Panda-panderers at State and Pentagon

Lloyd Austin: Biden picks ex-general as defence secretary - BBC News
[US President-elect Biden and US Secretary of Defence-designate General Lloyd Austin]

The US President-elect Joe Biden is on the horns of a dilemma. Trump went so far in painting China as the comprehensive threat to America, the West and the liberal world order at-large that doing a 180-degree policy turn and begin canoodling with Beijing is not possible. But, equally, Biden is concerned that Trump had made a collective response to arrest China’s uncontrollable rush to great power status difficult by hollowing out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has put that European alliance in a weaker position to handle a re-energized Russia under Putin. But Moscow, in turn, out of economic necessity as much as strategic calculation, is getting intimate with Xi Jinping’s China.

A potential Sino-Russian duopoly on the Eurasian landmass would separately encourage belligerent behaviour by Russia in Europe and by China in Asia. This threat is what ought to give Biden and his advisers conniptions. Especially because after two decades of futile wars that it has lost in Afghanistan, Iraq and in West Asia in general, the American people are in no mood for more military adventures or even peacetime deployment of US forces abroad.

It has left the US President to-be, Biden, with few, politically safe, options. The way out, the incoming Democratic party Administration figures, is for the US to not take on China frontally in Asia or Russia in Europe but to rely on America’s traditional allies to do the heavy lifting using NATO at one end, and its strategic partners, principally India, Japan and Australia, to keep China tethered, at the Asian end. Such a policy has the advantage of minimizing US’ commitments and costs.

Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State in-waiting, speaking to an American-Indian audience on Nov 23, before his nomination to become US’ chief diplomat was announced, articulated just such an approach. “We have a common challenge which is to deal with an increasingly assertive China across the board, including its aggression toward India at the Line of Actual Control, but also using its economic might to coerce others…to its advantage, ignoring international rules to advance its own interests, asserting unfounded maritime and territorial claims that threaten freedom of navigation in some of the most important seas in the world,” he said, during a virtual panel discussion on ‘US-India Relations and Indian Americans in Joe Biden Administration’.

“We have to sort of take a step back and start by putting ourselves in a position of strength from which to engage China so that the relationship moves forward more on our terms, not theirs,” Blinken said. “India has to be a key partner in that effort,” he added. “Unfortunately, right now by virtually every key metric. China’s strategic position is stronger and ours is weaker as a result of President Trump’s failed leadership,” he stated. “Put another way, this is really about us in the first instance, the competitiveness of our own economy and workers. The strength of our own democracy and political system, the vibrancy of our own alliances and partnerships. And of course, the assertion of our own values, all of which President Trump has done so much to undermine,” Blinken complained. He elaborated further, saying “During the Obama-Biden administration, we worked very hard to establish India as a key contributing member of the Indo-Pacific strategy. And that includes India’s role in working with like minded partners to strengthen and uphold a rules-based order in the Indo Pacific, in which no country, including China can threaten its neighbours with impunity.” “[India’s] role”, he averred, “needs to extend even beyond the region as vast as it is to the world at large…We would work together to strengthen India’s defence, and also add to its capabilities as a counterterrorism partner.”

In other words, Biden’s Washington will want India to be a frontline state in US’ great power confrontation with China and, military-wise, to contribute substantively. Blinken held out the usual inducements. Aware of how much Indian leadership hankers for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Blinken played up to Delhi’s craving. “In a Biden administration”, he asserted, “we would be an advocate for India to play a leading role in international institutions and that includes helping India get a seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council.” And knowing as well that Washington can get Delhi to eat out of its hands by merely making noises associating Pakistan to terrorism, he stated that “On the question of terrorism, specifically”, the incoming administration will “have no tolerance for terrorism, in South Asia or anywhere else: cross border or otherwise.” ( )

In tune with such Biden-Blinken views, the US Secretary of Defence-designate a retired Vice Chief of the Army Staff (2013-2016) General Lloyd Austin, responded by saying the right things. Austin suggested, for instance, that where China is concerned, the US should show “strategic patience”. Considered an officer with a fairly nondescript career record and an intellectual lightweight by those who are professionally familiar with him, he is unlikely to be disruptive and hence is considered a safe choice by Biden. Austin’s nomination relieves the pressure on Biden from his core constituency to appoint the first black man as boss of the Pentagon to reflect the fact that minorities constitute some 40% of the US armed forces. Given that most US Defence Secretaries in the past have been persons of renown, the nomination of a not particularly distinguished Austin was bound to be controversial. Biden has tried to nip the criticism of Austin’s selection in the bud by unprecedentedly taking to the pages of the Atlantic magazine to explain and justify his selection.

