Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Leaks in India's submarine strategy

Here's the link to a story quoting me on the Indian submarines by Peter Brown that has appeared in today's Asia Times.

Internal divisions in India's navy have led to critical delays in submarine deployments that threaten the country's ability to meet undersea warfare challenges. Aside from the Chinese increasing their presence in the Indian Ocean, the overall lack of an immediate competitor has created a "leisurely" approach to implementing plans for a nuclear triad of air, sea and ground launch capabilities.

For the full story, click here.

Leaks in India's submarine strategy
By Peter J Brown
Asia Times
Sep 29, 2010

India's emphasis on undersea warfare is growing, but too slowly for many experts. Today, the Indian navy's submarine fleet - India's "silent service" - is beset with numerous problems and delays.

In China, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) shows no sign of backing off its plans to gradually increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. This influx of Chinese naval vessels does not pose an immediate threat to India's national security, but the situation could change.

Russia, however, may wield considerable influence over the flow of events. While Russia continues to serve as a vital cog in the vast machinery that is driving the PLAN's construction and development of a modern submarine fleet, American submarine historian and expert Norman Polmar sees ample evidence that Russia is selling India better undersea systems than those it is selling China.

"China, unlike India, is a natural enemy of Russia, and despite China's distrust of Russia, the Chinese deal with the Russians because the Russians possess submarine and antisubmarine technologies that the Chinese want," said Polmar. "This is solely an economic relationship involving China as a customer whereas the Russian's longstanding military assistance relationship with India is based on a need to sustain both its economic and geopolitical bonds that Russia deems very important to its overall security."

At the same time, the US decision to sell India sophisticated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft known as P-8 India (P-8I) is significant as well in terms of countering any Chinese sub activities in the Indian Ocean. Although US Defense Secretary Robert Gates might have a submarine surprise up his sleeve for Indian Defense Minister A K Antony who is currently in Washington for talks, this seems unlikely given the current restrictions on high-tech exports to India.

"Keep in mind that in the P-8I aircraft, India is getting an ASW platform from the US, not comprehensive and advanced ASW systems such as sonar, or magnetic anomaly detectors," said Polmar.

China is well aware that India has another option at its disposal. Polmar agrees that India could quickly adopt and update the naval aviation strategy that the Soviet Union devised in the 1950s. By adding several 21st-century refinements and technological advancements - the P-8I takes India in that direction - India's degree of control over the Indian Ocean could be reinforced considerably, far surpassing what the Soviets achieved in the Western Pacific and elsewhere.

The naval aviation model looms large because India has only 16 submarines today, including 10 Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines; four German Shishukumar-class subs; and two Russian Foxtrot subs which are used primarily for training purposes.

In June, India signed a US$80 million contract with Russia's Zvezdochka shipyard for the fifth in a series of overhauls and upgrades of its Kilo subs. This overhaul commenced in August. [1]

Then in July, the Indian government allocated US$11 billion (over 500 billion rupees) for the development of six next-generation diesel submarines under Project-75 India (P-75I). With their air independent propulsion systems, these new subs will offer major operational advantages, and much to Pakistan's chagrin in particular, they are envisioned as stealthy, land attack subs.

"India's submarine force has declined because a good number of older subs will be retiring very soon - the Kilos start retiring in 2013, for example - and an insufficient number of newer subs have been acquired to replace them," said Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

"India's submarine fleet remains a coastal fleet because of a lack of nuclear-powered subs, and its reach is limited because the missiles on these subs have limited range. Finally, the focus of the Indian navy's attention also appears to be on large surface ships rather than submarines, which is hindering development of the sub fleet."

In mid-2009, India launched a nuclear sub, the INS Arihant. It is currently designated as an Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), and it is undergoing sea trials. If all goes well, Arihant might be transferred to the Indian navy by the end of 2011. Plans call for two more ATVs with a goal of building five or six new nuclear subs. It is still unclear whether these ATVs are nuclear strategic missile subs (SSBNs) or simply nuclear - powered attack subs (SSNs). (See India's nuclear submarine plan surfaces, Asia Times Online, Feb 20, 2009).

