against the United States.
China-United States Military Conflict Breaking Out Over United States Military Intervention in Pakistan: The Worst Case Scenario
Repeatedly emphasized in my Papers on this subject has been the fact that China has not made massive strategic investments in Pakistan for nothing. China is so heavily strategically embedded in Pakistan and with the Pakistan Army that it will not just tamely make an exit from Pakistan in the event of a United States-Pakistan military conflict. China’s massive investments in Pakistan’s strategic infrastructure ranging from the Karakoram Highway and Gwadur Naval Base all under further upgradation were part of a long term strategy to have a military foothold in the North Arabian Sea area and in proximity to the Hormuz Straits so vital for the United States strategically.
Therefore in the event of a military intervention by the United States in Pakistan, this time China can be expected to intercede, militarily siding with Pakistan against the United States. In this sort of a military scenario one can foresee the vast expanse extending from China’s Pacific littoral to Pakistan’s North Arabian Sea littoral in military turbulence.
Notably in such an awesome military scenario where the United States can be expected to apply its awesome superior firepower by air and naval power on India’s doorsteps, can India afford to remain neutral? In this worst case scenario, China and Pakistan would perceive and react against India on the premise that the US-India Strategic Partnership was militarily aimed at both of them. This is a subject of contemporary debate in both China and Pakistan even when India has not been fully assertive in this Strategic Partnership and keeps talking of multi-polarity.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of China’s options in such a worst case scenario would be that (1) China restricts itself to political saber-rattling against the United States while surreptiously providing Pakistan with military aid (2) China generates conflict by proxy on the Korean Peninsula courtesy North Korea to strategically distract the United States away from Pakistan (3) Incite the Islamic nations of the Middle East against the United States with the call that the United States is at war with Islam (4) China attempts to electronically degrade or neutralizes US military operations against Pakistan by use of her new strengths in electronic warfare and cyber-warfare.
Ironically for China there are no easy options in such a worst case scenario other than to openly come out militarily against the United States and widening the entire geographical spread of the ensuing military conflict from a localized United States military intervention against Pakistan to one of United States military conflict with all its attendant strategic connotations. In such an eventuality NATO, Atlantic Alliance and American strategic partners in East Asia would inevitably be drawn in.
In such a worst case scenario in which the United States would be strategically forced to jettison its ‘China Hedging Strategy” India could emerge as the game-changer for the United States provided the United States makes the right strategic moves to persuade India in the run-up to such a likely US-China military conflict over Pakistan that United States and India have no other choice but to jointly checkmate the China-Pakistan strategic combine.
Such a United States-China military conflict over Pakistan may ultimately end in a military stalemate but not without a substantive degradation of Chinese and Pakistani war-waging capabilities in the process which should strategically suit India. Of course India would have to suffer collateral damage in the process. Does India have the political will for this?
United States-India Strategic Partnership: Greater Onus on United States to Resuscitate the Partnership and Forge Strategic Convergences with India on ‘The China Threat’
The US-India Strategic Partnership is meaningless and so are US-India Strategic Dialogues if they remain straitjacketed and confined to cooperation in counter-terrorism, disaster relief and anti-piracy operations or to scientific and technological engagements. The global power-play today centers on China as the revisionist power out to unscramble the existing strategic balance which implies challenging United States status as the only Superpower. Pursuit of this strategic path by China foretells military turbulence in Asia and the Pacific and extendable to the Indian Ocean.
The United States has lost ten years in not strategically and substantially investing in the US-India Strategic Partnership by inducing strategic uncertainties in the Indian policy establishment and Indian public opinion arising from American strategic ambivalence on China and Pakistan.
Importantly, the United States seems to miss out and be oblivious to the strategic reality that while China and Pakistan figure as “Hedging Entities” in US strategic planning, for India both China and Pakistan are ‘Live Military Threats” which cannot be put aside while the United States is shaken out of its” Hedging Strategy Trance” on China and Pakistan.