Recalling the General’s career, especially commanding a Division in Iraq where he exhibited a great deal of tact when dealing with leaders of various Iraqi factions, Biden writes about Austin serving as a “statesman”, about how he “oversaw the largest logistical operation undertaken by the Army in six decades — the Iraq drawdown” and, how as head of Central Command, he “executed the campaign that ultimately beat back ISIS” by “helping to build a coalition of 70 countries [working] together to overcome a common enemy.” Whatever Austin’s virtues, it will not help India any.

The problems that India will soon face — and the Modi government better be prepared for a much changed policy milieu in Washington — are two-fold. One, it will not take much for US’ “strategic patience” that Austin advises to convert to strategic reticence in militarily tangling with China. Just the first small crisis — such as as a FONOP (freedom of navigation patrol) by US warships challenged by the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea, or by an American carrier task group running into a Chinese naval flotilla in the Taiwan Straits, should do. Secondly, before his appointment as Vice Chief, Austin was Commander-in-Chief, US Central Command that includes Pakistan and Afghanistan in its operational ambit, but not India, which finds itself in an area that the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific (previously Pacific) Command is responsible for. Austin is hence a known commodity to GHQ, Rawalpindi, but a stranger to Delhi. This could mean that the Indian government will be at a decided disadvantage in personally dealing with the new American Defence Secretary, even as Islamabad finds it easy to get its message across to Austin.

India may find a more sympathetic State Department but a less welcoming Pentagon, even as the reverse could be true for Pakistan.

In any case, the basic security situation India faces will remain unchanged from the last four years of Donald Trump’s presidency. India will have to fight China mostly on its own — in line with the Biden-Blinken policy of urging US’ Asian strategic partners to fight their own wars, singly or collectively, the best they can against an ambitious Chinese military itching for a fight. In the coming hostilities in eastern Ladakh and/or elsewhere along the Line of Actual Control it will, in the event, be foolish for the Indian government and armed forces to expect the US military to wade into hostilities alongside Indian troops against Chinese forces, or for the American ‘First Fleet’ — that is soon to come into being — to be in lockstep with the Indian Navy in a China-sourced contingency west of the Malacca Strait.

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.
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22 Responses to Panda-panderers at State and Pentagon

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Greetings Mr. Karnad & fellow readers,

    Please refer to the following;

    China acted and India is just talking. Daily blah blah by BJP cowards. Go attack & take back the Indian land occupied by China. Indian Goose has been cooked and transformed into a Beijing Duck.

    Jai Shankar sometimes back made a statement saying that Indo-China border talks cannot be made public. This itself shows how China has embarrassed the Indian establishment.

    India has always been a paper tiger. BJP has completed spoiled the Indian army by needlessly hyping them up so much and putting them on a high pedestal by coining terms like “Modiji kii Sena” As a result, the army is reluctant to fight any war.

    China lost more soldiers than India in the 15th June clash. The Chinese government didn’t release their casualty figures. I asked loads of Chinese their opinions about it since, I am settled in China. The overwhelming majority’s response was “Government will pay their families good monetary compensation, it’s not our task to comment on border issues”

    In military terms, success or failure of operations is considered by successful accomplishment of the strategical objectives not by counting the fallen soldiers.

    China has accomplished its target by gaining huge tracts of Indian land furthermore, the Chinese have bust the ballon of Modi’s so called strongman image.

  2. RK Narang says:

    Sir, Don’t you think that it is time for India to leverage US Indo Pacific plank to seek civil and military aerospace and defence technologies in R&D projects rather than acquiring equipment alone (Nothing wrong in trying whether the US gives it or not is s different matter) Time to identify which technologies do we want for long term capability warm regards.  R K Narang

  3. rknarang@ – We could have leveraged our potential buys to secure advanced mil tech for the last 50 years or more but never did so. What are the chances Delhi will wake up and do so now?

