How mountains shape the oceans
Ehtisham Amer
This piece is not about the environment or ecosystem. Sometimes headings can be misleading. So, you always do not buy a book by looking at its cover. There is a well-documented body of evidence on meteorology and environment which covers the essentials of the ecosystem working. One wants to use this metaphor for a more pressing geostrategic tussle occurring in our proximity.
China is the largest country when it comes to the world population. It is a pretty big geographically to accommodate the largest population and is doing perfectly fine to feed its people. So, there is, apparently, no need for it to expand by some 40 or 80 square kilometers in some of the most inhospitable terrains on the planet. I mean to refer to Ladakh and areas adjoining Tibet plateau.
If land grab is not what China is looking at or aiming for, then what is the explanation of the recent Sino-India military standoff? Well, what the Indian media tells us that China is all set to alter LAC (Line of Actual Control) unilaterally and against the mutually agreed border protocols. There is, however, more to it than meets the eye.
All countries use militaries to further their political aims and goals. Military is used as a force of last resort when all other means fail. As Clausewitz had famously put it that “war is an extension of policies through other means”. Lenin replaced the word “other” with violent means. China has been rising economically in the last three decades and has made every attempt to avoid conflicts. It has settled all its border disputes with its neighbours amicably except India due to the Indian stubbornness. When a country is strategically focused on rising to superpower status peacefully, why would it choose to divert the energies of its leaders and state towards a distant, unwelcoming tract of land?
Answer to it lies in what India has been doing in down south, the Indian Ocean region. India has been steadily moving close to the USA and American-led political and military alliances. Quadrilateral Alliance, envisaged in 2007 is composed of USA, Australia, Japan and India. It is not a military alliance per se but contains all the necessary ingredients to become one, whenever needed. India has been conducting joint naval exercises with the USA since the turn of the century named Exercise Malabar. Recently, these exercises have added Japan and Australia as newer members.
Joint training with friends is perfect and most countries have some type of joint training with friendly countries. It allows militaries to learn from each other’s experience and uniqueness. But when joint trainings are conducted with a professed aim of “containing” another country, this turns threatening. Quad, as is referred to in diplomatic circles, is an alliance to contain China in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is envisaged to expand its membership in nearly all countries in the Chinese neighbourhood like Vietnam, Thailand, and few Central Asian States. Indian motivation to join the Quad is to be taken a serious player in regional and global security architecture. This is a legitimate aim for any country as long as it can bear the cost.
For USA, this is a perfect arrangement as the Quad provides for low-cost solutions to containing China. This arrangement also allows for the growth of the American defence industry at the expense of member states. Friendship has never been more profitable. But while India kept playing on the American tunes, it forgot that to be taken seriously at a global level, one has to mend its relations with neighbours. Unfortunately, India’s self-professed rise has had a strong shade of coerciveness towards its neighbours. Without going in detail, currently all borders of India are hot, as militaries like to describe it, except the tiny Himalayan state of Bhutan.
The fruits of India’s economic rise have not reached the masses and India still has the largest population with no access to toilets and drinking water. Indian farmers shame their leaders by committing the highest number of suicides in the world. That’s not how a shining and rising country looks like. India has a strategically advantageous location and has been projecting this fondly. Its islands of Andaman and Nicobar guard the entrance to Indian Ocean from Pacific Ocean and overlooks sea lines of communications of China. India also has islands of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea that guard the sea lanes towards the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
Indian leadership has been keen to project itself as a potential counter to China. India's China rivalry is a product of India’s over ambitiousness and does not have any historical baggage as is the case with Pakistan. India is pegged to the idea of Akhand Bharat which is not only illusory but mythical. China does not have any similar mythical claims and is commanding global respect due to its economic and industrial rise. Galwan Valley debacle and loss of territory in various areas of the Indo-China border in the month of May-June 2020 is a serious blow to the global standing of India. It has many facets to highlight later. Let’s deal with the most haunting of India’s strategic fall from grace.
USA is looking for powerful nations to contain China. Japan and Australia fit nicely in this alliance. USA wanted to enhance the potency of the alliance. Indian military’s defeat in the mountains of Ladakh would certainly force a rethink of American strategic designs in the region and would surely degrade Indian position and utility in the American eyes. Instead of bringing power to the alliance, India has proved to be a strategic liability for the alliance. An India, which can’t defend its territorial integrity in a limited skirmish with China would surely pull the Quad alliance into an unnecessary showdown with China. USA would not like India to decide the future of American regional posture.
India was perfectly gaining weight and importance in the global community but its unilateral and illegal annexation of Kashmir in August 2019 has landed it into a strategic quicksand. The Galwan Valley debacle is the proverbial first drop of the rain of misery and setbacks and a bad omen.