This is a question that has been discussed in many forums, institutes and governments. War prevention is a huge study by itself. But yet after every battle has been desiccated and lessons drawn out, we still can’t prevent the next war. Therefore the question is why can’t humans just live in peace, what actually is the motivation to see blood and gore? I immediately come up with the major Es’. Ego, Economy, Energy, this coupled with a thirst for power.
Annexation of territory, miscommunication of intent, political settlements, internal strife etc. are only tools that give a failed logic to war. War more often than not has multiple players involved. What actually therefore is to gain, is perceptual. Do nations become allies for national interests? Friendships? Geo-strategic gains? Profits? What actually puts the logic into a framework is that we are ready to sacrifice our own lives and economy to fight or assist in someone else’s war.
World War I
The immediate war of misperceptions, faulty evaluations, big ego and utter chaos is World War 1. This was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Also known as the Great War or "the war to end all wars", (surprising?). It involved more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans. The estimates were 8.5 million combatant deaths and 13 million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war. The illness, genocides, end of big nations, evolution of new powers cast this war as the deadliest ever fought.
It all started by the assassination of Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The war was between Serbia and the Austrian-Hungary coalition. But soon a network of interlocking alliances enlarged the crisis from a bilateral issue in the Balkans to one involving most of Europe. By July 1914, the great powers of Europe were divided into two coalitions: the Triple Entente, consisting of France, Russia, and Britain; and the pre-established Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.
At the end, World War I would see the continent of Europe split into two major opposing alliances; the Allied Powers, primarily composed of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the United States, France, the Russian Empire, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro; and the Central Powers, primarily composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
What therefore was the underlying reason for these alliances? Though their significance is often misunderstood or exaggerated, alliances are one of the best-known causes of World War I. While alliances did not force nations to war in 1914, they nevertheless drew them into confrontation and conflict with their neighbours. The European alliances in many respects were a byproduct of European geopolitics. Europe had long been a melting pot of ethnic and territorial rivalries, political intrigues and paranoia. Alliances provided European states with a measure of protection.
They served as a means of guarding or advancing national interests while acting as a deterrent to war. They were particularly important for Europe’s smaller or less powerful states. The alliances were a political, military or economic agreement, negotiated and signed by two or more nations. Military alliances usually contained promises that in the event of war or aggression, signatory nations will support their allies. They ranged from financial or logistic backing, like the supply of materials or weapons, to military mobilisation and a declaration of war against the aggressor. Alliances also contained economic elements, such as trade agreements, investment or loans.
Certain famous alliances that were the norm before World War 1 paved the way for future collaborations on perceived mutual interests. Many of these alliances were negotiated in secret or contained secret clauses, adding to the suspicion and tension that existed in pre-war Europe. The alliance system forced countries to help other allies so if one declared war, the others had to do the same. Without the alliance system, WW1 would have been a lot smaller and probably not a world war since fewer countries would become involved.
What did it provide these alliances?
- Sense of security.
- War as a legitimate political tool.
- Great power relations could offer an opportunity to contain conflicts.
- The hunger for power, to stay ahead in the arms race and be intimidating.
- A form of self-defense,
- Economics and military dictating terms and conditions.
What did this war achieve? More power to the powerful? Inherent security? Made permanent friends? Dissipated the resources and capability of large military powers? Diminished the war waging capability and economic strength of trouble making countries? Or just gave rise to a new world order, it formed a new Europe. Have these alliances been configured again?
Do they stand for a just cause or a just war? Why would a sheer single point agenda by one country become a world war? The alliances lost man and material, was it worth the cost of war? Are alliances biased towards a race, skin colour, language and in the garb of controlling a growing power? Will alliances prevent war or be the cause of war?
To prevent future world wars, the League of Nations was created during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The organisation's primary goals were to prevent armed conflict through collective security, military and naval disarmament, and settling international disputes through peaceful negotiations and arbitration.
World War II
Let us now relate to World War 2. The war lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the majority of the world's countries, forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis powers. Involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. This war saw the only two uses of nuclear weapons in war to this day.
