Offer Ash Carter a meaningful multilateral initiative to counter China

India’s attitude and policy towards China, surprisingly, hasn’t deviated even a little bit after the BJP assumed power in May 2014. If anything, Narendra Modi’s government has shown even greater reticence if that’s possible than the predecessor Manmohan Singh setup in taking on China. This despite Beijing’s moves steadily to grow its presence in the Indian Ocean region and to emerge as a player regional states have to reckon with. It was expected — this was more a hope than any real indication by candidate Modi — that BJP with a view to burnishing its “nationalist” reputation would be less passive on the northern and the northeastern borders, and that the forward deployed Indian army units would be told to be more “in the face” of the Chinese PLA troops facing them. It turns out just the reverse is happening. Indian units have been told actually to cease doing anything the PLA objects to. Thus, according to a press report, Indian troops who were constructing a water channel from a hot spring source on the Indian side of LAC in the Demchok area of Ladakh were instructed to heed PLA’s objections to such activity and stop it. This water was sought by the local people who, understandably, are upset that New Delhi is more concerned about placating the Chinese than meeting their need in the high-altitude arid terrain they subsist in.

This is the usual submissive approach to China that I have long decried. So the recommendation that follows for the Indian Defence Minister Parrikar to propose to the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter in their April 12 meeting joint or, even better, multilateral actions to stop Beijing from realizing its expansive “nine dash line” claims in the South China Sea, will obviously be ignored by a fearful Indian government.

The context for such multilateral action is China’s dredging the waters around the Scarborough Shoal 125 miles from the Philippines preparatory to what Manila fears will be the creation of yet another artificial island air base conjured out of cementing dredged up sand, corals, and earth, which will then be used to justify Chinese claims and exclusive ownership of these narrow seas.

The US has informed Beijing it does not respect the ADIZ (air defence identification zone) in the skies off the Chinese coast, and has sent a US warship on a “freedom of navigation” (FON) patrol through the disputed waters, attracting nothing more than a bit of finger wagging by the Chinese. This has to be followed up with more such patrols but constituted with warships from a whole bunch of countries effected by the disputable Chinese claims. Parrikar should offer, for a start, that Indian naval ships will join American warships in periodic sailings through these waters on FON mission. And agree to persuade littoral states in the region — Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Australia to also join in such patrolling. The problem with single state FON sailings is that China can easily intimidate and thwart them by pressuring the country undertaking it. Even the US has not been immune to such pressure. But a flotilla comprising naval vessels from three, five, or seven regional states will be more difficult for Beijing to handle in the manner it has done single states — by huffing and puffing, and hinting at more decisive military action. This way forcefully to impose the collective will of regional states will have a more salutary effect on China than anything else.

For once, New Delhi needs to lead such an initiative to gain credence especially with Southeast Asian states who are convinced India is all talk and no action. Carter will be taken aback by this show of new found Indian resolve, no doubt, and will likely jump at it. Even if Carter doesn’t, India should proceed with this initiative, try and get other regional countries to join it in opposing China’s adventurism. It will be a welcome departure for the staid and stale no-risk national security strategy New Delhi has followed. It could be the first among other such actions India could take to push China on the defensive.

But, realistically, does the Modi government have the moxy for such enterprise that will serve India’s distant defence interests very well? Nah.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Northeast Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Offer Ash Carter a meaningful multilateral initiative to counter China

  1. Punjabi Sardar says:

    Getting involved with america is not worth it, just look at China. maybe one mandir stands in country side,

    But you think we should integrate muslims instead of purify them by Agni or Tulsi.

    This is why your analysis sucks at the top level, for mid level weapons imports stuff you are ok.

  2. Is it true K-4 missile has been test-fired Today ?

    • March 31 from submerged Arihant off Vizag.

      • satyaki says:

        Bharat Sir,

        Why was the K-4 tested the last two times to just a 700 km range ? Political reasons ? Or it is that 2 minimum range tests have to followed by two intermediate range tests and then two maximum range tests for the K-4 to be operational ?

        Don’t SLBMs probably require far more testing than the land based systems (making the Kasturirangan committee criterion irrelevant for SLBMs) ?

      • Range suppression because of extraneous considerations, to wit, to not court Washington’s displeasure. The Kasturirangan metric should not strictly apply to SLBMs, true, but so far as I know, does.

