The Evolution of a New Triple Entente

By

Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Keywords: “A New Triple Entente,” India-China relations, Anti-Access Denial Strategy, China Maritime Strategy, China-USA relations

Download full article here: The Evolution of a New Triple Entente

Excerpts:

“The only check on the abuse of political predominance has always consisted in the opposition of an equally formidable rival, or of a combination of several countries forming leagues of defence. The equilibrium established by such grouping of forces is technically known as the balance of forces.”[i]

The Alliance System

The history of armed conflicts in the twentieth century may not have brought about any deep seated changes to contemporary understanding of the true nature or rationality of power and its application. But, there is an instinctive grasp amongst nations that a conflict between an assemblages of States can only lead to immeasurable catastrophe which could and would serve to repudiate the purpose of military action. This discernment was central to the theory of balance of power. Up to the turn of the twentieth century it was this system of alliances that sought stability within the power equations of the era. The existence of an international order whose stability was predicated on a system of  grouping of States not only influenced the nature and intensity of wars that were fought but made transparent the conditions under which these may occur and also, ironically, presented a template for resolution. Seen in this perspective, the same circumstances that held the promise of stability additionally carried with it the calamitous prospects of horizontal and vertical expansion of the intensity of war. The two World Wars exemplified the limits of intensity and its expansion. At the heart of the arrangement lay four dominating impulses; politics, imperialism, territory and economics. If one or even two of these stimuli were to be detached, it would be interesting to see what nature of balance would emerge and whether it would find relevance in the contemporary milieu that obtains in the East Indian Ocean and the West Pacific region.

In the run up to the First World War, two treaties of alignment were central to order. These were the ‘Triple Alliance’ between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy on the one hand; while the ‘Triple Entente’ between France, Britain and Russia sought equilibrium in a world that was threatened by subjugation unless an equally imposing opposition coalition could challenge and maintain the status quo. This context not only laid down the broad contours for strategic planning by both Unions but also had the potential to set into motion a significant chain of irrevocable military actions if one or the other perceived a threat of war. Consequently a crisis invariably tested the politician’s ability to restrain the military. Underscoring the dilemma that confronted the dual alliance was; “how effectively could an alliance designed to cope with the contingency of war serve interests in the day to day diplomacy of peace.”[ii]

The Fear of Nations and the Death of an Enlightened World Order

Some of the symptoms of the anarchic nature of things are a vicious securing of spheres of power and economic influence as exemplified by China in Africa; the competition between autocracy and liberalism; an older religious struggle between radical Islam and secular cultures; and the inability to regulate the chaotic flow of technologies and information. As these struggles are played out the first casualty in the post Cold War era is the still born hope of a benign and enlightened world order. The endemic instability world wide is characterized by the number of armed conflicts that erupted between the periods 1989 to 2010, which total 49.[iii] The nature of these wars, more than anything else, reflected what I term the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’ for they ranged from wars of liberation and freedom to insurgencies, civil wars, racial-ethnic-religious wars, proxy wars, interventions and wars motivated by the urge to corner economic resources. In all cases it was either the perpetuation of a dispensation, political ambitions, or the fear of economic deprivation that was at work below the surface.

In this era the fears and anxieties of nations are driven by four vital traumas. At the head of these is the perpetuation of the State and its dispensation. In second place is the fear and understanding that impedance to the nation’s ambitions of growth and development may come about due to internal or external stresses or a combination of the two. The third trauma is that the remaining interests that the State considers critical must be recognized and accepted by the International system; this distress places the system in a quandary, particularly so when interests overlap at which time there is a real potential for friction and conflict. Lastly, is a conundrum faced by all major powers that is, does military power prevail?

It will not fail anybody’s notice that both India and China fall into this very same cast ensnared by the ‘four traumas’, with one very critical difference, and that is the cooperative stimulus along with an egalitarian tradition is strong in India’s case, while China has not displayed respect for either. Against this backdrop, when the politics of competitive resource access is put into the same pot as survival and development of State, to which is added the blunt character of military power, we have before us the recipe for friction and conflict. It is against this canvas that the development and structuring of Indian engagement with like minded powers must be contextualised.

[…]

The New Triple Entente and Concept of Anti-Access Denial

As the curtains fell on the twentieth century the character of strategic alliances had transformed in two of its earlier facets. Gone were the imperialist motives that readily recognized and accepted the risk of war and the urge to territorial conquest and expansion. In its place was a fresh premise; one that was governed by political compatibility, economic mutuality and collective security. The emerging convergence of interests in both the political and economic arena between India, Japan and the USA makes the prospects of a new ‘Triple Entente’ strategically of the essence.