"Some estimates suggest that if India is to maintain an effective nuclear triad [from air, land and sea], India would need at least a fleet of 24 subs, though this is likely out of India's reach,' said Rajagopalan. "Meanwhile, a Russian nuclear-powered Akula II SSN - the K-152 Nerpa - has departed Russia for India under a 10-year lease." [2]

Absent any replacements or additions to its existing fleet, the most upbeat assessment is that India's sub fleet could be reduced to around nine by 2014 or 2015. In fact, the Indian navy has already notified the government that there is strong possibility that only nine subs might be in service by 2012, and just five in the coming years. No matter which projection proves to be accurate, the result is still a single digit total.

India is in the process of getting six Scorpene subs from the French - with an option of six additional subs - to be built at the Mazagon facility in Mumbai under the supervision of French technicians, but this procurement is experiencing a slowdown. Mazagon Docks in Mumbai will construct three of the six, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd in Visakhapatnam will construct one, and the other two may be procured from foreign sources or built by another private shipyard in India

"The delivery of the first of the French Scorpenes, which was supposed to enter service in December 2012, has been delayed. Antony addressed this situation in parliament only a few weeks back. This will clearly impact upon India's undersea force levels," said Rajagopalan. "India has about 35 private shipyards, of which L&T [Larsen & Toubro Ltd] and Pipavav are believed to be competing to build the two submarines, of the six planned."

Some doubt that these two will be built in India after all.

India must focus on meeting its planned timetable for new submarine deployments to avoid critical challenges in the next decade. Among those who argue for submarines, there have been disagreements over whether to pursue nuclear-powered or conventional submarines. In fact, under the original P-75I program, there was a 30-year Submarine Construction Plan approved in 1999.

"Internal disagreements within the navy, however, have substantially undermined that plan. The fact that last two naval chiefs were naval aviators who did not appear to have great interest in allocating limited available funding for sub programs did not help matters," said Rajagopalan.

According to some reports, once Antony became defense minister in 2006, all the decisions relating to the nuclear triad were put on hold. Antony reportedly was of the opinion that decisions involving India's strategic nuclear program should be taken by the Prime Minister's Office. In the process, there was little or no real progress concerning any additional SSNs and SSBNs.

"Dr VK Saraswat, director general of India's Defense Research and Development Organization [DRDO] is of the view that SSNs can be developed easily once DRDO gets the go-ahead. He had noted that the essential difference is the weaponry and accordingly the size, but the technology for design and integration remains the same," said Rajagopalan. "Meanwhile, the Indian Atomic Energy Commission is continuing with its work on nuclear steam reactors for the ATVs which are powered by light-water reactors using enriched uranium as fuel."

According to Dr Bharath Gopalaswamy, a researcher in the Arms Control and Non-proliferation Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the principal challenge facing India is India's own bureaucracy and its lack of vision in formulating long term strategic goals.

"The Comptroller and Auditor General's recent report seriously criticized the Indian navy about its aging fleet - 63% of the subs would be past their operational life beyond 2012 - and highlighted that due to this aging fleet and its refit schedules (which has been consistently delayed), the average operational availability of India's subs is as low as 48%," said Gopalaswamy.

To make matters worse, a test check on certain submarines revealed that prescribed standards for operational patrol, tactical exercises and individual work ups were either not in play or loosely followed.

“Piecemeal modernization and upgradation of submarines at an aggregate cost of 1,560 crore rupees [15.6 billion rupees] was undertaken by the navy without taking approval of the competent financial authority,” the report said. And according to its findings, most refits were not well managed and seldom completed within the prescribed time period.

The looming sub gap that India will confront from 2013 to 2016 cannot be sidestepped. Delaying the retirement of existing subs is a very risky strategy at best.

As India starts to build its own nuclear submarines, very complex construction programs and prolonged at-sea trials will strain existing resources including manpower. Building indigenous submarine reactors is one thing, integrating them into modern undersea battle platforms in another even greater challenge. Nevertheless, despite enormous obstacles, confidence is running high and the objectives are deemed achievable in the required timeframe by many Indian naval experts

Others including Nathan Hughes, director of military analysis at Texas-based Stratfor a global intelligence company, raise serious questions about the submarine force which the Indian navy intends to deploy. [3]

"For all its various interests and challenges, India does not have a competitor like the US-USSR rivalry of the Cold War that drove massive investment and the frantic pace of development and competition. There is a certain lack of urgency to India's drawn out effort to design a nuclear submarine of its own,' said Hughes. "Russian assistance including leasing nuclear subs to India has been more direct and overt than Russian-Chinese cooperation, although this is also quite significant. Indeed, with China working to increase its independence from Russia and refine its own designs, Moscow may have extra bandwidth in terms of advising and design assistance and expertise from which India might benefit,"

However, the Indian navy does not now possess a viable submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and this gap cannot be dismissed or overlooked. While the new Arihant-class ATVs may carry Sagarika SLBMs, they may do so only on a very limited basis.

