Sea-based thinking: The new basis for our Revolution in Social and Military Affairs

By

Dr. V. Siddhartha

The Need For a New Geopolitical Perspective

China began to lay its plans for geo-political land-based dominance when it defeated us in 1962 (we forget—as always—that this event occurred a mere dozen years after the post-revolution order under Mao Tse Tung consolidated itself in China), became a nuclear-weapon power in 1964 and broad-based its strategic relationship with Pakistan shortly thereafter.  To be sure, the pace of this drive for dominance was slowed by China’s disputes and rivalry with (the then) Soviet Union. But never was this objective changed, notwithstanding the disaster of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the several other crudities of the Mao era. The United States recognized early-on the eventual emergence of China as Number One, so much so that it aligned with Pakistan in 1971, so as not to jeopardise Pakistan’s crucial help to US plans to ‘open to China.’

The demise of the Soviet Union has accelerated China’s plans and programmes to fill the “vacuum of political dominance” felt to varying degrees with the sequential collapse of Japanese, Dutch, French, British and US power in the region from Indonesia through South East Asia to Myanmar. China’s grand vision of land-based dominance is to be actuated by extensive high-speed rail links, attendant communication spines, power networks and oil pipelines along a great arc from South East Asia up through Southern China, turning through North-Western China, out across the southern flank of the CIS to the Caspian Sea and beyond. These are the New Silk Roads for which plans will fructify by 2020.[1] The recent rescue of the beleaguered South East Asian currencies by China has signaled that the Renminbi is being set to replace the Yen and to coequal the Dollar and the Euro in a world monetary triad to underpin the global economic-military power triad of US-Europe-China. The resulting physical and banking infrastructure will render hostage to China’s will, India’s relations—trade, economic, technological, military and political—with nearly forty countries to India’s North, West and South-East.

Any attempt by India to “muscle into” this China driven land-based geopolitical project will be held firmly in check through the two surrogate prongs of the Chinese land pincer on India: Pakistan-Iran to the West; Bangladesh-Myanmar to the East. China will not waste its own economic and military resources to contain India—we are not important enough to China to warrant its expenditure of that much attention.

The only geostrategic room left to India is the Sea. Indira Gandhi’s uncanny feel for the geo-strategically important—and fortuitous circumstance—enabled India to establish itself as pioneer investor in the Indian Ocean; erect a station on Antarctica and do several other things in good time in ocean exploration and development. These measures have so far prevented the established maritime powers from imposing restrictive regimes on India in the oceans in general and in the Indian Ocean in particular.

Although the base that has thus been established in the seas around us is a good one, its full development and strategic use is vulnerable to the myopia of our defensive, reactive, constricted, almost apologetic, land-based thinking. The needed revolution that has to occur in our military affairs is the shift from land-based to sea-based thinking. A particularly effective way to drive home this perspective is to view the Indian landmass from the North looking South.

To oversimplify (but not by too much), if the land-based arc from Singapore through to Europe is going to be China’s arena of dominance, the one from Singapore through to Cape Town, along the Indian Ocean littoral is the geo-strategic space needed for India’s geo-cultural-economic renewal. Many assets—military and non-military—will need to be developed and deployed in that space, with the Indian Navy as its military core. We barely have till 2020 to fill-out that geo-strategic space.[2]

Epilogue

“Vice Admiral V.K. Chandraskatta, fleet commander…came from a country with a warrior tradition little known outside its own borders, Indians had stopped Alexabder the Great, blunted his army, wounded the Macedonian conqueror, perhaps fatally, and put an end to his expansion, an accomplishment the Persians and the Egyptians had singularly failed to do. Indian troops had fought alongside Montgomery in the defeat of Rommel—and had crushed the Japanese Army at Imphal.

Vice Admiral V.K. Chandraskatta sat on his leather chair on the flag bridge of the carrier Viraat…just for his country to be self-sufficient in food had taken-how long? Twenty-five years. And that had come only as charity of sorts, the result of Western agro-science whose success grated on many minds, as though his country, ancient and learned, couldn’t make its own destiny. Even successful charity could be a burden on the national soul.

The ‘New World Order’ said that his country could not. India was denied entry into the race to greatness by those very nations that had run the race and then shut it down lest others catch up.

But the entire Indian Navy had only forty-three Harrier FRS-51 fighters. He had but thirty at sea on both Viraat and Vikrant, and that did not equal the numbers of capability aboard a single American carrier. All because they had entered the race first, won it, and then declared the games closed, Chandraskatta told himself…it simply wasn’t fair”

(From Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honour” Harper Collins, 1994)

About the Author
Dr.V. Siddhartha served during 2007-09 on invitation of the Secretary General of the United Nations as a member of the Experts Group in New York of the Committee on UN Security Council Resolution 1540.  An Emeritus Scientist in DRDO, he retired in 2004 after working directly with four Scientific Advisers to the Minister of Defence over nearly twenty years. Dr. Siddhartha has been twice Consultant to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, on export control and S&T issues in international security, and on the Indian WMD Act, 2005.  A PhD from the Imperial College of Science & Technology, London, Siddhartha was a member of the pioneering Systems Planning and Analysis Group (SPAG) of ISRO, Bangalore over 1974-82.

[1] See also Batuk Vora, “China plans to transform ‘Eurasia,’” Mainstream, February 28, 1998. This article summarizes the essential elements of China’s ‘land bridge’ project extensively elaborated at the International Symposium on Economic Development of the Regions along the New Euro-Asian Continental Bridge, Beijing, May 7-9, 1996.

[2] For a concise survey of the architecture of the space see: Satish Chandra, Arunachalam and Suryanarayanan “The Indian Ocean and its Islands, Strategic, Scientific and Historical Perspectives,” Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1993.

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