Posted by Bharat Karnad, ‘Asia Unbound’blog of the Council on Foreign Relations, November 21, 2015 at 12:43 pm, at http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2015/11/18/thinking-about-armed-confrontation-between-china-and-india/
Daniel Markey is right in describing India-China hostilities as “low probability, high cost contingency”. The trouble is however low the probability it is a contingency India has to prepare for because the relative cost of failure will be immeasurably higher for India than for the United States. It requires New Delhi’s vision, strategy and policies to be more aggressive, proactive and preemptive and geared to prevent China having its way and, in the larger context, from implementing its geopolitical design for a Sino-centric order and security architecture in Asia, which will obviously be at the expense of the Asian rimland and offshore states and maritimist India and, in southern Asia and the Indian Ocean region generally, directly impact Indian national interests and the country’s natural sphere of influence. The marked difference in Indian and US perspectives reflects their different geopolitical realities and differing solutions to the ‘China problem’ faced by them.
The elaboration of a comprehensively hardnosed approach in my new book – ‘Why India is Note a Great Power (Yet)’ which, incidentally, the Indian government is realizing but only in parts, is seen as hurting the US objective defined by Dr. Markey as avoiding “a sharpening of the global competition between China and the United States”. To divert and dissuade India from a confrontationist stance, he recommends in his ‘Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 27’ that Washington not support New Delhi’s “offensive moves”, to restrict itself to enhancing India’s “defensive security capabilities” and “encourage India to accommodate Chinese demands on Tibet”. It is precisely such American thinking and appeasement-laced polices, I have argued in the book, that renders the United States an unreliable ally and strategic partner, and why Washington’s foreign and military policy focused narrowly on advancing its own interests and its unwillingness to step in on the side of its Asian friends and allies in any meaningful way makes it imperative for Asian states contesting the strategic space with China to look out for their own security by banding together in a military cooperation scheme “organic” to Asia, in which the US’ role is limited to the one it has always played – “an opportunistic offshore balancer”.
Washington’s punitive attitude to resumption of testing by India to obtain a credible thermonuclear arsenal even though a notional parity at the thermonuclear weapons level will help stabilize not just the India-China security situation but the Asian security order and help US interests, the Obama Administration’s reluctance to support Japan on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute despite Premier Shinzo Abe’s pleading, and media commentaries voicing fear about Japan and the Philippines – the latter in a maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (aka South China Sea) — invoking provisions in the mutual defense treaties and drawing the US into a rumble with China, are indicative of , if not tilt benefitting Beijing, than in US’ desperate desire to avoid conflict with China except in the most extreme and, hence, the most remote circumstances. In this context, Markey’s proposal for a trilateral India-China-US commission to resolve fractious Sino-Indian issues, could well turn into a forum, as I have stated in my book, to pressure New Delhi into making security compromises India can ill afford.
The problem at heart is that Washington is un-reconciled to the growing scarcity of its resources and, hence, its inability to meet the China-derived challenges to Asian security in the face of a re-assertive Russia and NATO’s security pull towards Europe. It has led to confusion and lack of clarity about the emerging “correlation of forces” in Asia and to weak-willed policies. The US can afford to underestimate the China threat; Asian states do not enjoy that luxury. Thus, India will have to be ready for the worst, and increasingly configure hard-edged policies and posture, but also learn to live with the ire of Daniel Markey and many others in the Washington establishment who think like him.