"Some development work has been done with the Sagarika, but this has been from a submerged pontoon. Much more work remains for an SLBM to be integrated into a submarine and made operationally capable, said Hughes. "The only ship of the Arihant class so far will have only a very limited - if any - capacity for vertical launch of any kind. She is a technology demonstrator and more ships of the class will need to be built with modified designs before India fields a meaningful SSBN capability." [4]

And while India is planning a Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) variant of the Brahmos cruise missile with a range of about 300 kilometers or more - Brahmos was jointly created with Russia - several issues must be addressed and resolved before this SLCM is deployed on Indian subs.

"Yes, this will likely be the last variant tested and certified. Ground and surface ship-launched variants have already completed testing, and preparations are being made for testing of an air-launched version. However, the Brahmos is simply too big to be fired from the 21-inch [533mm] torpedo tubes used by India's current sub fleet, but the 25.6-inch [650 mm] tubes of the Nerpa would be sufficient in theory to do so," said Hughes. "Other submarines India might acquire from Russia might also be tailored to carry a vertically-launched Brahmos."

Otherwise, it is unclear if the recently leased Russian Nerpa sub is going to have Indian or Russian cruise missiles aboard.

"The inclusion of the RK-55 Granat [SS-N-21 Sampson], a medium-range land-attack cruise missile, is not likely. The inclusion of the 3M-54 Klub [SS-N-27] short-range anti-ship cruise missile is more likely, but also uncertain,' said Hughes. "It is not clear if Indian armaments might be fitted." [5]

Regardless of weaponry, the Indian navy needs place more emphasis on simply getting its submariners aboard their subs for longer periods of time at sea, according to John Pike, director of Virginia-based

"Submarines are more difficult to operate than surface ships, and this requires more time at sea to remain proficient. India has had an easier time mapping out ambitious plans than in actual implementation, and an easier time putting submarines into service than in keeping them in service," said Pike. "Delays and other problems have been the rule not the exception over past decades, so this seems to be business as usual. India's naval programs, like so many other Indian military acquisition efforts, are remarkably leisurely."

From the standpoint of flexibility, while India seems to be relying on French and Russian submarine purchases thus far, these countries do not enjoy a preferred supplier status.

"India might turn to Germany, and possibly eventually to South Korea," said Pike. "If Japan started exporting subs, it might also export aircraft carriers."

Pike sees little chance that Japan will start exporting subs to India or any other country for that matter anytime soon, however. Other experts agree. Japanese submarines are for Japanese use only.

Regardless, India cannot hold its breath and wait to see what does or does not happen in Kobe, where Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd is concentrating its submarine construction activities. As India focuses its attention on China instead, it must realize at the same time that some prefer to depict China as totally unprepared to churn the waters of the Indian Ocean.

"China poses no naval threat to India either on the surface or beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. China is not seeking a naval confrontation with India there for a variety of reasons despite much talk of China's 'string of pearls' strategy involving its development of port facilities in countries surrounding India," said Polmar. "China does not intend to try and outmatch the Indian navy in India's own backyard. China wants access to vital resources, not a series of unwanted engagements at sea. China is simply not prepared for any heated naval engagements so far from its coast at this time."

In a nutshell, India must forge balanced submarine and anti-submarine programs, and inject them with the same energy and enthusiasm that has propelled its space program. India must also define what it expects from a true 21st-century submarine fleet. Sustained dependence on legacy undersea systems seems out of the question.

Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from Maine USA.

1. Russia to modernize fifth Indian submarine
2. Click here.
3. Further in depth analysis can be seen here.
4. Click here
5. Click here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

China in South Asia for Peace & Stability?

Many security analysts have often asked the question as to why India's rise is benign whereas China's rise seen as a threat? However, recently, I came across an entirely different argument as to how Chinese rise & rising influence in South Asia can bring about peace. A recent article written by a former foreign service officer argued that "the rise in China's influence in the region can lead to peace and regional stability provided we [India] eschew outdated notions of "sphere of influence."" I fail to understand the logic. He went on to argue that "On the contrary, a struggle will inevitably ensue if India chooses to contest China's growing influence since the quintessence of that choice will be that India is prepared to sacrifice peace and stability in the region in its quest for regional primacy. Our South Asian neighbours will only see our choice as a quest for regional hegemony and they cannot be expected to accommodate hubris."