Having also brought about a modicum of coherence to the need to contend with and normalize China’s aspirations (which it has so clearly spelt out), it would now be appropriate to define and derive objectives of the concept of Anti-Access Denial as applicable to the larger regional Maritime Military Strategy. Anti-Access Denial by the Alliance will seek to contest and deny China’s ability to unilaterally project military power to secure her interests either through aggression or through other destabilizing activities. The instrument to achieve denial is by convincingly raising the cost of military intervention through the use or threat of use of methods that are predominant in form and irresistible in substance. The strategy’s first impulse is to avoid a hot conflict.

To ‘contest and deny’ would suggest a clear understanding of where the centre of gravity of power projection forces lie. In China’s case it is the triumvirate of the Aircraft Carrier; security of the narrows and of the ‘string of pearls’ that would be needed to assure sustenance of forces (on which is founded the integrity of the Third Island Chain). Use of aggressive means is clear enough, but prying open faults that could destabilize and therefore distract the main exertions, are not at all patent. The Alliance will have noted that in China’s case both internal as well as external stresses obtain that could be leveraged in order to undermine their primary thrust to contest, deny and to project power; more importantly the envisaged Alliance too has fissures that China not only has the resolve and capability to exploit but also has a willing ally in Pakistan and North Korea to queer any pitch.

‘To raise the cost of military intervention’ is a matter that resides in the mind of political leadership, yet there will always be a threshold, the verge of which is marked by diminishing benefits of intervention or power projection. It will be noted that it was a similar calculus that must have come to play in the 1995 Taiwan Strait crisis that inhibited and forced China to reconcile to humiliation in the face of a possible debilitating confrontation. Also the logic of weakening out-of-region motivation sets in, diluting the efforts of the intervener. Lastly the threat of ‘use of force’ must not only be credible but also the ‘value exchange’ in terms of losses must weigh against the power projecting force. The objectives of an ‘Anti-access Denial’ Strategy may therefore be summarized as follows:

  • To devise operational and material Alliance doctrines and strategies to deter, threaten, (and should the need arise) strike and neutralize Chinese aircraft carriers that may menace Alliance interests in the IOEO.
  • To deploy denial and control forces that effectively exclude the ‘string of pearls’ ports. Platforms of  choice would be conventional submarines, maritime strike aircrafts supported by long range surveillance efforts.
  • To disable operational networks through ASAT and active cyber action.
  • To surveil and seed the straits with seabed sensors, surface and air scouts.
  • To disable energy and resources traffic through non lethal methods and to ensure that own escorts keep open Alliance right of passage on the sea.
  • To raise the cost of military intervention will suggest a strategic posture that by disposition, demonstration, marking and resolve, declare our orientation, will and intent that the cost of intervention will far outweigh its benefits.

Leaving aside, for the moment, material aspects of generating capabilities, the most critical issue is one of timing, that is, what would be the enabling circumstances that would trigger an Anti- Access Denial Strategy.  While the short answer may be “when Alliance interests are threatened” this does not in any way assist the planner in resolving the quandary. Two factors must, however, lead; the first is that initial moves must be so calibrated that the intervener is made aware that a threshold is being approached and that the next rung in the escalatory ladder is a ‘hot’ exchange. This may take the form of ‘marking’ or through hotline communications. The second is by initiating demonstrative action which may serve to disable operational networks or even measures instituted in some other theatre.

A maritime Anti-Access Denial strategy unlike a continental standpoint, abhors ‘Lakshman Rekhas’ for there are no readily definable geographic ‘redlines’, what is of greater import is context, circumstances and events, which brings us back to the original dilemma of characterizing the conditions that would bring the strategy into play. In any event, we have in an earlier section noted China’s security narrative and the challenge that a rising China poses. Both advocate the centrality and compelling force of an aggressive drive to corner resources. Under this order of things, the Triple Entente may define ‘red lines’ as follows:

  • Any large scale military attempt to change the status quo in territorial configuration.
  • Large scale military build up either at Hambantota, Gwadar or at Sittwe.
  • Aggressive deployments that disrupt energy and resource traffic or dislocate networks.
  • Any attempt to provide large scale military support, covert or otherwise, to promote an insurgency.

In execution, Alliance Anti-Access Denial Strategy will be implemented in three distinct phases. The First will involve selective Anti-Access Denial deployment, surveillance and marking in the IOEO; the second will entail demonstration through cyber action and possible ASAT intervention; the third and last is hot action including sea control, enabling Exclusion Zones and SLOC severance.