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      Why bother with technology, when there is so much of secret commission to be made in purchasing obsolete weapons from Russia and Western nations. This has been the philosophy of central government since the last century.

  4. Email by Joydeep Sircar,
    Sun, 13 Dec at 11:06 am

    Spot on. USA, blinkered, is already blinking (unintentional pun) and will never go eyeball to eyeball with China. The best lndia can do is to extract the best possible weaponry and intel from the cowering Americans. Poor (literally) Russia will stand on the sidelines and wring its hands but will not dare to cross it’s principal financial backer China in an lndia-China confrontation. So lndia is on its own.

  5. Kunal Singh says:

    Sir ,do we really have KALI weapon or it’s just a boast.

  6. andy says:

    India will surely have to fight the Chinese on its own, but can it? Over 70% of the Indian militaries arms are Russian. Sergei lavrov recently criticised the Indo Pacific concept as the wests effort to cause mischief between India and China. This theme occurs at regular intervals from top Russian diplomats,making it clear that they are cozying up with the Chinese line of thought or at least bending to Chinese wishes.

    The American sanctions have hollowed out their economy making them more dependant on the Chinese for financial succour . Plus the Russians are simply not the power they used to be,the recent flare up in Nagorno karabakh is a case in point. A turkish trained and equipped Azerbaijani army defeated a Russian trained and equipped Armenian army ,and all Russia did was wring its hands in impotent rage.

    So what happens if things heat up on the Indo Tibet border and a hot war starts? Will the Russians keep the tap open on spares and ammo,which are suffering from unreliable supplies in the best of times? Or will they simply stop supplies in deference to Chinese pressure?

    Biden was the person who guided pro Chinese measures in the US senate. In the critical fight over whether to grant most-favored-nation trade status and World Trade Organization membership to China in the 1990s,to which many Democrats were opposed,Biden carefully shepherded China through the process from his powerful status as the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that turbocharged the chinese economy and made it reach where it is today. Biden represents generations of U.S. policymakers who believed in the China engagement policy. In the Obama administration he had a big part to play in the US looking the other way,even as China was militarising the South China Sea. So dont expect any hardlines from his administration against the chinks thats for sure. And where does that leave the Indian militaries campaign on the border?

    There seem to be no easy answers to these questions,the only way out is to make indegenous arms,but that’s a long time away in the future. In the meantime its between a rock and a hard place for India.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Andy, excellent analysis. India will never develop the expertise in indigenous weapons. Largely because it will hinder the smooth flow of secret commissions involved in every weapons deal with Russia as well as other Western nations.

      Citing ‘National Security’ no RTI can reveal any details of aforesaid transactions. Every government at the centre has been, is and will keep indulging in this money making venture.

  7. Amit says:

    I guess India will be on its own either as a lackey thrown around like a football or grow economically strong where it controls the ball. If it’s economy grows into something like $10T then perhaps it can set it’s own collaborative agenda with the US in the Indo-Pacific and counter US agenda in Central Asia (read Iran, Afghanistan, other stans, etc). If this happens, Russia would have a reason to cooperate more with India than China and Indian foreign policy could be truly independent. But the way things are with the Indian economy, India will be played like a football between the US, China and Russia (maybe there are two footballs, India and Russia).

  8. Tony says:

    I do not understand why yankee the most selfish and brutal take no prisoners homo sapien to walk on planet earth (ask cherokees) should even be relied on in any way , we should have cordial and good relations no doubt with him but we need a master grand plan to tackle china and its H pakistan head on with all the will power we can muster . Weapons and resources will never be enough if thats the excuse to cover lack of will , we are nuclear weapon state and we should act like one but its too much to expect from current lot who have neither the steel nor intellectual depth of great leaders aka stalin , mao , charles de Gaulle and many others . Sensex is up sab changa hai.