Now that China has become the second largest economic power, should we sit back & just relax and say our destiny, our future rest in the hands of China? The Chinese being the second largest power, will have greater interests across the continents, but does this mean India adopt a defeatist strategy and say our future lies with China and China alone? Is that a good idea?

The full article is available here.

South Asia beckons China

M.K. Bhadrakumar

A peaceful South Asia can be built only if India works with China. The alternative will be war and mayhem and history provides many examples.

An Assistant Secretary dealing with South Asia in the State Department in Washington a decade-and-a-half ago once took justifiable pride that she only needed a clutch of minutes to get the Indians all worked up into a tizzy. What the loquacious U.S. diplomat, who was an old India-Pakistan hand familiar with the human frailties (and vanities) in our part of the world, meant was that Indians never bothered to crosscheck facts when they came across an unpalatable thought.

She had a point. And her adage holds good. When an opinion piece by the U.S. strategic analyst, Selig Harrison, appeared in the New York Times recently alleging large-scale Chinese military presence in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, history seemed to repeat itself. Our tribal instincts resurfaced. It still remains foggy on what basis Mr. Harrison painted the apocalyptic vision of war drums beating distantly in the obscure Himalayan mountains. The regions beyond the northern edges of Kashmir comprise tangled, inaccessible mountains and it is highly improbable that Mr. Harrison wrote on the basis of any first-hand information regarding the 22 secret tunnels in which 11,000 Chinese soldiers belonging to the People's Liberation Army reportedly huddle uneasily alongside stockpiles of deadly missiles that could be launched against India. (Actually, the Pakistani authorities have invited him to go to that picturesque region and take a good look himself.)

Not much ingenuity is needed to discern that Mr. Harrison based his opinion piece on intelligence sources. All he would say later was that his story was based on “western and regional intelligence sources.” Who could be these sources? Politics should, after all, begin with asking a few blunt questions. Were these sources Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian, Russian or Chinese who guided Mr. Harrison? Seems illogical. Were they Indian sources based in Delhi — or Indian “analysts” comfortably located in Singapore? Indeed, by a process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that the greatest likelihood seems to be that Mr. Harrison's sources were American. This of course is by no means casting aspersions on Mr. Harrison's integrity. In fact, he has been most candid about his thesis when he concluded his opinion piece with a stirring call to the U.S. administration. He wrote: “The United States is uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan's aid dependence on Washington.

“Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy negotiations with Kashmiri separatists. Success would put pressure on Islamabad for comparable concessions in Free Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan … Precisely because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the U.S., India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed … by the Chinese behemoth.”

Both Islamabad and Beijing have since repeatedly and unequivocally refuted the contents of Mr. Harrison's article. Top Indian officials who have full access to intelligence have also off-the-record given their estimation that any Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan region could be related to flood-relief work and some development projects and it doesn't involve Chinese regulars of the PLA. They are also inclined to accept the Chinese assurance that there is no change in Beijing's stand on the Kashmir issue, including the part of Kashmir that is under Indian governance.

Equally, in their assessment, Chinese nationals are not taking up habitation in Gilgit-Baltistan, but come to the region from time to time to build infrastructure projects and they go away upon the completion of those projects. Delhi regards the figure of $1.7 billion as Chinese investment in Northern Areas and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as far-too inflated a figure. As a senior Indian official put it “They [the Chinese] are a business-like people and they won't invest in that kind of area like that.”

Evidently, there is a glaring disconnect in New Delhi between those who know and generally prefer not to speak and those who rave but have no flair or patience for checking the facts on the ground. The problem with disregard of facts is that incrementally you withdraw into a smaller and smaller coil of rage and ultimately resign yourself to a sense of powerlessness, frustration and defeat. Should that be the fate of a great country like India that has survived for millennia?

Ultimately, it all boils down to China's presence in the South Asian region and, as the Prime Minister put it the other day, “we have to reflect on this reality, we have to be aware of this.” The issue is: what is the nature of the “reality” so that we can come to terms with it?

