“The World is Not Peaceful”

By

Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Addressing senior Communist Party and government officials in Beijing, at an event to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Premier Xi Jinping declared “We do not allow any individual, any organisation, any political party, at any time or by any means, to split any single piece of the Chinese territory. No one could expect us to swallow consequences that damage our sovereignty, security and developmental interests”. During the speech, Xi repeatedly emphasised that the “world was not peaceful and the military must forever stay unswervingly loyal to the Communist Party of China, as its absolute leadership over the armed forces is the PLA’s “unalterable soul and indispensable lifeline”. These comments came just two days after he addressed the PLA ground forces directly at Zhurihe in Inner Mongolia (was there symbolism attached since the geographic location was where Genghis Khan set off on his conquest of Eurasia in the year 1206 AD that cleaved political cohesion to the silk route). Here Xi announced “China must defeat all enemies that dare to offend”.

If now we were to establish who China’s enemies were, it would become amply clear who the target or targets are. No easy task this, as China has long been embroiled in a contest with Japan over the East China Sea island of Senkaku; with South Korea on rights over the submerged Socotra Rock; with Philippines on sovereignty over Spratly Island and Scarborough Shoal; Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei over the Spratly Islands; and Indonesia over control of Natuna Island. Beijing also threatens to use force to conquer Taiwan if peaceful enticements prove insufficient. And more importantly it has flouted the UNCLOS and conventions regarding establishing a new ADIZ in the East China Sea. China also demands title over nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. Its claim of possession over the waters within the so-called 9-Dash line (it was11-dash when relations with Vietnam were different) has brought it on a collision course with the USA and all the maritime stake holders of the region as the claim overlaps with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan. And not forgetting, China was engaged in a two month-long border standoff with Indian forces over the latter’s security relations with Bhutan and its commitment to blocking a road being constructed across the Doklam Plateau (claimed by Bhutan) which could potentially act as a spring board to sever the strategically critical ‘Chicken’s Neck’ (the Siliguri corridor); it’s elites cogitated, that it would be a ‘Just-War’ to expel India. However, on 28 August 2017, the two governments announced that the crisis had been defused and troops were disengaging.

From the Indian stand point, solidarity of the Indo-Bhutanese security pact had weathered the crunch while China’s deployment of man and material for construction of the road was balked (it can hardly be a coincidence that China is to host the BRICS summit on 03 September, a dissolution of the conclave would have meant loss of face to Xi). While Indeed, China’s nuclear and strategic promotion of North Korea provides the context for alarming tensions in the entire region, the recent US and Japan imposed sanctions on a dozen Chinese companies and individuals accused of helping North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme; is perhaps, the first aggregation of a mounting series of strictures. So in near ‘epic’ terms, the question remains, who “dare offend Xi?”

Scholars in their wisdom have found three reasons for India earning the wrath of Xi. The first is India’s strategic snub to fall in line with Xi’s grandiose One Belt One Road (OBOR) scheme (never mind that it passes through disputed territory of Northern Kashmir). Secondly, the impending 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China provides a critical context for Xi to stamp his authority by “constituting his strategic policies”, in the mould of Mao when in 1964 he thrust his ‘Red Book’ and later used it during the Cultural Revolution to ram home ideological uniformity and to weed out adversaries; to have nations insouciant to Xi’s grand designs would tantamount to abasement at the highest political level. Thirdly, since sovereignty whips up the maximum nationalist emotions, it may provide some understanding to both the recent Doklam confrontation and the situation in the South China Sea. The three put together, may seem to an absolutist, such as Xi; ablation of the indices of his power.

An important symbol of political standing, clout and legacy of leadership since 1949; from Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, is to have their political theories written into the party constitution as guiding dogmas. Mao had his ‘Red Book’, Deng his ‘24 characters’, Jiang his ‘developmental dictatorship’ and even the bland Hu emblematized ‘pursuit of economic growth at the cost of legal and political reforms.’ But will Xi achieve the distinction – putting him in the same league as Mao – if his thoughts (conceivably titled, “Security, Development and Territorial Sovereignty on China’s terms) are accepted as the supervisory ideology while still in power? This, at the 19th Congress would give him the legitimacy and mandate, in a presumptive way, of the people to the exclusion of the politburo.

