November 02, 2011

FORCE INDIA : Prepare long-term against China

Force India
Prepare long-term against China, exhorts N.V.Subramanian.

31 October 2011: It is never easy to grade the importance of political will versus military strength. But they are perhaps equally consequential. India's political will must match military strength if it is to continue to rise peacefully. This is most essential in its fraught engagements with China.

The fiftieth anniversary of the 1962 Chinese aggression against India has just passed. Despite an outward calm in Sino-Indian relations, strategists are warning of another Chinese aggression. The latest to say that is the government think-tank, the New Delhi-based IDSA.

What IDSA says is not new. That China will set out to "teach India a lesson" again has been argued before, including by this writer. That it will do so before India has entirely risen, and thereby psychologically scar it, as it happened in the post-1962 period, has been analyzed previously.

This writer took the analysis further in a piece called "China syndrome" (16 September 2011) where he argued for India to open a second front in case of a Chinese aggression. Since it entered the realm of military planning, the details were deliberately concealed.

But the broad idea was spelt out.

The only way to deter China is to have a credible non-nuclear strategic second-strike option (the nuclear plans could be pursued independently).

There is no running away from this.

It is here that political will plays up more importantly than military capacity, and perhaps the first drives the second. How it works is rather simple. First, there ought to be the political will to win against China should it first aggress. This is not only critical to the long-term peaceful rise of India, removing China as a threat. But it is important as well for exorcising the ghost of the 1962 defeat.

To talk of peace from a position of strength is not the same as a puny state preaching the merits of pacifism.

India's China problem is that China keeps India forever on tenterhooks, whether it is by adding to Pakistani military capacities in PoK and legitimizing its occupation of that territory; or damming the rivers that flow into India; or making military incursions into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh to contest their Indianness; or preventing UN proscription of Pak terror entities attacking India. This is over and above its policy of encircling and containing India with a nuclearized Pakistan and an Indian Ocean string-of-pearls strategy.

What India needs more than ever is a bold strategic plan to break out of Chinese containment and counter China at the heart of its central power, prestige and glory, and not necessarily at the peripheries. The IDSA speaks of a Kargil-like war very likely on the Indo-Tibet land border. This writer believes innovative China will attempt a skirmish at another place, perhaps at sea, simply in order to do something different, and to achieve bigger strategic goals than in 1962.

Which is why this writer has argued earlier that the Chinese skirmish may come in the Indian Ocean, both to rebuff India's claims in the region, and to warn off India's friend if not ally, the declining United States. Equally, the attack may come in the South China Sea, riding on China's resentment of the Indo-Vietnamese joint oil-and-gas exploration venture.

The point is, while it is important to know where all China may seek to "punish" India (and not just confine to a Kargil-type attack), it is equally necessary to prepare a counter-strategy. You could be bogged down in the semantics of whether or not China will attack, with there being equally plausible reasons to argue in favour of or against a prospective Chinese aggression. The sane way is to prepare a counter-attack strategy anyhow, and to make a plan that will so grievously hurt China that it will baulk from even thinking about "teaching India a lesson".

A counter-attack strategy is important for another reason. While deterring China in the short-to-medium term (and even long-term, why not?), it will permit India in the interim to build military capacities to put down Chinese aggression anytime, anywhere, without necessarily resorting to a strategic counter-strike. That may be reserved for further conflict escalation.

All of this requires long-term military thinking and planning, which inter-services rivalries may not permit. But political will is the primary requirement. The political establishment (which means the ruling dispensation, the opposition, the bureaucracy, etc) must come to terms with the fact that the present piecemeal way of dealing with China is perilous.

China only understands the grammar of force. Once it knows India won't permit another 1962, and will give as good as it gets, it will back off. At the least, this is a ten-year project.

But do we have the necessary political will for it?

More than fifty years after the humiliation of 1962, the answer is no.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor,, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email:

1 comment:

parallelplanet said...

While howitzer acquisitions are forever postponed, India could easily acquire what the western world uses in its place-30mm cannon/missiles mounted on A10 Thunderbolts and in the Peacekeeper systems. It is cheaper than an LCA, fully titanium armored to take punishment and can be ordered in quantity. The shells are about $65 each (a million shells are $65 million) and can take down any moving armor on the ground rapidly and inexpensively. The planes cost about $18MM each so 300-500 of these would run about a half a billion to a billion dollars. A million man army with these taking out enemy tanks and APCs and you are ready to fight in a few months not with 22 planes in 2017. These are twice the speed of an Apache, twice its range and three times its load carrying capacity for ordinance and have a 50,000 ft operating ceiling. Not too many Chinese soldiers will be kicking your bunkers with a few of these spitting at them. Sukhois/MMRCAs to keep the skies clear for them or a few Astra BVRAAMs and the Army has a potent CAS plane on its hands to prosecute a war.