Updated: Mar 2
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Regional Thucydidean Dynamics:India must take a detailed account of the strategic and logistical problems while addressing the developing regional Thucydidean dynamic between itself and China. This dynamic will first be regional before it becomes a serious global Thucydidean trap between China and the USA. Broader global dynamics must be the focus of diplomatic and strategic consideration before it is decided what steps and measures are taken that may lead to rapid instability on the Indian subcontinent. We must first recognize that India must consider the Ladakh and PoK question as part of a bigger strategy addressing the rise of China and Pakistan-Afghanistan geographic strategic depth than just address India’s border issues as is usually discussed.
It does touch upon the grave reality of China continuing its aggressive Thucydidean dynamic of a rising power. One thing that must be acknowledged is that, unlike Pakistan, China does not consider India to be its primary rival. In its own backyard, China has territorial conflicts with 14 different states, so it must be acknowledged that while India poses a geopolitical threat to China, it poses only a threat to Chinese regional hegemony in its pursuit to rival the United State of America both economically and militarily. While the border conflicts are yet unresolved, we must realize that solving this conflict is a short-term goal to an immediate peace. The Tragedy of a Great Power’s rise to regional power is that it will generate conflict and increased militarization in its neighborhood and simultaneously challenge global rivals. So, while proposing a solution to the border conflicts, it must be considered seriously by policymakers, on how certain behaviors are predictable through a neo-realist perspective. Unfortunately, the best India can do is speculate and prepare for the worst-case scenario of how China’s long-term strategic plans will naturally, adversely affect India. While avoiding an arms race or a military build-up along the borders, India’s primary concern must be being firm about its own sovereignty and pushing China to ratify agreements relating to border issues and maybe even involve international watchdogs to oversee the maintenance of treaty integrity. With the fresh wild card in this region being a Taliban-led Afghanistan, New Delhi must also focus on maintaining diplomatic relations or communication with the Taliban directly as well as increase diplomatic ties with states that are bound to be strategically and geopolitically be brought under the shadow of China’s in the near future. India must be realistic about addressing Chinese strategic interests and cannot afford to either ignore or appease a growing China. Being a diverse country, unity is a vital national interest to the Indian political identity, and encirclement and posturing that threaten to geographically challenge these could be detrimental to Indian domestic quiet and cannot be tolerated. While external threats can contribute to domestic unity, an impulsive conflict could rapidly deteriorate the internal political situation as well.
Addressing the invasive Dragon:
Considering China is both a growing power and the aggressor in almost all of its territorial conflicts with 14 countries, appeasing China is unlikely to work while also upholding Indian sovereign territory. The considerations that go into conflict-resolution must be how to consolidate India’s lost sovereignty and stabilize the situation with China. Friendly Chinese relations can be pursued through Soft Diplomacy in times of improved border relations but a firm yet not aggressive stance must be taken in the meantime. India must remain firm about protecting its territorial integrity with force if it must but the measures must be highly precise and aimed at stabilizing the situation and de-escalation than challenging China to either open conflict or an arms race. While conflict must be avoided at any costs it cannot be avoided at all costs, more so with China. It must be taken into consideration that the Chinese know what it means to not have control of their own trade and trade routes and what happens when they are weak as a political state. The history of the Civil war and the previous Opium Wars and the subsequent Japanese Invasion are all still fresh in a Chinese realpolitik practitioner’s mind. It must be noted, that even if China is not aggressive, it will inevitably be, in its quest to become a regional hegemon. While this strategic patience is being implemented, India must push China into legal agreements over border disputes and improve relations with China diplomatically so that there is always a communication line to avoid or contain and localize the “postponed” violent clashes. Given that China has previously been stubborn on holding on to these disputed territories in Aksai Chin, Southern Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh, a complete return of these territories to India or even sovereign maintenance by India over the various LACs is impossible without force. India must realize that there is no peaceful solution to getting back lost territory, especially with a growing rival who is very geopolitically conscious. China’s policy of aggression through “salami-slicing” and the notion of Two steps forward and one step back shows a skilled Chinese effort to gain territory while still maintaining ambiguity about its claims. The 2020 incursion and clash at Galwan seemed deliberate and with an intention to push into Indian territory and alter the status quo. Since there are no immediate needs for China to need the Galwan valley, considering it was done amidst the Global pandemic, one must assume it was planned and highly strategic in nature.
The increased Chinese territory serves a number of functions for China. They serve as a buffer for the BRI and CPEC projects further increased with a Sinicize-able Afghanistan Foreign Policy, and as a distraction from India’s commitment to the Indian Ocean. While peaceful solutions are preferable, considering how India has already lost Aksai Chin and the PoK, further losses warrant a severe military response and not just passive acceptance of fate. Moreover, making Jammu and Kashmir into the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir will only serve the border issue well. It guarantees a direct Central control to disputed areas and can improve logistics to the region.
India must address the Taliban question. The Taliban-wild-card is something the Chinese and Pakistanis may be tempted to utilize in destabilizing the Kashmir region if needed, and moreover, gain geographical strategic depth for their informal alliance.
Immediate Violent Conflict will end only badly for India which not only has relatively poor heavy-armor logistics in the region but also took a significant hit because of the pandemic. That and considering the economic state of the country in 2020 means that an armed conflict would be disastrous for India. This time is also crucial for India to increase its Defense spending and increase its naval capacity. India, while still not actively challenged in the Indian Ocean and the peninsular seas, will have to focus on its maritime power to contain an eventual Chinese asymmetric navy. India must work on securing direct communication lines with Kabul and not treat the Taliban as a Pakistani proxy anymore. Once state dynamics overtake the Kabul government, India can exploit this situation by carefully stirring and surveilling the situation in Pashtun Pakistan. India must approach the Taliban question very carefully so as not to invite premature terror campaigns into Kashmir.
The logistical problems of securing both the Siliguri corridor, maintaining security on both flanks of the Northern border and political problems are compounded by the unpredictable and potentially antagonistic Taliban in Afghanistan – a problem that gives India’s rivals’ allies significant strategic depth. Strategic patience and strengthening domestic political points, which will suffer primarily after Chinese aggression (North East, Ladakh, Siliguri, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam), must be focused on. Solutions must be sought after primarily through Balance of Power politics and through diplomatic dialogue but should the need come to inevitably fend a rising China away from India’s sovereign borders, India must be prepared to individually and through International (rhetorical, at least) support, face China in conventional war than risk an impulsive and rapidly escalating war in Ladakh.
(Joseph Moses is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in International Relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Moscow, Russia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Madras Christian College (MCC), Chennai, India. His areas of interest include International theories, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S.)
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