“The world is not peaceful” says Xi. Somehow, Chinese actions, Janus faced policies, coercive manoeuvres and rhetoric of recent times have only served to confound the script.

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A Pug, a Terrier, & the Doklam Stand Off

By Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

This article was first published on the Peace and Conflict Studies website.

Doklam

Doklam Sector source intoday.com  Scale:0 ——– ——-50km

William Moorcroft, a British veterinary surgeon of the East India Company, set off in 1816 on an expedition to the Kailas region of Tibet to search for that breed of Central Asian horses that would revitalise the blood stock of the Company’s cavalry. His quest took him to a Tibetan official, where to his astonishment he was greeted not by his fabled strain of mounts but by two familiar breed of dogs. One a Pug and the other a Terrier, both alien to the land. So where had they come from? The answer, took a while to sink in: Tsar Alexander’s army had got here before the British.

A shadowy war was underway for control of the strategic passes, plateaus and wastelands of Tibet and Central Asia that led to India. However, Russian intent on conquest then, seemed inconceivable to the Raj. It was not till the middle of the 19th Century when the Khanates along the route fell that the curtains lifted on the ‘Great Game’. As the frontiers of the two empires loomed, it exposed the ill surveyed and poorly guarded borders of Northern India. It took the British Empire four decades after Moorcroft’s ‘close encounter’ to fully appreciate the significance of the Pug and the Terrier.

The Great Game ended after two revolutions and another half century. Yet its legacy of where the Northern frontiers of India lay remained confused, as the British used little else than artful cartography and more of imperial disdain to redraw empire. The modern Indian state has yet to reconcile this dangerous historical equivocation. Early political leadership in India had a cavalier and sometimes Arcadian perspective of history. The absence of unprejudiced attempts at defining geography has left indistinct borderlands to this day that suppurate with disturbing regularity. The region of the Doklam plateau in the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan is one such region.

Doklam is situated roughly 15 kilometres east of the Nathu La pass that separates India and China. On the western edge of the Doklam plateau is Doka La, which connects Sikkim with either Tibet (Chinese Government Claim) or links Sikkim to western Bhutan. In June 2017, China attempted to extend a road southward across Yadong county, the wedge at the mouth of the Chumbi valley, leading to the thin edge. So, on 18 June, Indian troops crossed into the territory to prevent construction of the road. China has criticised India for entering its “territory.” With Bhutan the dispute involves, a matter of 764 sq. km of territory on the Doklam Plateau. The ‘Wedge’ has enormous strategic significance for China, Bhutan as well as India. Recall in 1962, the real anxiety was that the thrust of China’s Army of Tibet would develop on a North-South axis from the Chumbi Valley to cut off the strategically vital Siliguri corridor (Chicken’s Neck). In 1965, again, China in support of Pakistan, threatened to open this front. If China were to ever get hold of this territory, the Northeast would remain in a state of unremitting peril.

The India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007, successor to the 1949 Treaty of ‘Perpetual Peace and Friendship’, pledges close “cooperation on issues relating to national interests and security.” It mirrors Bhutanese trepidation of a Tibet encore.  Central to the current stand-off is the building of logistical infrastructure across the disputed plateau that would provide a spring board to drive across the Chicken’s neck. India along with Bhutan has stepped into the disputed area to block advancement of the road. So what has urged Beijing to incite this incident? There are three impulsions which have a bearing on the impasse: Firstly, India’s maritime manoeuvres (‘Malabar’) in the Northern Indian Ocean with the US and Japan underscores resolve to achieve cooperative security and control against an aggressive and revisionist China; India’s strategic disinclination to come on board on the OBOR for reasons of it being “long on politics and spare on economics” has not gone down well with China. Besides the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is offensive as it passes through the disputed POK; and lastly, the Indo-Bhutan security Compact is abhorrent to China and needed to be put to test.

And what of an improbable escalation to a hot conflict? Clearly the Indian military is prepared. It is also clear that conflict will be waged on terms advantageous to India. In addition to operational manoeuvres undertaken to check China’s land forces; the superior deployable Indian Air force will endeavour to assure a favourable situation in the skies to progress operations on the ground while the Indian Navy will strive to deny the northern Indian Ocean to PLAN exertions as it exercises control over shipping in the busiest lanes of the world located in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal; targeting hulls bound for China. Obviously these missions are neither small in scope nor will they come without losses; an eventuality that both nations must be sensitive to will be to the detriment of their larger development goals.

