India’s options are to join either a US-led alliance or a China-led alliance. Non alignment is no longer an option.
BANGKOK: Once the United States entered the 1939-45 war by the close of 1941, its outcome was sealed. The Japanese strike on Pearl Harbour was a classic “kamikaze” (suicide) mission that made the destruction of the Japanese Empire a certainty. Earlier, the military regime which controlled policy in Tokyo made another fatal error, which was to attack populous China rather than conduct operations against the sparse Siberian territory of Russia (then known as the Soviet Union). Had Japan not been trapped in a quagmire of its own making in China, an attack on the Soviet Union in tandem with Berlin’s assault from the west would almost certainly have led to the defeat and occupation of Russia. Alongside, the European powers that had taken over vast territories in Asia could have been neutralised, including Britain, whose control over India was retained against Japanese might because of the fact that the China theatre had taken away much of the attention and muscle of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces. Both the Kuomintang as well as the Chinese Communist Party proved to be formidable foes, especially after getting logistical and aerial support on a massive scale by the United States. A thrust deep into India by Japanese forces together with Indian National Army (INA) forces (which would grow with every Japanese victory over the British) would have led to the meltdown of the British Indian Army and the forced withdrawal of Britain from India after London’s serial surrenders, including in Malaya, Singapore and Burma. As it is, the example of the INA had made Whitehall accept that the British Indian Army would not for long remain loyal to the conquerors rather than to their own people, who had been reduced to destitution by colonial plunder. Of course, whether exchanging rule by London with that of Tokyo would have been an improvement is an open question. The Japanese were expert at copying the Europeans, including in the way they treated the territories they had conquered. Their ally Adolf Hitler had made his own fatal errors, among them the elimination of the most brilliant minds in Germany through his psychopathic anti-Semitism. Jewish talent was especially pronounced in the nuclear field, and those scientists from that persecuted faith who managed to escape to the US built a nuclear weapon by mid-1945, which knocked
Japan out of the war as a consequence of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While President Franklin Roosevelt would have made Britain transfer authority to representatives of the Indian people after the war, his successor Harry Truman would most likely have repeated the mistake the US later made in Indo-China, which was to try and assist France to get back the control of Vietnam and Cambodia that had been lost during the war, thereby leading to an armed revolt against the returned British that would replace Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods of resistance. The strategic and moral error (by the Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles) of backing the colonial power rather than a people fighting to be free led to the first major military defeat of the US, in Vietnam in the 1970s. Given the trajectory of the Vietnam War, it is difficult to remember that Ho Chi Minh was eager for a friendly relationship with Washington, only to be ignored by the Europeanist policymakers on the US East Coast who took back control of policy after Roosevelt died. Since the 1940s, the US has remained the pre-eminent military power on the planet, and continued to be so despite its failure to prevail in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan against vastly inferior forces.