  3. I watched your video about Why India is not a great Power on Youtube.I am sorry that I do not agree with you.Your rant against America is more emotional than based on realpolitik.You are more like Sitaram Yechury or leftists.You know CPI hates America for idealogical reasons.Your observations are not based of facts on the ground.I would like to counter them.

    #1 The reason why you want India to co-opt or befriend Pakistan is because if India or America destroys or de-nuclearises Pakistan, then in your imagination Iran-China-Russia alliance will get outflanked.It is only by cutting Pakistan that America can enter Central Asia and roll back Russian influence. It has nothing to do with Indian security interests.

    #2 The reason why you say India should take a tough stand against China is not because of genuine Indian interests.But because you see that China is also a security threat to Russia.You want India to fit into Russian security matrix.Russia has a long border with China.The reason why you are pro-Russia is because you see RUSSIA as the only country to Challenge America. It has nothing to do with realpolitik, or genuine Indian interest.

    • Gosh, no one has called me a leftist until you came along.

      #1 India needs a pacified neighbourhood as a prerequisite for great power status. And Pakistan is co-optable, so co-opt it. Otherwise it will always be used by adversarial states — US in an earlier era and, to an extent, even now, and China currently — to strategically distract India.

      #2 China should be India’s main focus, and not remain entangled in a Pak-centered web.

      Russia is too distant and economically weak to do us harm and hence is a safe extra-territorial big state to rely on. Besides, it is a ready source of military hardware and tech unavailable from any other source and can be used to counter-balance, when necessary, either/or the US and China. This is what realpolitik means by the way — pursuit of national interest unhindered by any extraneous concerns, such as morality, ideology, normative values, etc.

      • MS says:

        Mr Karnad,

        I can’t belive you have written these first two paras-because this is my thinking. I just hope these first two paras on co-opting Pakistan, and keeping focus on China are read by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, PMO and the strategic influencers in India.

        We have to co-opt them and with respect. India could possibly tell Pak in private that we will open the doors for them in NSG. We want peace and not be distracted by this inflitration mess. So much of our energy is being wasted with Pakistan. Ofcourse, it would require hard and soft approach possibly in parallel.

        PM Modi is the best leader to create stage for development of tech base in India. I just hope you are able to make the right people heard in Delhi.

  4. Well I did not mean that you are a leftist but you do share some of their traits.India needs an economic base for great Power Status.ECONOMIC BASE is more important than pacified neighbourhood.I am all for a pacified neighbourhood if that can be achieved by co-opting neighbours.But in case of Pakistan that is not possible.It is a civilizational war, where one has to win and the other to loose.There is no middle ground.
    You can Co-opt people like Chinese, who are not motivated by religion.Chinese are a rational people who will follow their national interests the way we will.BUT PAKISTAN is an Islamic state whose sole purpose is to destroy India.

    #3 China should be India’s main focus, no doubt about that.China is far stronger than India and is the only country who has the capability to harm India.I agree with you

    #4 You say that Russia is a ready source of Military hardware and tech unavailable anywhere else.I do not agree with you.Russian hardware is bad.Russian is generations behind West in military technology.As far as technology is concerned America is the only country in the world to share its military and industrial technology with others.Whether it will do the same with India is different question.In 1950 South Korea and Israel were poor agricultural countries, today they are industrial Powerhouses.WHAT IS THE REASON ?
    America in 1960s helped Sweden develop Viggen aircraft.America coached France in jet engine technology with CFM collaboration.America helped Israel develop Lavi aircraft in 1980s.Despite the fact that Lavi may have become a competitor to F-16.America helped India develop LCA.Which you were up against .Maybe because you never wanted India to be self-reliant and always wanted India to be dependent on Russia.American military industrial complex in not dependent on Exports.America is developing F-35 aircraft.Their own Airforce and navy will buy 2000 F-35.America is not looking at India to carry its industry on our shoulders.

    Russia has only helped India in developing Agni missiles and an obsolete nuclear Submarine.In the case of missiles they have only vetted our designs.The technology like FOG, ring laser gyros, composite motors etc were developed indigenously.YOU can never expect Russia to provide us any kind of help in developing systems like Arjun Tank, Dhruv helicopter and LCA.If India can make Tanks, helicopters and aircraft on its own then WHO WILL BUY RUSSIAN items?

