SPEAKING FREELY Delhi frets over war with China
By Bhartendu Kumar Singh
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
While Indians have managed to live in "relative peace" with China since the debacle in 1962 that was the Sino-Indian War, they are less than confident about holding their own against the country in future conflicts.
In this context, a recent statement by General Bikram Singh, Chief of Army Staff, that India would not allow a repeat of 1962 sounds reassuring at least in consequential terms. As the defensor pacis of India's military interests, Singh would know better. However, such assurances notwithstanding, Indians still fear a war that the country would likely lose.
The "relative peace" notwithstanding, several factors could draw China and India into a conflict, either in tandem or in isolation. First, the two countries are yet to resolve their border differences. Protracted talks have been complicated with new demands by China and have belittled the political parameters decided in 2005 to move towards a final resolution. As China's political, economic
and military power scale new heights, it might resort to another limited war to force a one-sided resolution upon India.
Second, while the political, diplomatic and economic engagements, supplemented with military confidence building measures, have enabled India maintain "relative peace" on China front; India is losing the race in military capacity building vis-a-vis China.
Third, both countries are undergoing a transition process towards becoming great powers. The absence of an agreed border, supplemented by the game for power and influence elsewhere, could encourage China to talk through its guns to India.
Nobody expects India to wage and win a war with China, despite their so-called nuclear parity. India's capacity to resist a Chinese attack and defend its territory is also debatable and less assuring, due to several factors.
First, India does not have a primary update on Chinese military preparedness in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Indians tend to read Chinese defense modernization developments through the Pentagon's annual Congressional report on Chinese military modernization and other Western sources. These are focused on China's preparations against Taiwan and Japan and do not serve India's interests.
Second, India does not come out with official publications like other great powers to identify the military threat from China. There is also no "strategic doctrine" against China in public and the now-discarded "cold start doctrine" was focused on Pakistan.
Other domestic publications on China's military advances miss the razor-sharp analysis to help policy makers strengthen the defense against China. Indians are also yet to come out with a single study scrutinizing India's capacity-building approach and war-fighting ability against China.
For example, India's defense posture against China is based on strengthening military presence and infrastructure in Ladakh and the northeast. What if the Chinese were to attack the Gangetic plains through collusion with an anti-Indian regime in Nepal? Such war-building scenarios are yet to be hypothesized, at least publicly.
Third, with insurgency being dubbed as the number one "threat" (against the actual one from China) in India's security calculations, India's armed forces are compelled to deploy a sizable number in Kashmir. This raises doubts on our ability to release forces and their swift deployment if needed urgently. Also, a prolonged and protracted exposure to counter-insurgency operations may compromise the armed forces' ability to wage war against an enemy force.
In designing a defense policy against China, India has yet to experiment certain initiatives. First, India is yet to start its own game of military modernization with a focus on "muscle" rather than "men". In the entire discourse on military modernization, India is the only major power that is yet to trim its flesh and reinvest the money on technology and armory. A lesson can be learnt from China, which trimmed its military from 4.9 million to 2.2 million personnel and emerged as a military superpower.
Second, shortage of defense budget should not come in way of a strong defense against China. There is plenty of scope for revenue generation and revenue saving within the armed forces that can be explored. In doing so, lessons can be learnt from the US and the UK, among others, that have adopted new policy measures to generate money.
Third, India is not the only country pitted against a strong neighbor with possibilities of war. Smaller powers across the world have invented and adopted new ways and means to resist the geopolitical temptations of stronger neighbors and at times even tease them. The sub-continental examples of Pakistan and Sri Lanka (balancing) and Nepal and Bhutan (bandwagoning) are only some representative examples.
If India could convince China for an early border resolution, it will blow away the major cause that could propel a Chinese attack.
India's search for pride, dignity and honor against an unpredictable China can come only if there is an objective confidence in dealing with China. Assurances from top military and political leadership, like General Singh's statement, do reduce the pangs of psychological humiliation about the 1962 war. However, such statements also need to be supplemented with demonstrable evidences of better military preparedness against China.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh is in the Indian Defense Accounts Service. The views expressed in a personal capacity.