The reality is China's growing power and influence that need to be tackled in regional politics. The security of our region and its future will significantly depend on the choices that China makes. Having said that, we too have choices to make. Even if India fails to overtake China economically, it will nonetheless be the second-strongest regional power and will be the most serious constraint on Chinese power. That is to say, the manner and the directions in which India chooses to use its power is going to be no less important than China's actions in their impact on regional stability.

Of course, our choices are going to be harder than China's. The heart of the matter is that a stable, peaceful South Asia can only be built if India works with China. The alternative will be war and mayhem and history provides many examples. The point is, there is a fundamental choice involved here — the choice between “influence” and stability. India and China are on the same side — both want influence and neither seeks instability.

However, we cannot insist that regional stability is synonymous with India's primacy. The international community will only mock at us if we do so in this era of globalisation. As, for that matter, was the region in a blissful state of stability even in the halcyon days when India's influence reigned supreme? In short, the rise in China's influence in the region can lead to peace and regional stability provided we eschew outdated notions of “sphere of influence.” On the contrary, a struggle will inevitably ensue if India chooses to contest China's growing influence since the quintessence of that choice will be that India is prepared to sacrifice peace and stability in the region in its quest for regional primacy. Our South Asian neighbours will only see our choice as a quest for regional hegemony and they cannot be expected to accommodate hubris.

Alas, a segment of our strategic community seems to think that South Asia can be peaceful only under Indian tutelage. It perceives China's desire to expand its influence in the region as inherently threatening. But what is the alternative? China has already grown to be the second biggest economic power in the world. With such economic power, political and strategic power inexorably follows. To quote from a recent thoughtful essay by well-known Australian scholar Hugh White, “China's power, controlled by China's government, must be dealt with as a simple fact of international politics. If Americans deny the right to exercise its power internationally within the same limits and norms that they accept for themselves, they can hardly be surprised if China decides not to accept the legitimacy of American power and starts pushing back. These days it can push back pretty hard.”

Again, all evidence so far points to a distinct pattern that China wishes to expand its influence in South Asia without breaking international law or the rules set out in the Charter of the United Nations. China has not used its power improperly. The fact that China has growing ambitions to develop communication links via South Asia to the world market bypassing the Malacca Strait (which is an American “choke-point”) or that China aspires to explore the vast untapped potential for regional trade and investment in South Asia do not make the Chinese policies illegitimate. Our dilemma is that we are used to exercising a level of regional primacy in the neighbouring countries and we may have come to regard it almost as a mark of our national identity. Clearly, the instinct to “fight” to keep our perceived regional primacy stems from a wrong notion.

The rise of China's influence doesn't have to be a story of India's weakness but can remain a story of Chinese strength. What is it, arguably, that prevents Indian companies even today from spreading wings to the mountains, jungles and beaches of Nepal, Myanmar or Sri Lanka with the gusto with which the Chinese businessmen are doing? Last week, Yunnan commenced direct flight to Colombo. Why is it that a Raipur-Colombo air link remains “uneconomical?”

Nothing like this Chinese “challenge” ever happened before in the South Asian region. Japan or America or Britain could have mounted it in these six decades, but they didn't. But then, they weren't South Asia's neighbours. China is a neighbour.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sardar Vallabhbahi Patel's Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on China ....

Talking about relations with China (after the Chinese invasion of Tibet), Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in a letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had written, "we cannot afford either to be complacent or to be vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and also of the methods by which we should achieve it. Any faltering or lack of decisiveness in formulating our objectives or in pursuing our policies to attain those objectives is bound to weaken us and increase the threats which are so evident."

Mr. Patel's assessment seems realistic, although the sad part is that India has done very little in the last 60 years to overcome several of the problems that he had identified in the letter.

For the full text of the letter, keep reading.

My dear Jawaharlal,

Ever since my return from Ahmedabad and after the cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically fifteen minutes' notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.

I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study.

The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama. Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack

of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf.

It is impossible to imagine any sensible person believing in the so-called threat to China from Anglo-American machinations in Tibet. Therefore, if the Chinese put faith in this, they must have distrusted us so completely as to have taken us as tools or stooges of Anglo-American diplomacy or strategy. This feeling, if genuinely entertained by the Chinese in spite of your direct approaches to them, indicates that even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of "whoever is not with them being against them", this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note. During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, we have practically been alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into UN and in securing from the Americans assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay its apprehensions and to defend its legitimate claims in our discussions and correspondence with America and Britain and in the UN.