And all this ado for the indifference to misplaced Pugs and Terriers.

 

 

 

Nuclear Crises in the Time of Orwellian Wars

This article was first published in my column on the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies http://www.ipcs.org/article/south-asia/nuclear-crises-in-the-time-of-orwellian-wars-5314.html. A longer version of the article can be found here.

[…] The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.               

 – George Orwell, 1984                           

 The Stalin-Churchill Exchange

In 1946, a fustian exchange of rhetoric between Stalin and Churchill was to set the stage for incessant crises in international relations since. It would take countries to the brink and often over it. In assessing the state of the world and character of relations between nations, Stalin, on 9th February, declared to a Moscow audience, “[…] development of world capitalism does not proceed smoothly and evenly, but through crises and catastrophic wars.” His point was that inequities lead to instability; as perceptions of insecurities in access to raw materials and markets provoke the impulse to redistribute favourable “spheres of influence,” often by employing armed force. The awkward irony is that this state of affairs of an uncertain world fragmented into hostile economic and military camps on the brink in perpetuity is the reality, with the effects of climate change being the only sobering moderator. The inelegant skepticism of the US in the climate change context makes for a deranged future. While Churchill (the former Prime Minister), on 5th March 1946, responded by condemning Soviet policies in Europe and declared in a speech at Westminster University Missouri, “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

There was a self-fulfilling prophecy in these words as the world knuckled down to the ideological declaration of war by the two belligerent blocs. Stalin’s words were taken to mean the inevitability of conflict between the two; while Churchill’s speech is considered one of the opening volleys of the ‘Cold War.’ With each passing year, heightened tensions between states retreating into the idea of closed dominions, the rise of nations that promote revisionist ideologies, and to add to it all the disrupting role of non-state actors and nuclear proliferation thrust new elements into the cauldron, deepening and making more catastrophic the probability of a global crisis spinning out of control.

Nuclear Crisis Group

Recognising that peril lay in the inability of formal establishments to monitor potential situations of nuclear conflict and that contemporary nuclear security had introduced dynamics vastly dissimilar to the two-bloc confrontation, a crisis group was formed as a sub-sect of the Global Zero Commission. Its mission is to analyse these predicaments, develop proposals for de-escalation and consult with appropriate agencies to diminish the danger of a nuclear exchange. The Group, an international assemblage of experts from nuclear armed countries and supporters, met for the first time on 5th-6th May 2017 in Vienna. (Details of proceedings may be found here. https://globalzero.org/files/nuclear_crises_group_urgent_steps_june_2017.pdf)

Wink-and-Nod Perils: Proliferation, Non-State Actors and Orwellian Wars

Dangers of nuclear proliferation and the deranging role of non-state actors accessing nuclear technologies has been well acknowledged but more often acted upon with a “wink-a facetious rebuke-and-a nod.” This selective look-away has consequences. The imbroglio in US dealings with Pakistan in the Afghan war exemplifies the penalties. Pakistan, an acknowledged dishonest American partner was, the US establishment asserts, “living a lie.” Pakistan’s military played “both ends against the middle.” It provided logistic conduits for money, while giving financial, material, intelligence and weapons to the jihadists. Indeed, there have been tactical gains but these pale to insignificance faced by the most conspicuous strategic failure: Pakistan providing sanctuary and sustenance to jihadis.  Combat, over the last 16 years (or 38?) in the absence of genuine strategic impetus, has morphed to an “Orwellian” war. And as war rages, Pakistan remains a haven to the highest concentration of terrorist groups while its nuclear fervour advances undiminished.

China has been central to nuclear proliferation in the region and the Pakistan weapon program; from blueprint of a nuclear device, through testing, to the AQ Khan enterprise and now, to tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). The reasons for China’s profligate orientation may have originally reflected balance-of-power logic. However, the costs are perilous. Are we living another wink?

