Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Children take part in a week-long military training before they enter primary school at a kindergarten in China's Tianjin municipality. Source: The Times of India
Just when the Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD) was resting content after misguiding and misleading the nation in its latest annual report by completely ignoring the challenge posed to India by China’s rapid military modernization(The Times of India March 22, 2008), the Dragon has breathed fire and bared its fangs

In a recent article in The Chinese Institute of International Strategic Studies, authored by Zhongguo Zhan Lue, believed to be the pseudonym of a senior and noted member of the Chinese Communist Party, China has issued an aggressive warning to India. It has accused India of creating a situation just like the one in 1962 when it “misjudged the situation” and initiated a war, and of taking the “same old path of confrontation with China”(DNA, April 12, 2008). This time, the author warns, China “will not pull back 30 km”. This Beijing based institute is usually headed by a party nominee and reflects the views of the Chinese government.

Communist Party leaders are well informed about matters military and are actively involved in giving the necessary “teeth” without which the country’s clear national objective of becoming a major player on the global scene cannot be achieved. Compare this with the unapologetically obsequious and small nation mindset of the amateurs who have for long been controlling the Indian MOD. India’s MOD pays glowing tributes in its report to China’s emergence as an “important player in global affairs” which “has been improving bilateral relations with her neighbouring countries at a diplomatic, economic and military levels”, (italics mine). China’s top political think tank, on the other hand, in a hysterical tone attacks “evil” and “arrogant” India and warns it to desist from even “ looking beyond Pakistan to realize its ambition of becoming a regional and global power”. This hysteria is when India is doing literally nothing to break its conventional military capability from its Pakistan-centric status, and is spending comparatively next to nothing on military modernisation.

Policy makers who are focused on making their nations great cannot do so without anticipating the moves of known and potential adversaries to enhance their military power. Then, they take pre-emptive steps to first neutralise the same and try to ensure that the power balance remains squarely in their favour. That is precisely why China promoted Pakistan so that India’s energies would be totally expended in dealing with that country, letting China move far ahead undisturbed. We easily fell into that straightforward trap and are still there. What did Pakistan do when it anticipated that India was going nuclear? It resorted to every dirty trick in the book to achieve parity. As a result, while India took 34 years to explode nuclear bombs after China did in 1964, Pakistan did so a mere couple of days after India did, restoring power parity almost instantaneously.

Who will believe that at the highest levels, there is little clarity about the security challenges that India faces and the response required to face them? National Security Advisor (NSA) Narayanan is a former cop, whose understanding of national security seems to begin with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and end with VIP security. The extent of the vacuum of awareness, expertise, interest and understanding at the apex of the country’s leadership can be gauged from the fact the NSA is talking of developing a national consensus on whether to treat China as neighbour or competitor! How can a coherent, proactive response be developed when a nation is still struggling with basics in a juvenile manner that is nothing short of disgraceful.

To date, only one Indian politician, George Fernandes, former Defence Minister, seems to have studied the Chinese phenomenon as it relates to India. He is the only one who verbalized what even the dimmest of dimwits should see clearly. China is India’s biggest threat, he said a few years back, only to be shouted down by hordes of security-blind politicians. Net result: India is still deluding itself into believing that China poses no threat to it even though it still claims Arunachal Pradesh and other smaller parts of Indian Territory.

Paradoxically, this delusion is self-fulfilling up to a point. Since you will not do anything to ruffle China’s feathers, it will let you lie undisturbed, just as a big dog lets a smaller one lying in front of it with its paws in the air and its tail firmly between its legs. That is precisely the position that the MOD has taken to lull the nation into believing that no response is required from India to enhance at least its defensive capability against a nation getting increasingly militarily ambitious and aggressive by the day. To top the surrender, there is total silence about the repeated Chinese incursions which have been noted by even the Pentagon in its report!

China has bullied and toyed with India right since the Fifties. In 1962, the whole world knows what happened, but India wants to imagine that it never did, because till date it simply does not know how to formulate a proper response to what happened then, and to subsequent developments. China, on the other hand, recognized pretty early that in the long run India would pose a real threat to Chinese domination, even hegemony, in the region. Having done that, they have systematically worked to ensure that India remains a small player, so constantly harassed and fatigued by Pakistan that it has no time to even think about China till is too late.