Conclusion

The ultimate reality of the international system is the place that power enjoys in the scheme of assuring stability in relations between nations. Uncertainty in international relations queers the pitch, in view of the expanded space of possibles. China has unambiguously articulated three canons that make for its strategic objectives; stability, growth and regional preeminence. In the absence of a security oriented cooperative impulse, the problem with such sweeping strategies, specifically the coming ‘Third Island Chain’ superimposed on a long range power projection, and access denial is its blindness to recognize that, we are in fact dealing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast commons.” The reluctance for collaboration makes the potential for friction high.

Contemporary challenges in the IOEO are dominated by what direction China’s rise will take. Of significance is that the potential for a collision is a reality and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability to attain a strategic posture in the IOEO that serves to stabilize. India’s relationship with the USA and Japan provides the opening to establish a ‘Triple Entente’ that realizes political compatibility, economic mutuality and collective security in the region in order to counterpoise China.

Download full article here: The Evolution of a New Triple Entente


End Notes

[i] Gooch G.P. and Harold Temperley (eds). British Documents on the Origin of War 1898-1914, Vol III, London 1928 Appendix A, p 402-3.

[ii] Bridge F.R. From Sadowa to Sarajevo; The Foreign Policy of Austria-Hungary 1866-1914. London 1972, p 360.

[iii] The World at War http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/index.html.The United Nations defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen “lesser” conflicts ongoing with varrying degrees of intensity.

Globalization with Chinese Maritime Characteristics

The Security Overlay

By

Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

 (Forthcoming in the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies Quarterly, New Delhi)

Keywords: China Maritime Strategy, Third Security Chain, Northern Passage, Access Denial, Gwadar-Karakoram-Xinjiang Corridor

The ‘Uncertainty’ Paradigm

The end of the Cold War brought in its wake prognostication of the emergence of one world in which harmony, democracy, an end to conflict, and man’s ideological evolution was imagined. The grand formulation was that Western liberal democracy had prevailed.[1] Some saw a multipolar order and the arrival of China; others forecast a clash of civilisations.[2] However, these conjectures found little use in understanding the realities of the post Cold War world, as each represented a candour of its own. The paradigm of the day, I would posit, is ‘uncertainty,’ as marked by the tensions of multi polarity; tyranny of economics; anarchy of expectations; and a polarisation along religio-cultural lines, all compacted in the cauldron of globalization.

The West saw in globalization a process which transformed the world in their mould, through the adoption of Western values, free markets, the rule of law, flow of Western capital and embracing of democratic norms. Globalization with Chinese characteristics is about State capitalism, supremacy of central authority, controlled markets and currency and influence through power. It factored endemic instability[3], underscoring the premium on military power and the fundamental contradictions that existed, perceiving them as threatening the Chinese State and its dispensation, and as an impediment to growth and development. Against this backdrop, is the politics of competitive resource access which rationalizes the use of military power. It is in this perspective that Chinese maritime strategy must be gauged.

 Economic Power and China’s Case for ‘Lebensraum’

China’s quest to secure rights of passage on the sea is to insure against the uncertainties of access to resources. It has led her to the ‘Northern Passage.’[4] Significantly, the route avoids two sensitive ‘choke points,’ the Malacca Strait and the Suez Canal. China also theorises that the road to securing lines of communication is through a strategy of ‘Access Denial.’[5] The strategy was founded on China’s security concern with Taiwan where its logic is obvious. But, enabling such a strategy on a global scale invites confrontation.

Today China is the world’s largest exporter, its economy is second to the USA and she is the third largest energy consumer. When we look at the growth pattern of India since liberalization, we note a similar trend. Indeed, with one third of this growth being powered by trade to the East and China our largest trading partner, the requirement to secure these interests become vital. In this circumstance the race to garner resources by two very large economies is fraught. But the real alarm is that China seeks to influence and dominate international regulatory and security institutions without bringing about a change within, what I will call, her own ‘organic morphology.’ China’s disputed claims on the South China Sea; her handling of internal dissent; her proliferatory carousing with North Korea and Pakistan are cases that do not inspire confidence in change occurring within. The emergence of China from out of its defensive maritime perimeters, as defined by the first and second island chains, into the Indian Ocean is seen as the coming ‘Third Security Chain.’ Gone is the power bashfulness that marked the Deng era, in its place is the contemporary conviction that “the-world-needs-China-more-than-China-the-world”.