    • As I have pointed out and analysed in my book — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) — other than the US — coz’ of its unique insular geography — all of the current great powers were military powers first before becoming economic powers. India cannot be an exception. There are other statements by you that history does not bear out. There was no civilizational conflict before 1965 with Pakistan — try and remember that. US did not help Sweden with Viggen aircraft: US only sold it a Pratt & Whitney engine. Lavi was an entirely Israeli product produced with certain American components. AND INDIA GOT NO US HELP IN LCA other than in the minor definitional sense if that — there is no clear evidence here — for its fly-by-wire system. And you seem a bit cavalier when you say Russia helped us only with missiles and N-sub — the two most decisive technologies in the modern age — try not to understate this aspect.

      • MS says:

        I have not read history, you may have. And a case in point is Japan which is economically strong but will have a hard time should the Dragon starts spewing fire.
        In India’s case, our progress has been so slow, that it is too late now to ignore economy or miltary.

        Both will have to go in parallel. This is the time to plough the young Indians into creating great products. Since we can’t export most of our people, we got to make great products and export and earn money to sustain 1.2 billion people in the country.

        Military might is equally important. In order to just survive, we have to match atleast China. First invasions into India occured about just a short of thousand years ago…and we kept losing until finally gaining independence in 1947. What a heavy price a nation can pay?

        Even an economically strong country has to bow to a strong military and no one else is coming for rescue. Who is coming to the rescue of Vietnam or Philipines!

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Viggen engine was not even a military jet engine. So what exactly have the Swedes gotten from sucking upto US is open to arguments.

        Same for Lavi. Something that got made but was eventually supplied to the Chinese because the supplier knew that J-10 could only be used against India or Taiwan or Japan. So how have the Taiwanese and Japanese gotten helped is again debatable.

        Same as Indian case where we approached the western countries for arms and they ‘offered’ salvage worthy subs and under powered aircrafts instead. Subsequently we got it all from the Russians. Then when we needed the nuclear subs and strategic weapons, every single western country sanctioned us but the Russians did not. Instead the relationship that started from sub-strategic weaponry is now fully and overtly out in the strategic realm. Today if the western countries wish to come ‘help’ us that is only because we essentially do not need their ‘help’ and their ‘helping’ or ‘sanctioning’ would not really matter.

        I think we are wasting our time with American focus on Pakistan with their GWOT preoccupations. We should instead be focusing on China. But we implies we and not “We under the controls of US” as is currently being pursued by the MEA babudom.

  5. %$#@! says:

    @BK: The only answer a self-respecting State can give Carter is to “flip him off”. India needs to go in for open ended nuclear testing, and test the Agni and K series missiles to their full range. An over-flight of (say) Simons Town would be much in order. India and Indians need to know that to be at “the table” (in a capacity other than other than a butler), one should demonstrate the ability of standing alone if necessary.

    I notice this continued fetish of getting India into an alliance with Japan and South Korea, and whatever the “cat brought home”. Japan is stuck in its US view of a N-neutered India. OTOH, South Korea’s evangelical lobby is far too strong for it to be a military ally of Indian without the usual “neutering conditions. WRT to your statement, “…[a]nd agree to persuade littoral states in the region — Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Australia to also join in such patrolling.”, Would joint patrolling also stand firm when there’s a shooting match? That’s where the entire Asian pivot theory shows up to be nothing more than toothless waffle!

    • Avtar Singh says:

      Very well said
      what hope, when so called nationalists are running hither and dither looking to
      others to solve problems
      everything India needs is at home.. get your house in order and get on with it

      all these old crones lack confidence and will power,
      I really hope someday there will be young blood that can get things done
      without the begging bowl

      one would think producing a fighter without a single hull loss would be enough
      to get the juices flowing. Take a look at the grippen losses…
      No, not in India where all these old fogies are too mummified

  6. satyaki says:

    Does the K-4 test from Arihant mean that te K-4 is nearly operational ? 1 flight in March 2014 and 2 more last month…So three flights, two from a pontoon and one from a sub…

    Or is it the K-15 that was tested on March 31 ?

    • Not sure if “two from pontoon” meets the K-standard. March 31 – K-4.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      The K-4 is very far off from being operational. If reports are to be believed, it has only once been tested anywhere close to its full range and that too when launched from an underwater pontoon. Given that, a mere 700 Km. distance from the recent reported submarine launch will not do (though it is a welcome and significant step). For that matter, I wonder whether even the K-15 is anywhere close to being operational anytime soon, though it has been tested a lot more. Note that the submarine and the SLBM jointly constitute the weapon system.