Since 1945, the US has built up a network of alliance systems that includes the European alliance structure, NATO. This organisation is much more impressive on paper than in the field of battle. NATO forces have been hard pressed to avoid humiliation at the hands of vastly inferior forces in several theatres. In the case of both Iraq and Libya, conventional forces led by Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi respectively were quickly defeated, but the irregular militias that followed them have remained undefeated. Despite horrendous expenditure (although not in own lives lost, protection of its forces being the first nine of the top ten NATO objectives in any conflict), both military as well as strategic errors by the alliance have led to rag-tag militias in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan holding NATO forces at bay, albeit at substantial cost in terms of collateral damage. Not just in Europe but in East and Southeast Asia, the US has an active alliance system composed of South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Other allies include Australia, while India appears to be edging closer to an alliance with the US, although at present at the same slow speed that most operations get carried out in the country, which is at a pace that is glacial. A decision by India on joining a military alliance (de facto if not de jure) needs to be made fast, for the reason that a new military alliance has risen since the dawn of the 21st century, with China at its core. The new alliance, which is less formalised but no less real than US-led groupings, comprises China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Somalia, Cuba and very soon Turkey, among an expanding list of other countries. Led by China, which is assuming a global leadership position under Xi Jinping’s global diplomacy combined with the exhibition of hard power, the new alliance has begun establishing a chain of logistics hubs across the globe, which is designed to give it the power to intervene across different continents, should the need arise for kinetic action. In an example of Xi’ s geo-strategic deftness, China is close to all three major factions in the Muslim-majority world, i.e. Wahhabi, Sunni and Shia, as is its closest ally, Russia. Indeed, Muslim-majority countries have been conspicuous by their acquiescent silence over the CCP’s actions in Muslim-majority (though not for much longer) Xinjiang. Both Moscow and Beijing have been jointly and individually developing advanced defensive and offensive weapons systems that are designed to ward off any attack by rival forces, which in a geopolitical context means those led by the US. Indeed, President Trump, who must be congratulated for his honesty, has openly labelled President Xi an enemy of the US, a formulation that till now was expressed only behind closed doors. Whether it be in nuclear weapons and missiles, or in ships, submarines and aircraft, or in artillery and rifles, or indeed in cyberwar, the systems developed by the China-led alliance are in many respects equal to (where not superior) to those operational on the US side. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is known to be loyal to old friends in a manner that is not seen in the case of the US, some of whose friends get discarded with abandon after their perceived usefulness is over, even as new allies get embraced. Pakistan is by now an organic part of the China-led alliance. In the past, the centrality of Pakistan within the US alliance system in the region made it impossible for India to be a part of that grouping, even informally. That is what happened in 1992, when President Bill Clinton remained deaf to the overtures made by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, or in 2001, when George H.W. Bush acted the same way to A.B. Vajpayee. In both cases, Pakistan was preferred as an ally to India, the way it had been to the British in the past. Now some in the Trump administration are recommending the same self-defeating strategy to the 45th US President. They have been assisted in this task by the coyness of the Lutyens Zone to form a security alliance with Washington. In the 21st century, the deep-rooted military-to-military ties between Pakistan and China have made it impossible for Delhi to consider the option of joining the China-led de facto military alliance system. Of course, those Bush holdovers within the Trump administration, who are inextricably linked to the failed policies carried out by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, continue to function as though Rawalpindi GHQ is still a US rather than a China ally. Bush-era holdovers in the State Department and the National Security Council are working on what would in substance be a US surrender of Afghanistan to the Pakistan-controlled Taliban faction (as distinct from the Pakistan-phobic Taliban faction) in the belief that Pakistan will this time around keep the security promises that GHQ Rawalpindi has routinely broken in the past. Fortunately, the Pentagon has moved away from its earlier trust in Pakistan, and seems to be resisting the surrender option being pressed on President Trump by US envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. This gentleman is known since the George W. Bush presidency for his superior ways while visiting his native country, and for his fealty to the diktats of GHQ Rawalpindi.
AXIS OF CHINA, RUSSIA, PAKISTAN
China has been a dependable ally of Pakistan since the 1960s, but Moscow in the past was against GHQ Rawalpindi, although the Brezhnevites in Moscow lacked the nerve to carry the Afghan war into Pakistan itself. This was the only path to victory and it was not taken, thereby leading to a Russian pullout from Afghanistan in defeat by 1989, much the way Khalilzad would like US forces to exit now. The Russian defeat accelerated the meltdown of the Soviet Union, and a US handover of Afghanistan to the Taliban would destroy the credibility of Washington as a security partner in Asia, thereby leading those countries that are not in tension-filled relationships with Pakistan (such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia) to consider joining the China-led alliance in practice, even while perhaps swearing loyalty to the US in words. Today, the close ties between Beijing and Moscow are leading to a steady increase in the military relationship between Russia and Pakistan, although this seems to have escaped the attention of Russia-leaning defence analysts in India. In addition, there is a powerful weapons lobby pressing for greater purchases of Russian equipment (which it must be said are often of excellent quality, if somewhat pricey) that is based in London and Dubai, and which has excellent contacts within the Lutyens Zone. The centrality of Pakistan in the emerging China-led military alliance, and the intensely close ties between Moscow and Beijing, make it imperative to shift weapons platforms from those that are Russian, ideally to those that are Indian, but otherwise to those of countries that are rivals of the de facto alliance in which Pakistan is a valued member. Both the Obama and the successor Trump administration have indicated (during the past two years overtly) willingness to transfer significant airborne and other weapons platforms from the US to India. Given the rise in tensions between Washington and Beijing, NATO member-states may find it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to retain key parts of the defence supply chain in China, and India would be an attractive destination for such units. Of course, all this would be predicated on a de facto partnership between the US-led alliance and India. It would not be feasible in a context where “non-alignment” (not just in words but in practice as well) remains the mantra in the Lutyens Zone.