The bully has absolutely no compunctions about showing his real self at the slightest of Indian provocations. Despite India’s totally China ‘approved’ response to the ongoing demonstrations by Tibetans against the Chinese, when a couple of Tibetan protestors scaled the wall of the Chinese embassy in Delhi, China summoned India’s ambassador in Beijing at 2 AM. It also forced India to cancel the planned meeting between the Dalai Lama and India’s Vice President. When Delhi meekly accepted the bullying, it got a Chinese pat on the back and a condescending “Thank you”, just like Indian princes used to get during the Raj!

The latest blatantly humiliating threat issued through an official organ is probably pre-emptory. Apart from making it tauntingly clear that the previous praise was akin to that given by a master to his slave, it also is to tell India to not entertain any thoughts of doing anything other than towing the Chinese line on Tibet in future. One step out of line and we will do to you more than what we did in 1962; that is the ominous warning.

Can India ever put its threats and intentions so plainly to Pakistan? Not at all! That is because Pakistan has not allowed India to gain more than marginal military superiority which means little because India also has a huge border with China who is Pakistan’s friend. That is why for more than two decades, Pakistan has daringly and without fear of debilitating Indian response, let loose terror in India, first in Kashmir, now in the rest of the country too. Had the military asymmetry been like it is between India and China, things would have been totally different. Now, even mainstream Kashmiri politicians openly talk about allowing Pakistani currency in Kashmir. Can India similarly dare to initiate and support Tibetan terrorism in China?

Why has this situation come about? There is an absence of a tradition of strategic thought at the national level which, to begin with, had a historical basis. To some extent, this explains the almost total lack of strategic appreciation and vision shown by the government and the society at large. But 60 years and some nasty experiences later, things should have changed. That they have not is a damning indictment of at least two aspects of the functioning of the government.

First is the way ministerial berths are allotted. Expertise and experience are almost never considered. The compulsions of the multi party system of democracy that India has adopted ensure that petty political considerations reign supreme. So we have Defence Ministers who often do not have even the foggiest idea of national strategy etc. Second is the almost total superimposition of generalist career bureaucrats between the military and political leadership, with the bureaucrats usurping the leadership role from the experts, the professionals who have systematically been downgraded and kept at an increasing arms length from their political masters. These ministry hopping generalists come to the MOD for a short stay where their focus, naturally, is on mega defence deals, their vast military-industrial empire and on maintaining their cadre supremacy over the military hierarchy. The recent so-called integration of the service headquarters with the MOD has cemented this equation like never before. The decimation of the Armed Forces in the government is now complete.

With this kind of a seriously dysfunctional organizational structure in place, the Chinese need not worry. India’s MOD’s first and perhaps only priority is to keep winning its war with its own Generals. They present a clear and present danger to bureaucrats. For the bureaucrats, the Chinese are a friendly lot who are actually improving relations with India at the military level. For politicians, where is the time from the changing-by-the-minute political scenarios on which their own future depends? Besides, most have little grasp of, or exposure to, the alien subject of defense! Bureaucrats can’t overthrow them in a military coup, like Generals might, as the former keep frightening them! So the keys of the ministry remain securely with ill informed Generalists rather than with Generals. That is perhaps the fatal national mistake that has cost the country the most.

For this dismal scenario, the military leadership has to take responsibility for so tamely and disinterestedly surrendering to the petty hidden agendas of bureaucrats and the ignorance of politicians. The responsibility of securing this country’s safety is not of the bureaucrats at all. By positioning themselves as superior to the military for entirely wrong reasons,they have already made an unimaginable hash of it till now.

The MOD may gag the Generals and produce servile documents which will shame far lesser nations; the MOD and others may not feel humiliated by, or react to, the bullying of China, if that can keep their own Generals at bay. For India's sake, someone will have to rise above this pettiness and ignorance and be counted for the country. Before it is too late.
Readers may also like to read:

1. Facing the challenge of China's military modernisation
2. China and India"winning war vs defending the country
3. India's 'Power': weakness=virtue, strength=immorality