  9. Arihan Krishna says:

    Mr Karnad, apologies for asking this question on a mostly unrelated post, but what do you make of the stories circulating about Chinese use of microwave guns on Indian soldiers in Ladakh? Evidently the technology exists, having allegedly been used on American diplomats by Russians and Cubans according to one article I read, but has never been deployed in an active combat zone. Is it so much hot air or might it have happened? Our army rubbished the claim, but I can’t see it doing otherwise no matter the truth of the situation.

    • Cannot discount Chinese microwave weapons. Because China has proven it doesn’t take long for it to get up to speed in any advanced miltech field. Prototype microwave weapons were first tested 20-25 years ago by the US and Russia.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Krishna- A very good question and an equally good answer by Mr. Karnad.

      I keep telling everyone in my friends, contacts and acquaintances circle in India as well as abroad that if anyone wishes to know the real picture about the Indian International Strategic affairs then please regularly read this blog by Respected Mr. Karnad.

      Coming back to how badly Modi has mishandled the China issue. The Chickens have finally come home to roost;

      Modi cannot afford to take tough action on protesting Punjabi Sikh Farmers/Traders because provincial elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry are due in March-April 2021.

      The protestors from Punjab are being funded by Congress, Akali Dal, Communists, AAP, Gurudwara Management Committees, Arhatiya traders from Punjab Mandis (wholesale markets) as well as Punjab NRI’s and Pro-Khalistan elements therefore, they won’t stop their protests.

      The agitators have all the time in the world.

      Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India has estimated daily losses of 3000-3500 Crore Rupees due to these Farmer protests.

      If Modi takes back the agricultural bill then it would be a personal insult for him. A narcissist like him will never do it.

      Modi managed to hide the Chinese annexation of Indian land from the Indian public by using Godi media.

      Now, the only option left for him is to order the Indian army to confront the Chinese in order to divert the attention of Indian masses and stop the aforesaid protests by declaring an emergency in the country.

      Going by the famous phrase of one of ‘Godi Media’ favorite,

      “The nation wants to know” no, now the whole world wants to know, if this oft repeated 56 inch chest is for real or is it 56 inch rear.

      • Amit says:

        It is convenient to blame one man for all of India’s ills, but the fact is India is not easy to govern and it is difficult to get things done in India. This is more because of how Indians are and not Modi. Modi may have made some economic blunders, but he is also ushering in reforms that are in the right direction. The farm laws are good reforms, but the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have vested interests and are protesting. To criticize Modi for a 56 inch test would be being too simplistic IMHO.

        On the security front, the land lost to patrolling was intruded in and before 2010 and not 2020 (at least that’s what I gather from reading and watching various reports). While there maybe loss of territory, it’s not clear when it was lost. And the way democracies function, losses by one government are fodder for criticism by another, not a loss that needs to be reversed (sad but mostly true).

        Frankly to meet India’s aspirations we need to be a bigger and stronger economy. The pressure from China is actually a good thing as many defence related reforms are moving faster and in the right direction. But let’s not kid ourselves about being too aggressive with China until we have more real capabilities. On this front Modi is moving in the right direction. But execution is an Indian problem, not a Modi problem.

      • MrMister says:

        Mr. Pretzel, meet Mr. Amit.

  10. Kunal Singh says:

    Justin Trudeau allowing PLA to train in winter warfare (obviously against India) in Canadian training facilities,Sikhs for Justice” (SFJ) a US-based anti-India Khalistani group with a large following in Canada, has appealed to China for assistance in its secessionist agenda against India &Trudeau’s hostility towards India and the Khalistani Sikh vote bank must be taken into account. Do u think Canada’s gonna be a trouble for India

  11. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Amit: There is a saying that if one cannot face the heat then he/she should get out of the kitchen.

    Modi is the one, who is constantly doing blah blah regarding his self proclaimed 56 inch chest. So, he needs to prove how real it is.

    On this website, there was an article on 15th November by Respected Mr. Karnad titled; “Modi seems likely to give ground in Ladakh”. Following is an extract from the aforesaid write-up;

    “See what the PLA has done vis a vis the Y-junction on the Depsang Plains — they have blocked Indian patrolling units from reaching Indian areas northwestwards to the Karakorum Pass — the most strategic subregion — the so-called “sub-sector North” in army parlance. And because the Indian army has not forced the issue by forcibly removing the blocking PLA units, that entire area amounting to some 900+ sq kms has, in effect, been lost. So, while in theory Modi and MEA may, with a straight face, aver China has captured no Indian territory and that the LAC remains undisturbed, in reality PLA extensively holds Indian ground and LAC has been grossly violated.

