Note to readers: One of the many challenges we face in our efforts to reduce nuclear dangers is how to engage China, India and Pakistan in a diplomatic, multilateral and bilateral process, which strengthens and lengthens two standards we live by: no use on the battlefield and no testing of nuclear weapons. For more information, see Winning and losing nuclear peace: the rise, disappearance and renewal of arms control, available here and here.
Quotes of the week:
“Free India has its own geopolitical dilemma. – Shivchankar Menon
“The Indian method, especially now, would be more of a shaper or a decision maker rather than a simple abstention. “- S. Jaishankar
India is caught in the middle when it comes to its national security strategy vis-à-vis China. New Delhi doesn’t want to offend but is forced to defend itself against Beijing’s muscle flexion. India will always place great importance on its strategic autonomy, but needs company to deal with China’s increasingly assertive investigations along its disputed border. Slicing of salami occurs with intermittent periods of retention. As the power differential increases in favor of China, India faces a difficult balancing act.
In The Indian Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar offers a sure case that his government can choose its path to national security, as if ordering from a Chinese menu.
Menu items include “Engage America, Manage China, Cultivate Europe, Reassure Russia, Engage Japan, [and] attract neighbors. He sketches a “neighborhood first” approach, but not with Pakistan, and perhaps not with China either, if Beijing refuses to be managed successfully.
From Jaishankar’s perspective, New Delhi’s foreign and national security policies can be successful by leveraging “competition to gain as much from as many ties as possible.” To be successful, one must “advance national interests by identifying and exploiting the opportunities created by global contradictions”. Help can come from Washington and from states wishing to sell military equipment and gain access to the Indian market. India is empowered by its many suitors.
Jaishankar argues that India must show global relevance to gain respect, which means a greater willingness to make waves. But not too many waves, because the Chinese dragon should not be stung with sharp objects. New Delhi, unlike Canberra, has not announced a deal to buy nuclear-powered attack submarines from the United States and Britain.
Not everyone shares Jaishankar’s overwhelming confidence in the Indian government’s ability to manage a rising China. Shivshankar Menon offers a more cautious approach, given the uncertainties raised by Xi Jinping’s leadership. This former national security adviser and ambassador to China wrote a tour de force, India and Asian geopolitics. Menon knows what he’s talking about, and he speaks Mandarin.
There is a great deal of overlap in Menon and Jaishankar’s prescriptions on how best New Delhi can deal with China – “India’s greatest strategic challenge”, in Menon’s indisputable characterization. Here are some excerpts from his book:
VSHina is unlikely to be a net provider of security in Asia like the United States has been, or to set standards, or to open up its own markets and company to the outside world. Instead, he will seek to build a China-centric, self-modeled pecking order wherever possible and as far as his power goes.
The question today is to what extent Chinese strategic thought and culture has been westernized. If it draws on the Western tradition of exclusive nationalism…, China is likely to behave just as badly, probably with the same disastrous results. If, on the contrary, the change and adaptation of Chinese thought corresponds to the circumstances of the region and the world, there is hope. The debate is still open in China, inside and outside the government. The jury is still out.
The Chinese are realists; they expect others to respect their power, as they have respected American rule for more than three decades. But realists are often disappointed, which is why so many of them become pessimists.
The key to India’s “Chinese problem” is that China’s periphery is also India’s. This is where China seeks primacy and projects power. This same periphery is essential to India’s security and, potentially, to our prosperity.
India’s goal in the India-US-China triangle should be to be closer to both China and the US than they are to each other.
If China chooses to work for an open, inclusive and multipolar concert or architecture in Asia, it will have to work with partners. So far, this has not been China’s choice. Given its history, experience and recent behavior, this also seems unlikely… China has instead chosen to build a China-centered pecking order in Asia-Pacific.
If China considers that the window of opportunity for its rise to primacy is limited … we can expect a continuation or even a doubling of China’s affirmative policies. In the short to medium term of about five years, we will see a China in a hurry, change the facts on the ground in its favor and seek friendly or flexible regimes in its periphery… The current prospect is for a more tense and more accusatory India. relations with China.
I think Menon’s assessment is fair. He concludes that “the most important thing, for me, is the need for India to quickly accumulate usable and efficient power”. This is where the catch lies. India’s “soft power” has been greatly diminished by the authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has weakened India from within. India’s hard power is hampered by systemic constraints in resource allocation and defense procurement. India’s Chinese menu approach has led to sourcing patterns that are less than the sum of the coins accumulated.
Jaishankar’s book is expected to lower expectations in Washington about New Delhi’s expected contribution to strategic plans to offset China. The great strategists of the George W. Bush administration made this mistake by proposing a nuclear deal with India, believing that the key to rally New Delhi was to offer the sale of nuclear power plants. These plans, and all the well-paying jobs that were supposed to go with them, collapsed because of India’s liability laws. Russia eventually made those sales, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Suppliers Group suffered unnecessary damage, and Pakistan built three additional plutonium production reactors.
The most direct and truest path to greater US-Indian strategic cooperation has always been in the defense sector. The stimulus for bilateral defense cooperation has always been New Delhi’s sense of the Chinese threat. Washington cannot conceive of this slope due to the complicated balance of New Delhi.
Due to the uncertainty regarding Xi’s ambitions and timelines, there will be growth in US-India defense cooperation. If Beijing plays its cards wrong, we might even wake up a distant day to learn that India, like Australia, has embarked on a program to acquire modern nuclear-powered attack submarines.