Inspite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism perhaps mixed with a little hostility. I doubt if we can go any further than we have done already to convince China of our good intentions, friendliness and goodwill. In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across the friendly point of view. Even he seems to have failed to convert the Chinese. Their last telegram to us is an act of gross discourtesy not only in the summary way it disposes of our protest against the entry of Chinese forces into Tibet but also in the wild insinuation that our attitude is determined by foreign influences. It looks as though it is not a friend speaking in that language but a potential enemy.

In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history we have seldom been worried about our north-east frontier. The Himalayas have been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about frontiers. In 1914, we entered into a convention with Tibet which was not endorsed by the Chinese. We seem to have regarded Tibetan autonomy as extending to independent treaty relationship. Presumably, all that we required was Chinese counter-signature. The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different.

We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and commercial settlements with Tibet on which we have been functioning and acting during the last half a century. China is no longer divided. It is united and strong. All along the Himalayas in the north and north-east, we have on our side of the frontier a population ethnologically and culturally not different from Tibetans and Mongoloids. The undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of a population with its affinities to the Tibetans or Chinese have all the elements of the potential trouble between China and ourselves. Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include the important part of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the added difficulty that it has no McMahon Line round which to build up even the semblance of an agreement. Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie concealed racial, national or historical claims. The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes both communist and imperialist.

While our western and north-western threat to security is still as prominent as before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east. Thus, for the first time, after centuries, India's defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of superiority over Pakistan. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with communist China in the north and in the north-east, a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.

Let us also consider the political conditions on this potentially troublesome frontier. Our northern and north-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal areas in Assam. From the point of view of communication, there are weak spots. Continuous defensive lines do not exist. There is almost an unlimited scope for infiltration. Police protection is limited to a very small number of passes. There, too, our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. The contact of these areas with us is by no means close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India. Even Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas are not free from pro-Mongoloid prejudices. During the last three years, we have not been able to make any appreciable approaches to the Nagas and other hill tribes in Assam.

European missionaries and other visitors had been in touch with them, but their influence was in no way friendly to India or Indians. In Sikkim, there was political ferment some time ago. It is quite possible that discontent is smouldering there. Bhutan is comparatively quiet, but its affinity with Tibetans would be a handicap. Nepal has a weak oligarchic regime based almost entirely on force: it is in conflict with a turbulent element of the population as well as with enlightened ideas of the modern age. In these circumstances, to make people alive to the new danger or to make them defensively strong is a very difficult task indeed and that difficulty can be got over only by enlightened firmness, strength and a clear line of policy. I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Union, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions.

In my judgement the situation is one which we cannot afford either to be complacent or to be vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and also of the methods by which we should achieve it. Any faltering or lack of decisiveness in formulating our objectives or in pursuing our policies to attain those objectives is bound to weaken us and increase the threats which are so evident.

Side by side with these external dangers, we shall now have to face serious internal problems as well. I have already asked Iyengar to send to the External Affairs Ministry a copy of the Intelligence Bureau's appreciation of these matters. Hitherto, the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting communists abroad, or in getting supplies of arms, literature, etc., from them. They had to contend with the difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontiers on the east or with the long seaboard. They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese communists and through them to other foreign communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and communists would now be easier. Instead of having to deal with isolated communist pockets in Telengana and Warrangal we may have to deal with communist threats to our security along our northern and north-eastern frontiers, where, for supplies of arms and ammunition, they can safely depend on communist arsenals in China.

The whole situation thus raises a number of problems on which we must come to an early decision so that we can, as I said earlier, formulate the objectives of our policy and decide the method by which those objectives are to be attained. It is also clear that the action will have to be fairly comprehensive, involving not only our defence strategy and state of preparations but also problem of internal security to deal with which we have not a moment to lose. We shall also have to deal with administrative and political problems in the weak spots along the frontier to which I have already referred.

It is of course, impossible to be exhaustive in setting out all these problems. I am, however, giving below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solution and round which we have to build our administrative or military policies and measures to implement them.

a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security.

b) An examination of military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of dispute.

c) An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment plans for the Army in the light of the new threat.

d) A long-term consideration of our defence needs. My own feeling is that, unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we would be making our defence perpetually weak and we would not be able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties both from the west and north-west and north and north-east.

e) The question of China's entry into the UN. In view of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claim any longer. There would probably be a threat in the UN virtually to outlaw China, in view of its active participation in the Korean war. We must determine our attitude on this question also.

f) The political and administrative steps which we should take to strengthen our northern and north-eastern frontier. This would include the whole of the border, ie. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal territory in Assam.

g) Measures of internal security in the border areas as well as the states flanking those areas such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Assam.

h) Improvement of our communication, road, rail, air and wireless, in these areas and with the frontier outposts.

i) The future of our mission at Lhasa and the trade posts at Gyangtse and Yatung and the forces which we have in operation in Tibet to guard the trade routes.

j) The policy in regard to the McMahon Line.