    It appears Modi is in no mood to ruffle Xi’s feathers and order offensive operations to push the PLA out of Y -Junction and to recover lost Indian territory. The GOC XIV Corps Harinder Singh was at fault when, instead of ordering instantaneous action to bulldoze through the PLA block when army patrols first encountered it, he waited for higher authorities to green signal some counter-move, which he should have known would never come, leave alone in time for him to do something decisive. This was a tactical decision that was unnecessarily elevated by the Leh Corps HQ to strategic, even political, decision-making level, which was not warranted”.

    Modi has been lying to the nation regarding the situation with the Chinese at the border. He is busy collecting funds from every possible source including forcing the government departments, (Army, Navy and Air Force as well) to contribute one day’s salary of all employees to his opaque “PM care Fund”

    This fund is not open to any RTI/Audit. Chances are very high that money from this fund is being used in buying the politicians from other parties.

    No political party or politician in India is concerned about national interest. India doesn’t have the concept of constructive opposition.

    I wrote the following article in 2017, which was published by a Chinese newspaper, ‘People’s Daily’.

    The article raised a lot of heat in India unfortunately, there hasn’t been any improvement in the affairs of the country;

    Forget confrontation with China, the sad reality is that India cannot face upto anyone.

    I remember in the year 2001, Bangladesh border forces killed, practically tortured to death 16 personnel of Indian BSF.

    Vajpayee was the Prime Minister at that time and couldn’t gather the courage to do anything against Bangladesh.

    • Amit says:

      You may be right about our loss of territory. All I’m saying is that it may have happened before Modi (at least based on what I’ve read and watched). The GOC-in-C reacted slowly, no arguments, but do we risk a war in the midst of a pandemic after China has established positions? Mistakes were made at the initial stages. Is that a Modi problem? The Farm laws you cite as a problem, are a step in the right direction. The protests we have, that’s a vested interests problem. I would argue that it’s a good step by Modi. The game is yet to play out.

      I agree with you about how India cannot face up to anyone. I’m saying that’s more a problem of how Indians are rather than a Modi problem. Lt. Gen. Panag recently wrote an article about how the Indian army focuses on tactics rather than operational strategy or grand strategy. Is that a Modi problem? We don’t have a credible opposition. What does that mean? We have not elevated leaders who can challenge Modi. Infact most Indians display complete apathy towards solving major problems (I have my hypotheses on why this is so, but that’s for another time). So no one rises to solve problems. It’s easy to blame one person at the top for all ills. Actually we now have a leader who is trying to solve problems (my beef with him is on the economic front where he has blundered).

      All I’m saying is look closely at the issues and understand that for many of these issues it’s not the top leadership that is responsible. Indian work ethic and lack of engagement is a major part of it.

  12. Amit says:

    @MrMister, welcome to the Pretzel that is India!

  13. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Amit- Modi likes to take personal credit for everything. Toilets, bank accounts, gas connections etc.

    Toilets exists only on paper and are largely without water;

    What’s the point of a person having a bank account when he/she doesn’t have a regular income? Modi also hypes up giving free gas to the poor whereas, only the initial gas connection is free not the cylinder.

    Being a narcissist he likes to take credit for everything that’s why he deserves personal blame for the mess as well.

    India doesn’t have a Presidential system. People vote for their M.P’s. The party with the maximum number of M.P’s select it’s leader to be the Prime Minister of the nation.

    Here in Modi, we have someone who doesn’t have any credibility. He has lied about his educational qualifications. “Masters in Entire Political Science”.

    The one and only kind of it’s course in this world with only Modi having Masters degree in it. In reality, he is a Primary school dropout.

    He ran away from his home after marriage leaving his wife high and dry. Why did he get married, then? Why didn’t he divorce Jasodaben?

    What stops him from asking his wife to move in with him now that he has such a palatial house as the PM of India.

    The man is a total disgrace and is a serial liar. He is just a marketing agent for Adani and Ambani;,10671

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