The future of non-Sinic Asia has reached a true inflection point. The new military alliance of the US, UK and Australia (AUKUS), superseding ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US), is set up to exclusively protect Western interests against a recklessly ambitious China in what is now called the Indo-Pacific. There is no other way to put it, but this is the old white Anglosaxon order (that excludes Gallic France, the new/Slavic European members of NATO, and even Japan, accorded, if anybody cares to recall, “honorary White”status by the apartheid regime in white-ruled South Africa, which suited the US and Western Europe fine) trying to maintain its hold in a much-changed Asia.
Having once again been militarily beaten by a wilful Asian people and forcibly ousted from Afghanistan in a 20-year war whose cost is estimated to be as high as USD 14 Trillion, AUKUS is a natural reaction of the US and its hangers-on to retain their relevance in a continent the Anglosaxon powers have long dominated, and post-1945, tried to dominate.
An impasse in the Korean war in the Fifties followed by a humiliating defeat in Vietnam after a nearly 15-year wasted military effort should have forewarned Washington about what to expect when taking on a highly motivated indigenous foe disinclined to tolerate foreign invaders. This is where great power hubris once again kicked in only for the US forces to discover that remote warfighting by drones piloted from Nellis air force base in Nevada is ultimately no match for AK47-armed groups primed for a religious war— a jihad, ready to suffer any privation and absorb unimaginable human losses. It is an end-state the US government should have expected considering it had uncorked the Extremist Islamic djinn in Afghanistan just to get even with the Soviet Union in the Cold War that had seen Soviet material help to North Vietnam result in the military humbling of the US in 1972. It is the very same CIA-funded and mobilized mujahideen who had run the Soviet occupation troops out of Afghanistan who form the core of the Afghan Taliban that victoriously took Kabul August 15.
The Afghan fiasco crystallized AUKUS as much in response to the fear of Afghanistan emerging as a potential jumping-off point for China to acquire unhindered access to the warm water ports on the Arabian Sea and, more importantly, to the ”Wells of Power” in the Gulf and the greater Middle East of Olaf Caroe’s conception. Caroe, British India’s Foreign Secretary in the 1930s who last served as Lt. Governor of the North West Frontier Province during Partition, was referring to the oil resources of Iran and Arab West Asia. It is the source of energy still for much of the world and especially China, which depends on this oil to fuel its rise as the Numero Uno economic and military power in the 21st Century. China is taking the place of Imperial Russia in the old Great Game of the colonial era, and of Soviet Russia of the 1980s, when the West apprehended it reaching for the Indian Ocean. Its rise is what the AUKUS alliance is gearing up to thwart by preventing Beijing’s access to Pakistan’s Gwadar and Iran’s Chahbahar, and to the region’s oil wealth via numerous connectivity projects under its Belt & Road initiative (BRI), including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
With AUKUS on the scene, the Quadrilateral (Quad) of India, Japan, Australia and the US, has obviously been pushed strategically to the sidelines, and is important only as a pseudo supportive military mechanism. Indeed, the primacy of AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific has been emphasized by Washington promising Australia transfer of technology and wherewithal to manufacture eight nuclear-powered, possibly the Los Angeles-class, attack submarines — the crown jewels of America’s military hightech — the sort of technology India does not remotely have a chance of getting. It will immeasurably enhance the Australian Navy’s sea denial capability against anything the PLA Navy (PLAN) will qualitatively be able to field in the foreseeable future. Canberra, courtesy AUKUS, will also be able to incorporate into its military forces the cutting edge US Artificial Intelligence and cyber warfare hardware and algorithms New Delhi can only dream about, however frightful and threatening China becomes in these realms in the future to India.
This takes care of American interests without in the least addressing India’s landward or maritime concerns about PLAN’s capacity to egress in mass west of the Malacca Strait. Because the one thing Washington will demand in return is that the Australian N-sub fleet be deployed to mesh with the US Naval presence essentially to block PLAN activity as envisaged by Beijing in the ”first island chain” and beyond.
This larger American game plan was signalled by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reportedly asking foreign minister S Jaishankar, in their meeting, for the Modi government’s permission to stage drone strikes on targets in Afghanistan — whatever these might be, from north Indian bases and, worse, to have India train Da’esh (Islamic State) irregulars in Rajasthan — as reported by ANI, for use by the CIA. That India appears committed to launching drone attacks and to train IS militants suggests Blinken proposed these actions as basically anti-China — the likely targets being CPEC and PLA units in Baltistan, and the IS to infiltrate the Uyghur society and radicalize Xinjiang, to render the Chinese management of its western province difficult.
Never mind that the IS-angle backs what has long been suspected about Da’esh’s antecedents as a CIA invention that for a time went rogue under al-Baghdadi — meaning it turned against US interests in Iraq and Syria, before recently recovering its US patronage. Assuming the newly formed Taliban emirate has approved of these anti-China moves on plausible deniability-basis because it hopes to milk China for monies and such BRI benefits as it can, these measures cohere with India’s strategic interests of undermining China every which way.
There may also be a view in some quarters that just as certain sections of the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are amenable to creating trouble for the Pakistan army and state, the IS too could be marshalled for similar purpose. But then as Krishna Menon once reminded the Eisenhower Administration which justified US arms aid to Pakistan by saying it was defensive weaponry meant for use only against the USSR, that there’s no gun that fires in only one direction, what is the guarantee the IS, finding Chinese Xinjiang a hard nut to crack, won’t turn on India and, being Islamic fundamentalists, get on the Ghazwaa-e-Hind track instead to violently Islamise India? Further, training IS flies in the face of our own experience with preparing the LTTE to battle Colombo. We know how that turned out, don’t we?
Such are the dubious assurances Prime Minister Modi will be seeking when he meets President Biden in Washington in person on September 24 — knowing fully well they will count for nothing because Washington, in any case, always acts on its interests of the moment, and because its metasrategic interests — G-2, the condominium of the US and China proposed by President Barrack Obama to rule the world, converge actually with those of Xi Jinping’s Beijing. And Biden, mind you, was Obama’s Vice President through two terms.
Moreover, Biden is no Donald Trump, and looks askance at the deteriorating human rights and religious freedom situation in Modi’s India. Blinken has publicly upbraided the Indian government on these counts. And, no, Modi’s attempts to get around this inconvenient reality by getting Biden into embraces and bear hugs, will not help.
Perhaps, the PM can use his time with Biden usefully by doing and saying nothing of any consequence. But utilize the sidelines of the Quad summit to have a private talk with the Japanese prime minister to see if India and Japan can further the cause of collective security against China by fostering a modified Quad of India, Japan, a group of Southeast Asian nations and, formally, Taiwan (to replace Australia).
Asian states immediately bordering China on land and sea actively partnering against China is the model of a security architecture organic to Asia, of security by and for Asian states. It can be of enduring strategic value, if only some government in Delhi will wrap its mind around this idea. It is something I have been advocating for over 20 years now. Because there is no other credible alternative for India and other littoral and offshore Asian states.
What the Modi government will actually do in the difficult circumstances it finds itself in is predictable. It will join up with the other outlier, France. Upset because Australia is about to cancel the USD 65 Billion deal with Australia for the Barracuda diesel submarine, which cannot compete with the American offer of nuclear-powered subs, Paris will be only too happy if India adopts this sub for its Project 75i, and will massage Modi’s ego no end to achieve it. Macron will happily match Modi’s every embrace with a hug of his own. After all, it worked for President Francois Hollande vis a vis the Rafale fighter plane!