World War II resulted in 70 to 85 million fatalities, a majority being civilians. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), starvation, massacres, and disease. In the wake of the Axis defeat, Germany and Japan were occupied. Many nations were touched by the conflict, but the main combatants can be grouped into two opposing factions, Germany, Japan, and Italy where the Axis powers. France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union were the Allied powers.
The Allies kept forming up right till the end of the war. The Allies were led by the so-called "Big Three''—the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States—which were the principal contributors of manpower, resources, and strategy, each playing a key role in achieving victory.
The USA remained formally neutral until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, after which it declared war and officially joined the European Allies. China was already at war with Japan since 1937 but formally joined the Allies in December 1941. There suddenly was a new power equation or what we can call a conglomerate.
The Declaration officially recognized the Big Three and China as the "Four Powers'', in acknowledgement of their central role in prosecuting the war; they were also referred to as the "trusteeship of the powerful" and later as the "Four Policemen" of the United Nations. One enduring legacy of the alliance is the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which is made up exclusively of the principal Allied powers that won the war.
After the lessons of WWI & WWII could we now be assured that these global wars will not take place. But then wasn’t the cold war period filled with situations that could lead not only to conventional conflict but to nuclear wars.
What did the allies achieve in world war II – for the first time we saw two absolute allied forces militarily fight each other, with one decimating the other. New equations and a country was split into East and West Germany, with the major countries, US and Russia distributing the spoils of war. A nuclear attack on a civilian population was justified. The strong powers dictated the terms of war.
The minor powers hardly had any say, it was as if they either joined the war or were considered powerless. Even enemies came together to fight a bigger enemy. Ideally it should have ended the war early, but the war was fought for 07 years.
So the question arises again, will alliances prevent war? Instigate war? Or ensure war as per own perceived selfish national interests?
War on Terror
The War on Terror (WoT), also known as the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and the U.S. War on Terror, is the term that refers to the military campaign launched by the United States government following the September 11 attacks. The targets of the campaign are primarily extremist groups located throughout the world, with the most prominent groups being Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and their various franchise groups. This is the first time the campaign addressed the possibilities of a war, yet keeping it below the thresholds of an actual military campaign.
The most prominent facet was building up a narrative. This was backed by intelligence (proven falsified later) on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The US intelligence failed to even identify the support system of these terrorists, they later found Osama-Bin-Laden in Pakistan, presumably supported by the ISI.
What was most distinct, was the statement of the US president George Bush, extracts of which are quoted... “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The world responded with an unprecedented coalition against international terrorism. The whole world barring a few minor countries came together to fight with the US and contribute towards this war, sadly without an end state.
What did alliances achieve in the War on Terror – they further destroyed the Arab identity. Caused nations to fight each other, instead of using political means, military means took precedence. Inducted a lot of military hardware where none existed, intelligence became toxic and could change narratives as per intended perceptions. The entire philosophy of fight against terrorists was seen as occupationists. The cat strophe was the refugee problem. Even terrorists found safe haven in countries that accepted refugees.
Trust was lost, western forces were seen as the enemy, whatever their intentions. Pakistan was the parasite and the scavenger. The vultures that ensured the spoil and then consumed that too. Who won? Did terrorism stop? Have you ensured that safe havens don’t exist? Is Afghanistan or Iraq better than what it was before? Has Islamic terrorism subsided? Infact we have terrorism cause a huge refugee problem. Terrorism has also reached all parts of the world and been given a religious identity. What changed?
War Against the ISIS
Initially taking a cue from the jasmine revolution in Egypt, protests against President Assad’s regime in 2011 quickly escalated into a full-scale war between the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran and anti-government rebel groups, backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others in the region. The USA who were against the reign of Bashar Al Assad as president of Syria, saw this as a good opportunity to indulge and ensure a US footprint in Syria.
The complex alliances are still fighting a war, with no end state, just political interests, with Turkey being the predator, using this war to cleanse the Kurds. According to estimates by the United Nations, more than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the war. The UN reports that, as of January 2019, more than 5.6 million have fled the country, and over 6 million have been internally displaced.