      SLBM’s also need to be tested for salvo launches from the SSBN before operationalization. To the best of my knowledge, the K-standard has not factored in these issues. BTW, the Gold Standard for salvo launches was set by the FSU/Russian Navy in August 1991 during Operation Begemot when a Delta IV class SSBN under the command of Capt. (Second Rank) S. V. Yegorov fired off all 16 of its SLBM’s in 224 secs. with a 14 sec. interval between consecutive launches.

      • Edelbert Badwar says:

        We do not have to go all the way to S C Sea to keep a check on the Chinese.We can do that by exerting pressure in Arunachal and creating problems for their CPEC.

      • Yes. But it doesn’t hurt our cause to also be in their face in their backyard.

  7. andy says:

    ‘The conflict was not civilisational’ is a falsehood which the Pakistanis have successfully perpetrated to visiting Indian intellectuals.They hate all Indians but lie through their teeth during Aman ki Asha visits.All Pakistanis are rabidly anti Indian & all of it stems from the doctrine of of Ghazwa-e-Hind & the Hadith’s,just hear Tariq Fatah, an ex Pakistani ,on you tube to get a clearer picture.Their mentality is totally medieval, for them not to do anything against India amounts to defeat. Watch Tariq Fatah on First post salon on you tube to get a clear idea.

  8. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    1) All Pakis are rabidly anti India.
    2) All westerners and their macaulayite seeds in all third world countries (like India) are rabidly anti-Russian for much the same reasons.
    3) All Chinese have a concord with one party and the big deal about it is Asian Hegemony.

    All three can and invariably do swear by Indian independence.
    All lie.

    But @BK, while it makes sense to go on a multi-lateral FON patrols but would it not amount to being ‘more loyal than the king’. I am not against FON patrols, in fact, I am open to it even with the USN. Its just that those with main responsibility of ensuring FON are lying sanguine and USN or IN go about town raising a hue and cry. What have the Filipinos done about what they don’t like? Its not like Vietnam+Philipines+Japan+Soko can think of a joint FON patrol even without the need for India. Particularly the Japanese navy is bigger than Indian Navy and South Korean is not very smaller either. But both these navies and others will not say or do much about FON patrols because they have mortgaged their own strategic autonomy to US. This is liked by China just as well:
    1) since it makes sense for the Chinese to either deal with them on individual basis (where these countries are weaker, comparatively); and
    2) since US will never care two hoots about the strategic capacities of these Japs and Sokos etc. so it also suits the chinese well that they go about negotiating Japanese or Tiwanese independence with the Americans (equally good).

    In a way Japs seem to have acquiesced to a future akin to the British Indian Army. I dare say their populations would be even more subverted than our own english speaking elites.

    As somebody above mentioned, just as the answer to the Chinese challenge in the Himalayas is in the IOR chokepoints. In much the same way the answer to the challenge in the seas is in the Himalayas. To my mind we should simply become unmanageable for the Chinese. Probably do some proliferation of our own to Viets. If its nobodies problem then it must be made everybodies problem. That is how the chinese got space for themselves and that is how everybody else did. Even the French have not been above a little proliferation of their own. Unless we make preparations for a restart to the unlimited testing of TNs and are open to underhand proliferation there can be no substantive security architecture that can take care of our concerns.

    We should not take our eyes off, how the Vietnamese are managing their own security problems. They have opened up to the Americans but they buy their main weapons from the Russians. Vietnamese have paid the highest price in Asia, for their independence and unlike lootyen’s MEA, they are very methodical about insure-ing their own capacity for strategic action, despite their very limited means. And in their calculus even an MEA lead India has a place.

    Would the Russians like to have the Chinese dominate Asia? China may not be a challenger to Russia in the present but I doubt if they would be confident about the future?

    • FON patrols are best, with or w/o USN, as I have said, but with local SCS states joining them,whence the need to persuade them. Philippines has no mil forces worth the name to do anything except perhaps add a corvette-type ship to proposed multilateral FONPs. Vietnam will be more amenable if Hanoi sees India putting out. The theatre-switching strategy is inherently suspect, per my lights, for reasons elucidated at length in my books and writings of IO chokepoint strategy for PLA acting up on LAC. For cross-LAC moves in case of IOR activity by PLAN, absent any meaningful offensive forces & mil infrastructure on border, such strategy is necessarily for the very distant, indeterminate, future..

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        I am talking in future terms, essentially because I don’t see much activity in the states that are actually facing the SCS problem. Help them by all means but do they even want to get helped in the first place.