These are some of the questions which occur to my mind. It is possible that a consideration of these matters may lead us into wider question of our relationship with China, Russia, America, Britain and Burma. This, however, would be of a general nature, though some might be basically very important, e.g., we might have to consider whether we should not enter into closer association with Burma in order to strengthen the latter in its dealings with China. I do not rule out the possibility that, before applying pressure on us, China might apply pressure on Burma. With Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the Chinese territorial claims are more substantial. In its present position, Burma might offer an easier problem to China, and therefore, might claim its first attention.

I suggest that we meet early to have a general discussion on these problems and decide on such steps as we might think to be immediately necessary and direct, quick examination of other problems with a view to taking early measures to deal with them.

Vallabhbhai Patel,
7th November 1950

Friday, September 3, 2010

India-China Relations: Economics Is Not All

Here's the link to an article of mine on India-China relations, arguing that economics is not all. Trade and commercial ties have a limited role in fostering ties; in fact, they are subordinate to and occur within the more important structure of inter-state relations.

India and China have grown lot closer in the last few years compared to the previous decade. There has, however, been a simultaneous rise of mutual suspicions. While the economic interaction between the two sides may have reached great heights, this cannot eliminate the growing suspicion on the strategic front.

An NBR study recently argued that “Economic interdependence is hardly a “silver bullet” guaranteed to pacify interstate conflicts. Though it may constrain conflict escalation processes, interdependence also generates serious economic frictions that can easily offset or overwhelm its conflict-suppressing effects.”1 Meanwhile, there have been several studies arguing that economic traction between the two sides have several positive spin-off effects on India-China relations.2 I would argue that commerce clearly has a limited role to play in a country’s strategic game plan. Trade and commerce do not alter the realities of the strategic front.

India-China economic and trade ties have been growing in the last few years, from just US $ 1.99 bn in 1999 to nearly US $ 60 bn. in 2010. Despite the imbalance in the trade, trade is one area that has continued to flourish without major hurdles. Liberal theorists assume that improved trade relations will diminish the scope for international conflict. The theorists believe in the “trade brings peace” argument,3 which is opposite to what the Realists would argue. The Realists are of the view that “trade and investment flows as occurring within — and being subordinate to — the more significant and enduring structure of interstate relations. It is international peace that permits and enables trade, not the reverse.” Additionally, Realists argue that “rational and responsible national leaders never lose sight of the fundamentally anarchic nature of the global system,” and “consequently, where economic liberals stress mutual absolute gains from trade, realists are primed to notice relative gains in which one party, or one country, benefits more than the other.” 4 Realists essentially see international politics as a state of anarchy, with none able to enforce law. Even when states agree to certain international rules and regulations, it is up to the state to enforce such laws, depending whether those laws are favourable to the state or not; protect their interests/security or not. As Armijo explains, “In such a self-help system of mutual distrust, the only rational stance for a responsible national government, sadly but inevitably, leads to large defense expenditures, arms races, and the potential for instability and even war, as insecure states may be tempted to attack preemptively.” This clearly explains the emerging India-China dynamics. Is trade and economic well-being of the other in the mutual interest of India and China? While it may be the case, but this trade and well-being aspect need to be situated within the overall framework of inter-state relations between India and China. Under such a scenario, economic well-being of each other may not be the case. For instance, India trying to create its own markets in Asia will not seen favourably by China.

Another liberal argument is that both India and China have collaborated at various international fora on issues like climate change and WTO issues and that these interactions have fostered closer partnership between New Delhi and Beijing.5 Have these interactions, however, penetrated deep enough to reduce the suspicion and tension that has characterised India-China relations in the last few years? The answer may be no. While the two countries have worked together on some of these issues, competition and rivalry between them has only risen in the past few years.6 China has been increasingly testing India’s dominance in its own backyard. Despite SAARC being India’s creation, Beijing is much more active today in the organisation than India is.7 Beijing’s presence in South Asian countries, solidified through increasing trade and investment measures, have reduced India to a big geographical entity with not much influence.8 China’s pro-active approach towards South Asia appears to be a result of its own deepening relationship with South Asian countries as well as fulfilling its objective to emerge as a kind of “guardian” to all the South Asian countries. Second, it seems as an after-effect of the US-China Joint Statement in November 2009 for the two countries to jointly manage South Asia.