The complexities have only increased through external military intervention, including the provision of arms and military equipment, training, air strikes and even troops in support of proxies in Syria. Iran, Israel, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the U.S.-led coalition have great investments and great stakes involved.
Is this the new normal, Fighting your wars in others spaces, with agendas that are more economical and militarily viable. Is this in the garb of what we now term as “JUST WARS”? Will strong alliances and partners ensure security, safety and freedom? Is this the best method of mitigation of military threat?
Indo – China Context
India is today caught in a quagmire of its own creation. On one side it has a neighbor who is using means below war to instigate, employ and disturb. On the other hand it’s fraught with asymmetry of military means of war, economy, technology and advantages of terrain in the operational domain to the adversary. Clubbed together a collusive threat is seen as real and possible. China has its reasons, an agenda that is undefined but practicable. The display of strength and intent of the present Chinese polity, to stay powerful and relevant.
Resurgence of the PLA, through force maximization, influx of futuristic technology, theaterisation, dominance in manifestation of a threat in being, by constant exercising and forward deployment in the visible domain. Hard political statements, development of border infrastructure, constantly negating India in international forums. Surrounding India by a chain of economic surges and development dreams in South Asia and Africa. Increased presence in the IOR, additional military convergence with Pakistan. Show of military strength in all domains, credibility in the grey zone etc.
China is just in my perception making war as a NON OPTION for India. This is by increasing the cost of war to unacceptable economic tenability. Where do we stand in comparison with China in particular domains?
Economy - The $9 trillion Chinese economy dwarfs the $2 trillion Indian economy on almost every count. In 2019, China's GDP was 4.78 times greater than India. In 2019. Though it is predicted that India’s economy will grow at a rate of 12.5% in 2021, it is still in no manner going to catch up with China in the near future.
Technology - China at an average is fifteen to twenty years ahead of India in most respects. The Chinese are concentrating heavily on research and development. Reverse engineering already existing technology by buying them through a third party. But can we actually catch up?
Military Budget & Technology – The amount of money China is spending on military technology cannot be matched by India. China’s 2021 defense budget was set at 1.36 trillion Yuan, a 6.8 percent increase from the 1.27 trillion Yuan budget set in 2020. For the past decade, the annual increase in China’s official military spending has outpaced its annual GDP growth, reflecting the priority that Beijing attaches to bolstering its armed forces. Compare that to India, India has the third biggest defense budget at $71.1 billion. However, China’s defense budget is more than three times that of India at $261 billion.
India allocated $18.48 billion for weapons procurement in its 2021-2022 defense budget. Excluding pensions, the new defense budget totals $49.6 billion, an increase of more than 3 % from the previous year’s $47.98 billion. New capital expenditure of $18.48 billion meant for arms procurement witnessed an increase of about 16 % from the previous $15.91 billion. But most of this allocation would go in to maintain existing vintage equipment and upgrade the existing.
Certain essential new equipment will be bought. In the Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme, indigenous industry has been given a boost. But India is still way behind in research and development. The DRDO and its various components live on borrowed technology and innovations instead of actually concentrating on R&D.
As the operational military situation becomes more and more complex, there seems to be a push but the shove is still missing. We are way behind in even the sheer numbers of equipment. The Chinese are dominating the Gray Zone. They are vibrant in the cyber and the space domain. They are concentrating on niche technologies and aiming to draw parallels with the USA. The rush to militarise and indiginise at the same time is harmful, because it is not very well thought off.
So what then? - Since we cannot match up to China in the economic and military confluences, is a systematic need based alliance in the geo strategic domain, both military and trade a viable option? Is the QUAD and the AUKUS the way forward? If the necessity is negating the Chinese military threat and balancing china, is alliances something we can’t do without?
For India, the Quad represents an evolution in strategic thinking that began with its Look East policy in the early 1990s. The Quad as per the Chinese is the ASIAN NATO, but here only India is from the Asian continent. The vaccine treaties, naval exercises in the Indian Ocean region, the sharing of niche technologies, military equipment on lease etc. is constantly seen by China as a threat towards its stability. India today is harnessing its capabilities and its national interests and not being cowed down by threats.