        What have the Japanese or South Koreans done helping the Filipinos when all three are in this together? There is no worthwhile cooperation among these states primarily because all of them have been or are currently ‘dependent’ upon US and US will allow freedom of action only so long as their own FON patrolling navy is not inconvenienced. Mostly this is the same thing as the American lead action in Afpak. India has to compromise only because the American lives may be endangered. Same thing in Far East.

  9. Japan and S Korea have upped their naval and mil assistance to the Philippines — Tokyo with transfer of 10 fast CG craft ( There’s even talk of the Japs establishing a base in that archipelagic country. See So, a beginning here, but India needs to push to make the effort regional.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      The US never really went away from Philipines as your own link says “The intensifying US military drive in the region finds expression in the fact that in first five months of 2013, 72 US warships and submarines have visited Subic Bay, compared with 88 for the entirety of 2012; 54 in 2011; and 51 in 2010, according to Filipino government figures.”

      And yet the Filipinos are faced with the new challenge.

      Filipinos are facing this challenge because the Chinese have calculated well that the USN is in the process of unwinding to a 250 ship navy and will be spread too thin for anybodies good. By USN reckoning I think their brass wishes for a 450 ship navy for their political treaties and promises. This higher required estimate I would take in the same spirit as the IAF requirement for a 45 squad airforce (ie. maximal). But still the whole game revolves around basing for outsiders. This is so even in India with the IN Brass imagining that a USN basing (by other means) in India will be taken seriously by the Chinese who have focused on sub building for just such a move.

      Not bases to outsiders. What is important is to give a few subs and long ranged aircarfts. Talk about nuke proliferation. Currently as the situation is the Japs are not too keen on sharing Soryus and US-2s. There is talk, I agree, but then in the face of real island manufacturing, mere talk is cheap. These talks hide more of an excuse to allow US to retreat from Japan and Taiwan (something I don’t particularly mind).

      In any case a FON patrol by its very nature (temp) cannot compete against a real island (permanent). Wait until these islands begin to host carrier killers and S-400s. Do you find anything that has been done or suggested, to permanently expand the capacity, of more capable people like Vietnam or to bring up the lesser ones like Philipines? Nothing.

      About India. We are still being prevented from testing K-4s. The recent upset statement by US w.r.t our tests was just such a statement of intent. A bunch of small coast guard 180 ton vessels to Philipines does not talk the same language as a:
      1) Vietnam arming itself with 6 kilos Klub equipped.
      2) India arming itself with nuke capable subs.

      For gods sakes the chinese have 83 houbei (missile armed) 225 ton vessels for the next Straits crisis. Taiwan Straits offer the same kind of chock-a-block seas as the SCS islands would eventually create. Are the boats that Japanese giving armed with missiles? No. So what are the Japanese and Filipinos talking about? This is buddhists talking about peace and christians about the other cheek. Utter nonsense.

      Essentially people who are unwilling to pay the cost of security are not deserving of it. Applies to India too. And only people who would end up paying the costs would be future Asians. It would not matter one bit to the Americans surrounded by seas and benefiting from cheap south american labour and copious nukes.

      Let us have your speculation here on some points –
      1) would the Japanese sell XASM-3 to Vietnam because Vietnamese Su-30s can put this to great use.
      2) would the Japanese share Soryu tech with India because we need such tech for bigger conventional subs.
      3) would the Filipinos be allowed to have a proper missiles manufacturing capacity because missiles are the cheapest means to defense.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      This is pretty low-level stuff that is being provided to the Philippines, and as the link put up by someone correctly says, the Japanese are dithering about supporting the Philippines. Isn’t India planning to sell the Philippines a Kamorta class ASW corvette? I for one cannot see the wisdom of this move, especially at a time when the IN’s own ASW capability is serious under-strength .

  10. andy says:

    Sometimes it becomes difficult to fathom wether this is Bharat Karnads blog or some anonymous punters,prowling all over it with the sole intention of picking up a fight with any & everyone,with a patent on patriotism & truthfulness. Better to keep ones own counsel ,than to be embroiled in a war of words with such non entities ,who seem to have nothing better to do than tilt at windmills all day in a poor version of a modern day ‘Don Quixote’.

  11. andy says:

    In anticipation of long winded,trembling with self righteousness & incoherent tirade in the garb of a retort ,which is sure to follow,the standard answer is going to be “Buzz off loser & stop harassing everyone with your meddlesome ways,on Security Wise”.

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