The news of 20 Indian soldiers killed in action on night 15/16 Jun 20 at Galwan and subsequent developments and rapid mobilisation on both sides of India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) need serious assessment of India’s options in the face of increasingly expansionist China.
Whilst there are reports of a ‘Pull Back’ by both Indian and Chinese forces, the boundary dispute with China and Kashmir issue with Pakistan remain unresolved keeping our forces tied down on both fronts .There is a need to protect our vulnerable sea coasts and maritime interests from likely Chinese belligerence that could pose a direct threat to our Naval power. With our resolve on issues like POK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin, BRI, Baluchistan and regional flare ups in Taiwan & Hongkong are some critical areas of ‘Conflict’ that we are likely to be affected by.
The frequent harping and re drawing of maps to claim additional Indian territory , reference to the implosion of India due to the diverse communities through the ‘Red Corridor’ and tacit support to various insurgent groups are amongst the prominent worries that India must focus on.
Keep in view of the above back ground; we shall examine a few relevant factors of ‘National Interest’ and Power. A look at this from a historical perspective sufficiently indicates that our ‘Neighbouring States’ have always adopted an attitude of ‘Conflict’ instead of ‘Cooperation’, leaving us little choice than to ‘Protect National Interest’?
A History of Two Nations: An Example of China
In 1949, Mao Tse-tung announced that the Chinese people must either lean to the side of Imperialism or to the side of Socialism. “To sit on the fence is impossible. A third road does not exist.”
Throughout the 1970s, the Soviet Union displayed an increased military build-up and deployed its most sophisticated nuclear and conventional weaponry along the Sino-Soviet border. By the end of the decade, China faced 45 Soviet divisions in 1973, 150 Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and the Soviet Backfire bomber.
Moscow was intent on coercing China to accommodate itself to Soviet interests. But China was unwilling to succumb to Soviet line of interest and stood her ground, relying on a strong Military.
Preserving national interest, the Chinese have today ‘outgrown’ themselves and indulge global engagement to improve the economy, build military power, and ultimately challenge the US too.
We must ask ourselves now: Has India evolved from a protest voice on the world stage to an active shaper of the international order?
Post-Independence, India’s strategic outlook was shaped by Jawaharlal Nehru, who viewed the West with scepticism and had a rosy view of Socialist ideals. This led to a foreign policy on three key pillars: non-alignment in the international arena; preservation of autonomy in domestic affairs; and solidarity among developing nations, particularly those that had recently gained independence from colonial powers.
This policy continued throughout the Cold War, when India leaned toward the Soviet Union while deftly maintaining strategic autonomy and charting its own course in a bipolar international order.
Successive events through the mid-80s leading up to the present times saw the USSR collapse and the Indian economy grow. We championed the cause of global warming, took the lead in the war against terror, and aligned with the US. While Pakistan lost trust, China emerged as a strategic competitor against the US and its allies.
India emerged as a nation-state that could play a pivotal role in balancing against China. Can India confront China like China did against the Soviet Union? Are we ready to stand alone? Or should we cry to Uncle Sam for help against China, the Big Bully?
True National Interests
In Another ‘Great Debate’: The National Interest of the United States, Hans J Morgenthau suggests that it is often believed that there is an irreducible core of national interest for any state at any given time, called the vital interest of a nation.
Vital interest is that on which, if necessary, a country is prepared to go to war. It is so important for the state that it is normally willing to go to war immediately or ultimately, in order to safeguard that interest.
The vital interest of a country is supposed to be so basic that it is often regarded as permanent and primary. All other aspects of the national interest remain subordinate to it. National interest invariably has an emotional appeal to the people, including for all states, as a minimum, the protection and preservation of their independence and territorial integrity.
Cooperation, conflict, war, competition, rapprochement and all take place keeping in mind the interest of the nation at a given situation.
Given the existing environment between India-China-Pakistan, the question to be asked to our government is simply one and one alone: Does the environment threaten our nation so much, so as to necessitate going to or being prepared to go to war? If so, have we prepared our military power adequately?
What is the ‘strength of a nation’? One can get various theories on this aspect. However, in simple terms, it is best explained in the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
In his words, a third of the Jews were destroyed 75 years ago and today, they are a force to reckon with. Stressing on national strength, he said: “The strong survive, the weak don't survive, you make peace and alliances with the strong.”
The first requirement, therefore, is to achieve the minimum strength to ensure survival. Distinguishing between soft and hard power, Netanyahu went on to prefer hard power. What does it mean to have power?