India is ensuring alliances of interest to mitigate security and trade challenges, despite neighbor’s apprehensions. Countering Chinese unilateralism in the Indian Ocean. The “Indo-Pacific” is the new dominion. Inclusive towards artificial intelligence, military development, sustainable growth, security, equal opportunity trade, infrastructure development and digital transformation.
But will the QUAD actually assist India in times of war? Will the QUAD be ready to deploy military technology, equipment and manpower to assist India? Will the QUAD actually be relevant in Grey Zone warfare or certain skirmishes or grab actions by the Chinese, which might be tactical in nature but with strategic implications? Will the QUAD ensure India’s sovereignty is part of its agenda towards peace in south Asia and in the bargain the world?
Or is India just a borderline player due to sharing of geographical boundaries and its hold on the Indian Ocean Region? Is India the experimental guinea pig? A footstool of US strategy to counter China? Is it better to have friendly and strategic relationships with a caveat of no interference with China, than to harvest a possibility of someone else’s strategic interests? Is consolidation of one's own neighborhood bilaterally in our national interest, rather than relying on external partners not sharing geographical boundaries?
India & AUKUS
Australia-UK-USA (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership has raised a lot of questions. America and Britain have become focused on the risks to their interests and values from China’s assertive power, including in the far-flung Indo-Pacific. The QUAD and AUKUS will run parallel, but there may be an opportunity of them merging, in the future.
AUKUS ensures Australia which shares Sea borders with India and is part of the QUAD gets technology that deters Chinese plans in the Indian Ocean Region, this can be a great strategic game changer for India. India can also leverage the discontent France has with the US and this equilibrium, if harnessed well, can give India access to leading technologies held by France.
Why the AUKUS when QUAD exists? What game is the US playing this time? With the recent Malabar exercises by the navies of the QUAD, the military angle to QUAD was also sanctified. So why this move? Is it a matter of trust? Or a unifying of powers that are more oriented to American policies. Where all other countries in the world are seen as the third world. Where does India fit in? Can India leverage AUKUS?
With the US- AUSTRALIA partnership in the Indian Ocean Region change the dynamics of security? Will India then be relegated to a secondary security provider instead of a net security provider? Is it prudent to outsource India’s security concerns in the indo pacific to external players and concentrate on border management and littorals, thereby concentrating on building capacities?
There are questions that India needs to ask itself to prevent being used and manipulated.
How are these alliances going to help India?
- Ensure a new paradigm in security?
- Deter the Chinese from adventurism?
- Ensure India has the technology and military might to dissuade a potential threat.
- Increase endurance and sustainability of economy, trade and the military.
- Implement progressive growth.
- Use India as the stepping stool in the quest for deterring China from becoming a superpower in competition with the US.
- Ensure a threat to China and deter it from expansionist policies?
- Give the US a foundation to bring its military might closer to China?
- Use India and the Tibet card as a riposte to any actions by China on Taiwan?
- The most dangerous – use India as an experiment, to expose Chinese military capability and then counter them.
- Use India as a military sacrificial lamb to strike China, ensuring the US stays prime.
ANY WAR WITH INDIA WILL HAVE A STRAIN AND CAUSE A TIME DELAY IN THE CHINESE DREAM OF BEING A MILITARY SUPERPOWER BY 2049, SUITS THE USA PERFECTLY.
In the words of an NRI, Karl Coutinho (USA), I quote … “India is falling behind in the area of higher defense management and lacks a cohesive, forward thinking approach to NATSEC strategy. Most efforts are reactionary, often geared towards optics and domestic vote banks, Smoke & Mirrors.”
The West is increasingly coming to the conclusion that India is dangerously flirting with a subdued but existing ideology that is not inclusive of all people and almost at the hinge of being rendered against democracy. This aspect will have a great bearing on how the West will look at India as a genuine ally worth defending or to just be used as a sacrificial pawn in the greater scheme of politics and power.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India