In strategic persuasion, Pakistan’s military is convinced that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will leave a devastated, warring Afghanistan and an enfeebled insurgency-wracked Pakistan. They envisage a lonely and losing confrontation against the growing economic and military influence of the avowed enemy, India. This had to be countered by persisting with jihadis as the sine qua non of military strategy. While some have suggested that terror organizations may not be under their control, this is denial of the internals of that state where the nexus between the Army, intelligence service and jihadists is as old as the state. Unmistakably, the Islamic State (IS) has been seduced into the sub-continent; can the world, China and indeed this Group now be blind to the looming jihadist access to a nuclear arsenal?

Technology Intrusions and the Cyber Dimension

Nuclear weapons have put us on a razor’s edge, in part because of our powerlessness to control how political events and technology are driving policy. While technology invites covertness; lethality, precision, stealth and time compression that accompanies it demands transparency. This is the dilemma faced by planners: to balance the impact of technology with the need for openness. In the cyber domain, transparency will reduce hazards of unintended actions as nations prepare to use this arena to manipulate command networks.

The Road to Abolishment

The only way to eliminate the risk of nuclear weapons is through abolition. If this is the leitmotif, NFU posture is its first handmaiden backed by reduced reliance on nuclear weapons and the removal of battlefield and tactical nuclear weapons. This proposition, in toto, was unanimously welcomed by the Nuclear Crisis Group (NCG).

Flash Points.  Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is the biggest global concern. Discriminating between terror groups and making them instruments of state policy had to be rejected collectively. In addition to this overarching perspective, the Group identified four priority geopolitical dynamics that risked escalation to nuclear conflagration: the Korean Peninsula predicament, US/NATO-Russia meltdown in relations, South Asia conundrum and U.S.-China confrontation.

Korean Peninsula. The NCG aimed for complete denuclearization through negotiations with North Korea balanced against a calibrated end to US military exercises and provocative deployments in the Republic of Korea and easing of sanctions. China’s role in the North Korean problem had to be leveraged (not only has China fought a war on its behalf but provides existential sustenance).

US, Russia, NATO. Crisis instability between the US, Russia and NATO has taken a dangerous turn, triggered by Russian nuclear war fighting doctrine and statements that the US has neither obligation to limit nuclear-arms nor testing. In this circumstance, the impending US nuclear posture review (NPR) will likely cause disquiet given the current turbulence in West Asia, confused war on the IS in Syria, the ‘perpetual’ wars in Iraq and the AF-Pak region, Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, recalcitrant Chinese activities in the South and East China Sea and increased nuclear activity by North Korea. But the real discounted problem in the entanglement is how to device measures that will prevent a slide back to the early Cold War era.

South Asia Situation.  India has a declared nuclear doctrine; at its heart is NFU and generation of a credible minimum deterrent. India does not differentiate between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons on the grounds that use of nuclear weapons introduces an uncontrollable development. To suggest that ambiguity and First Use provide options, is to suggest that nuclear war fighting, in conventional terms, is an option. This is a denial of the nature of nuclear weapons. With Pakistan there are foundational complications; it has no declared doctrine, while the hold of the “deep state” (the military-intelligence-jihadi combine) on the nation is so smothering that dialogue is confounded by the question “who to dialogue with?” Duplicity and denial on issues related to state support, sanctuary and complicity with terror organisations makes confabulations with civilian government a sterile exercise. Continued collusion with China on nuclear weapons production and proliferation is an area that must be seized. If multilateral constraints are not in place then the probability of these technologies falling into jihadi hands is high.

US-China Relations. US-China relations remain fragile as the latter’s growth and aspirations come in conflict with America’s global influence, as is apparent in the sporadic friction that flares in the South and East China seas. China’s revisionist drive in this expanse and its military modernisation plans and policy has not helped to pacify matters. Rather it has increased the probability of escalation. Its surreptitious nuclear proliferatory enterprises have further exacerbated the situation. While China has, over the years, quite steadfastly adhered to its NFU nuclear policy, it is its support of states such as North Korea and Pakistan that is worrisome.

A Half Way Conclusion 

Fragmentation in geopolitics, rise of bigoted revisionist ideologies, nuclear perfidy of authoritarian dispensations and the end of an overwrought global order makes for fragility in nuclear affairs. As nations see themselves besieged by forces beyond control, it is timely that the Group has raised its collective voice to temper the idealistic nuclear agenda of abolition with a dose of realism that first charts a course across two pragmatic way points: No First Use and removal of tactical nuclear weapons.