As late as August 2011 US Assistant Secretary of State is quoted in a media report that India has a consequential role to play in the region (Asia Pacific) but that “not in any way deflect from our relations with China”. Implicit in this statement of intent is that United States would keep pursuing its hedging strategies on China.
Before one can even discuss the resuscitation of the US-India Strategic Partnership, United States and India need to answer some fundamental questions. The United States has to answer without any caveats whether the United States truly recognizes “The China Threat” as a credible threat and is willing to go to any lengths to checkmate it without hedging strategies. The United States has next to decide whether it is ready to dispense with its double-plane strategy of dealing with China in that while it prevails on its regional allies in Asia to consider ‘The China Threat ‘ as real yet on the global plane it is willing to defer to China’s strategic sensitivities.
Lastly United States needs to adapt to its own formulations of “You are either with us or against us” . Related to India and in the context of India’s adversarial relations with China and Pakistan this gets translated for the United States into the United States to make some stark strategic choices. The United States can no longer have the luxury in Asia of settling for both China and India together. The United States needs to settle for China or India.
India too has to make some stark strategic decisions which can only be done by answering the following questions. (1) Can India really checkmate China’s pronounced adversarial stances against India without co-opting a countervailing Power to reset the strategic imbalance generated by China’s not so peaceful rise?(2) Can India effectively neutralize a joint China-Pakistan military threat to India without assistance of a countervailing Power?(3) What are the strategic losses that will accrue to India if it opts for a strategic partnership with the United States on the lines that France had under General De Gaulle at the height of the Cold War?
Answers to the above questions truthfully made would suggest that the United States and India must straightaway proceed to forge strategic convergences and outline a strategy to cope with ‘The China Threat” that is becoming potent with each passing day. Thee US-India Strategic Partnership provides an adequate platform to forge such a strategic convergence and strategic consensus. The US-India Strategic Partnership which can be substantively resuscitated by dispensing United States strategic ambivalences on China and Pakistan which muddy India’s strategic perspectives on the utility of the US-India Strategic Partnership.
The onus for achieving substantial results from the US-India Strategic Partnership therefore lies on the United States if it truly wants to add a game changer to meet ‘The China Threat” that is becoming potent by the day..
India was always being targeted by China and Pakistan singly and jointly for the last six decades, Both China and Pakistan have been engaged in checkmating India’s emergence as a leading global player. Pakistan followed the strategy of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’ through use of state-sponsored terrorism and use of Islamic Jihadi surrogates of the Pakistan Army. China reinforced Pakistan’s attempted destabilization of India by equipping a ‘failed state’ with nuclear weapons and long range nuclear capable missiles. The aims of China and Pakistan were clear.
The first decade of the 21st Century marked by 9/11, US military intervention in Afghanistan and coercion of Pakistan to acquiesce to provide logistics lifelines for Afghanistan brought the United States and NATO militarily on China’s door steps much to the consternation of China. China would also have been flustered that its staunch ally Pakistan was so vulnerable to United States coercion.
At the turn of the Millennium China went politically rabid in its opposition of India’s nuclear weapons tests and by the middle of the last decade it was decidedly unhappy with the US-India Strategic Partnership becoming more proximate in terms of signing the Defense Agreement, the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and a host of other agreements. Both China and Pakistan perceived the closing proximity of the United States and India as upsetting the strategic balance in South Asia and Asia as a whole. India’s strategic forays in East Asia were perceived to have taken place under US goading.
The Asian security environment in 2011 is marked with China and Pakistan in unison in severe distrust and what can be said in a virtual adversarial mode with the United States and India nd with present indicators showing no letting down of these stances by China and Pakistan. This security environment is further worsened by the appeasement policies of both the United States and India in the face of “The China Threat”.
If the 21st Century has to remain an ‘American Century’ then it is high time that both the United States and India get out of their strategic stupor and work seriously towards forging strategic convergences to cope with “The China Threat”