TRUMP’S ASIAN OUTREACH
Despite the presence of some “useful idiots” of GHQ Rawalpindi within the portals of the Trump administration, recognition that Pakistan is not a solution to security concerns but a problem, is growing. As is the fact that China under the decisive and powerful Xi Jinping is not just an economic but a military challenge to US primacy. Realisation of changes in global verities is growing in Washington, especially within the Pentagon. This is leading to heightened attention towards India, and to the immense potential of the world’s most populous democracy as an essential security and defence partner of the US. Together with Australia and Japan, the Indian Navy could—after acquisition on Lend Lease terms of surplus US naval platforms—ensure dominance over the expansive waters of the Indo-Pacific together with the US Navy. Given production and induction of modern (nuclear capable) platforms, the Indian Air Force could be an invaluable force multiplier in an arc stretching across the Asian continent. The decades of experience of the battle-honed Indian Army makes it an ideal partner in the limited wars (and often asymmetric) of the future. It is clear from recent moves that the Trump administration is separating from the Clinton-Bush-Obama policy of ministering to Beijing’s sensitivities and is looking towards Vietnam and Taiwan as part of a US-led security chain in Asia. Not to mention the fact that perception drives investment into countries. A coming together of Delhi and Washington after decades of wary distance from each other would signal to global investors that India is a safe place to do business, especially now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reining in the Chidambaram-era bureaucrats still in high positions despite the 2014 Congress defeat, and whose policies were impacting growth sentiment in an escalating fashion. So far as India is concerned, Trump has taken forward the opening to India first provided by Obama-era Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. For the first time since the golden era of Franklin D. Roosevelt and for a brief while under the visionary John F. Kennedy, the White House under President Donald J. Trump is looking towards India as a security and defence partner of the US.
TIME TO BE PRAGMATIC
Prime Minister Modi is both a visionary as well as a pragmatist. Whatever his shortcomings, Jawaharlal Nehru changed India during the 17 years that he held the Prime Ministership, and so will Modi during his expected long tenure in 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. Such shifts will include changes in the security paradigm followed by the country, as is already taking place with Modi’ s announcement of the setting up of the Chief of Defence Staff mechanism. Meanwhile, the Lutyens Zone remains fixated on “non-alignment” despite the reality that GHQ Rawalpindi was, is, and will remain, a mortal threat to the interests of India. Hence a security alignment with any military grouping that includes Pakistan is a non-starter. India needs to be on the side that will (with its help) dominate the Indo-Pacific; retain mastery over cyberspace; have control over the air and the weapons-reachable portions of space; keep ahead in high-technology solutions, especially Artificial Intelligence. What is the partner best suited to assist in the achievement of these mandatory goals? There are just two military groupings that are of any significance in the 21st century. These are the traditional basket of alliances revolving around the US, and the new alliance system steadily and determinedly being stitched together by President Xi Jinping, who is the third transformational Chinese Communist Party leader after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. In such a world, India remaining (through Lutyens Zone influences) a wallflower rather than a participant in the ongoing global dance of geopolitical interests is an invitation to irrelevance.