- Military power, military hardware, intelligence, other issues important for survival. Defence and security always comes first. It costs a great deal of money, which comes from the second source of power.
- The second source is economic power, technology and industry.
- The third is political power which is possible only if military and economic power are met.
- The fourth is values and beliefs in our deep roots with our traditions and ancient cultures.
- Last is a free society in a democratic system that makes life worth living.
It would be correct to presume that in order to achieve the above, governments are responsible for correct policies and measures in national interest which includes the safety, security, and well-being of its citizens, as well as territorial integrity amongst others.
Settlement of Conflicts: International Politics
The situation in the Indian Subcontinent brings to mind an established fact that it is the more ‘Powerful’ who call the shots!
When relating this wisdom to International Relations it would be right to suggest that ‘Observance of Rights of States’ depends upon their Power to compel respect on the part of other States. Hence, one needs to understand, that the pursuit of National Interests amongst others, promotes the pattern of political behaviour seeking security, respect for its rights, realization of its aspirations and ability to impose their will upon others.
State policy in relation to this comes in several forms of coercion short of war. Being the last and final instrument of coercion ; ‘war’ is generally preceded by ‘questions of legal rights, obligations, threat of use of force, posturing, ultimatums, mobilisation, economic means of coercion like discriminatory tariffs, suspension of commerce, boycott, breaches of treaties, diplomacy including the breaking of diplomatic ties, international pressure and negotiations.
It is only once these fail to bring about a desirable settlement/resolution that a Nation resorts to War as a means of settling disputes. Only in that sense and after an interval of ‘Bloodshed and Destruction’ , the weaker party yields to the stronger or both fall exhausted to agree to a compromise which may have seemed unacceptable so long as each felt confident of imposing its will on the other.
States resort to War because armed coercion is an instrument of State Power and a means of protecting and promoting National Interests. Most wars break out after threats of war fail, conversely most threats of war or other coercive means fail if a Nations ‘War Waging Ability’ is either weak or questionable.
In this background, the next question that begs an answer is: Have our governments, past and present, ensured a strong military power for India? Did we plug the gaps? If so, why is it that neither Pakistan nor China have been contained? Why do our borders remain volatile? Does the ‘Military Leadership’ fully understand the implication of the term ‘Loyalty’ ,if so, have they expressed themselves effectively to the Political Leadership in Organisational & National Interest?
Some questions need to be left unanswered for the reader's imagination to consider. Indeed, we have miles to go.
The Galwan clashes and subsequent mobilisation of troops on both sides of the LAC has brought into public domain the weaknesses in our ability to defend our Territorial Integrity with reference to the Indo-Sino land borders. Re drawing the map and claiming large parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Ladakh amongst others, setting up Naval Bases in the Indian Ocean and providing tacit support to insurgents apart from the close ties with Pakistan should have got our leadership thinking long back !
The ‘COVID-19’ episode has put China on the back foot, international opinion is currently weighing heavily against China and Taiwan , Hongkong & Tibet are once again on the rise. Protective measures to ‘Block’ Chinese products amount to an Economic Blockade. Simultaneously there are suggestive indications in the media informing us of a calibrated withdrawal by both Indian & Chinese Forces.
Will we lose the opportunity of bringing the age old and prolonged boundary dispute to a close or settle for an ambiguous ‘Agreement of Peace & Tranquillity’ only to be broken when the Chinese decide next? Is it not ‘high time’ to settle issues relating to construction of Dams and much more?
India can ill afford a weak military power, our Navy, Air force and Army must get the kind of support the environment demands.
With a Strong Government in place, a NSA, CDS & Chiefs of choice, public opinion demanding strong action, expectations are high. It is time for the Government to not only set right all the earlier wrongs done to the Defence forces but initiate all necessary measures to build a strong Nation with a ‘Strong Military Power’.
(A veteran with 35 years of military experience under his belt, Brigadier Sharma, was commissioned into the JAT regiment. He has had rich exposure to the travails of the country in the remotest of areas. He has seen closely the happenings in J&K, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram in operational circumstances.
In addition, he has had the proud distinction of being, selected to raise the NSG and being a squadron commander with the 51 SAG, an Instructor in the Indian Military Academy, Colonel General Staff of an active division, Commander of a Brigade in super HAA, Directing Staff in Army War college, and the Brig Gen Staff responsible for facilitating the training in various Military Establishments including the School for Counter Insurgency & Terrorism & Jungle Warfare.
He has been a member of study groups on China as well as Officer Cadre management in his time. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')