As India continues to re-define and modify its foreign and security policies, given its increasing stature in the international arena, there is bound to be competition for influence, resources and so on. For instance, China has been critical of India’s closer ties with the United States or other Asian powers that could be apparently detrimental to Beijing’s own regional and global role. Beijing has also been wary of India’s Look East policy, its strengthened relations with Japan, Vietnam and several other ASEAN countries. Beijing feels that India’s diplomacy in Southeast Asia could potentially hamper China-ASEAN ties as well as reduce Beijing’s manoeuvring space in Asia. China’s increasing foray into Indian Ocean region has been allegedly to secure its own energy supplies and ensuring energy security. China has been seeking to build alternate energy transport and trade routes, anticipating problems on the Malacca Strait sometime in the future. However, given the kind of China wariness that exists in New Delhi, China’s expanding influence and presence in India’s neighbourhood has clearly upped the ante within the establishment as well as outside.

Chinese actions raise suspicions in Delhi mainly for two reasons. One, factors like history and unsettled boundary and territorial issues will continue to hinder any prospect of India and China forging closer meaningful ties in the foreseeable future. The baggage of history continues to be a strong factor in India-China ties. The history and unsettled boundary issues as well as their respective roles in the emerging Asian strategic framework have created severe constraints in working out a good partnership between India and China. The trust deficit between New Delhi and Beijing is not something that is going to change dramatically in the next few years. Border issue is a symptom of the larger problem that exists between India and China. It is India’s increasing role and influence which is the crux. Even while both India and China recognise their inevitable role in shaping the Asian security order, they do differ radically on the kind of Asian layout for the future.9 India has continued to work at an inclusive approach as opposed to the Chinese’ exclusivist approach which appears directed against India, US and Japan. Beijing has continued to believe that its peaceful rise and the emergence as a dominant power in Asia is only an assumption of its rightful place in the region and in fact a return to the old, but natural order for the region. India may not be willing to see an Asia dominated by any one power.

1 William R. Thompson and David P. Rapkin, “Will Economic Interdependence Encourage China’s and India’s Peaceful Ascent?,” in Strategic Asia 2006-07: Trade, Interdependence and Security (National Bureau of Asian Research, Washington), available at
2 For example, Christopher J. Rusko and Karthika Sasikumar, “India and China: From Trade to Peace,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31 no. 4, 2007, available at;

3 John R. Oneal, Bruce Russett and Michael L. Berbaum, “Causes of Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations,” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 47, 2003, pp. 371-93; Christopher J. Rusko and Karthika Sasikumar, “India and China: From Trade to Peace,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31 no. 4, 2007, available at, cited in Leslie Elliott Armijo, “The BRICS Countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) As Analytical Category: Mirage or Insight?,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31 no. 4, 2007, available at

4 Leslie Elliott Armijo, “The BRICS Countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) As Analytical Category: Mirage or Insight?,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31 no. 4, 2007, available at

5 Christopher J. Rusko and Karthika Sasikumar, “India and China: From Trade to Peace,” Asian Perspective, vol. 31 no. 4, 2007, available at

6 The increasing number of intrusions /and transgression on the India-China border, even in the sectors that were otherwise peaceful; Chinese Ambassador in India stating that the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China; China’s issuance of stapled visas to people from Jammu & Kashmir; denial of visa to Gen. BS Jaswal, Commander, Northern Command; China gaining de facto control of Gilgit-Baltistan region, are instances of China trying to test India on the politico-strategic front.

7 While one can say that India has been laid back and even apathetic to its own neighbours, China’s argument that it is simply engaged in practical diplomacy may be farfetched.

8 China is clearly taking important steps to solidify its relationship with SAARC as a whole, in addition to having excellent relations with each of the member countries. At the recently concluded SAARC Summit, Beijing proposed an assistance of $300,000 to the SAARC Development Fund.

9 Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka are cases in point. However, each of the relations that Beijing has cultivated in India’s neighbourhood has had its negative impact on India’s own bilateral ties.