Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Chinese President Hu Jintao has asked the Peoples Liberation Army of China (PLA) to enhance its capabilities to win hi-tech regional wars, respond to security threats and accomplish a diverse array of military tasks. He has also called upon the PLA to redouble its efforts to further build its strength to support and guarantee the progress of socialism with Chinese characteristics and make greater contribution to world peace. (The Times of India March 11, 2008)

The President of China has visualized a truly global and dominating role for the military, as required by a rapidly growing economic giant readying to become a world leader in the 21st century. That is the kind of strategic vision needed from the political leadership of a country as it takes on the new challenges that its size and economic growth demand.

What is the primary role that India has visualized for its armed forces? It is to defend the country from external attacks. For a country aspiring to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and moving fast towards becoming an economic superpower, with a projected GDP of 90 per cent of that of the US by 2050, this visualization of its security challenges is utterly defeatist and limited, to say the least.

China’s President does not even speak of defending the country against aggression. Why? The country’s leadership is building an Army so strong that it will deter any potential aggressor from even contemplating an attack on that country. The President, in fact wants its Army to move on to the next level of capability. He has asked it to become strong enough to win regional wars.

Who is China’s biggest neighbour with a long outstanding border dispute which the Chinese want to settle only on their terms, and will do so at a time of their choosing? India. Is there any other regional power that that can be a potential military threat to that country except India and Russia? No. Hu clearly wants the PLA to win any war that his country may need to fight with either or both of them in future.

Winning wars means developing potent offensive capability. It also means taking the fight into the enemy’s territory and beating him there. Defending the country means developing minimum defensive capability. It also means, at least in the Indian context, letting an aggressor get into your territory before using just enough force to evict him and claim victory! One strategy is essentially pro-active and outward looking and the other is only reactive and trapped in a shell.

China, alive to its leadership role, has been modernizing its military at a furious pace. How has India responded so far? By pretending that China does not exist or arguing like only the weak do that we have very good relations with that country! While China has been furiously developing its strategic infrastructure in Tibet, including building an engineering marvel, the railway line to Lhasa, India continues to have a meter gauge railway line serving Arunachal Pradesh where troops face primitive conditions almost unchanged since the Second World War! Things are pretty much the same all along the rest of India's border with Tibet.

Some ‘thinkers’ in fact argue that building more roads etc to the border is dangerous because it will allow the Chinese to get to the plains much faster! The battle has already been lost in the minds of these fellows! Yet, they are not entirely to blame. This outlook flows directly from the very limited and defeatist role that the country has given to its armed forces.

We have not learnt even from Pakistan, a much smaller country of only 16 crore people as against India’s 120 crores. That country does not allow its much larger neighbour to get the military edge that its size and its long border with China demands. It is always seeking military parity with India as essential to its security and keeps threatening an arms race with its big neighbour.

India, on the other hand, has allowed to China to speed away almost beyond reach. If the gap continues to grow, no matter how well we do economically, China will play with us like one plays with a little child and humiliate us again whenever it feels like, to put us firmly back into our defeatist shells.

For big nations, economic strength and offensive military capability are like the Siamese twins which cannot be separated without endangering their individual lives. China has made that quite clear, quite like the US has been doing since WW 2. It is time for India’s political and military leadership to awaken to that realization and re-write the role that its armed forces are required to play in the emerging global scenario. They need to be able to do a lot more than just defend the country’s borders. Hu said that!

This post was also published by reuters.com

Readers may also like to read:

1. Facing the challenge of China's military modernisation
2. India's 'power': weakness=virtue, strength=immorality
3. China and India: bully and forever bullied

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