Evolution of China’s Maritime Strategy

China published its sixth Defence White Paper in January 2008. The paper notes that struggle for cornering strategic resources, dominating geographically vital areas and tenanting strategic locations have intensified. Power as a natural currency of politics remained the preferred instrument. Under these circumstances the portents for conflict are ever present and would therefore demand preparedness, modernization and strategic orientation of a nature that would serve to neutralize friction.[6] Central to the Paper is that “influence of military-security factors on international relations is mounting.” ‘Active Defence,’ embracing the development of bases overseas to launch strategy along with advanced assault and enhanced strike capabilities, remained the means. Doctrinal underpinnings to realise such capabilities and the development of ‘Access Denial and Control’ Strategy are now at the core of Chinese military thought.[7]

Two events of the 1990s have shaped Chinese strategy. From the Gulf War of 1991, China took home a reason for strategic pre-emption.[8] The second was the Taiwan crisis of 1995-1996, U.S. deployment of two carrier groups in the Strait embarrassingly infringed sovereignty. These episodes triggered the ‘Access Denial’ strategy. The development of capabilities, in material terms, operational precepts and strategic alliances threaten to upset the status quo. Operating from infrastructure cultivated in Sittwe and Aan in Myanmar, Hambantotta in Sri Lanka, Maroa in the Maldives and Gwadar in Pakistan gives legs to long range access denial.

Specific operational deployments to muscle her maritime strategy in the Indian Ocean may include: One carrier group; Ballistic Missile Nuclear Submarine on deterrent patrol; nuclear powered attack submarines on sea lines patrol with cooperating surface groups and maritime patrol aircrafts; long range maritime strike aircrafts operating from Aan or Gwadar; one amphibious brigade standby with transports on hand at one of the ‘string of pearls;’ and, a regiment of ASAT missiles along with cyber teams to wage information warfare that will seek to paralyze hostile operations.

To Counter an Enabled Theory    

            The principal demand of maritime operations is to attain a strategic position that would permit control of oceanic spaces. It therefore comes as no surprise that China develops forces and alliances necessary to realize an ‘access denial’ strategy. Consistent with theory is their shipbuilding programme of escorts and scouts to exercise control; and aircraft carriers assisted by strike and denial forces for security of control. Control and Security of Control is the classic model that China’s naval growth has been inspired by.

China has unambiguously articulated its three strategic objectives; stability, growth and regional pre eminence. The problem with such sweeping strategies specifically the coming ‘Third Security Chain’ superimposed on access denial is its blindness to recognize that we are dealing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast commons.” The reluctance for collaboration makes the potential for friction high. The only consideration that could deter a collision is the ability of India to attain a strategic posture that serves to stabilize. India’s relationship with the USA provides opportunity to establish cooperative security in the region that could counterpoise China’s self-centred view of globalization.

End Notes

[1]Fukuayama Francis. “The End of History.” The National Interest, 16 (Summer 1989), pp 4, 18.

[2] Huntington. Samuel, P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of  World Order, Penguin Books, India 1997, pp 30-39.

[3] The World at War http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/index.html.The United Nations defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. Between 1989 and 2010, forty nine wars erupted. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen “lesser” conflicts ongoing with varying degrees of intensity.

[4] Article by author titledThe Gwadar-Karakoram-Xinjiang Corridor”, published in the September 2012 issue of the DSA. The Northern Passage was a fabled sea route theorised by adventurers, merchants and money chandlers over the last six centuries to

link the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean. The Route lay through the Arctic archipelago the treacherous ice flows that frustrate passage across the Arctic Ocean. To put matters in perspective, as a trade corridor the distance from China to markets in Europe has been cut down to less than 8000 miles from 14,700 miles. In 2011 more than 18 commercial ships and in 2012 forty ships have made the now ice-free crossing.

[5] Security analysts  have examined China’s efforts to develop weapons systems that can retard or even stop a potential adversary from entering an area of interest. Dubbed “access-denial,” the aim of such a strategy is to use weapons that deter and should the need arise challenge or indeed prevent inimical forces from operating in conflict zones or oceanic areas of interest . The teeth of this strategy is an anti-ship missile. Such a missile, fired from land, sea, underwater or air can cause tremendous damage to an enemy surface vessel. While such technology isn’t new, the effective ranges of such weapons have increased tremendously, along with their accuracy, speed of delivery and precision. Defending against such systems is therefore a major problem for planners

[6] Ma Cheng-Kun,  PLA News Analysis, “Significance of 2008 China’s National Defense White Paper” no. 15, pp. 49-60

[7] Ibid  

[8] Lewis John Wilson and Litai Xue, “The Quest for a Modern Air Force” in Imagined Enemies China Prepares for Uncertain War,  Stanford University Press 2006, p237. General Liu Jingsong, a member of the 15th CPC Central Committee, he was also the PLA  Commander of the Shenyang and Lanzhou military regions and to him amongst others is attributed the opening of Equatorial Guinea 1995.

Sea Power and the Rights to Unimpeded Entrée: The Coming Uncertain Clash

By 

Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar

Keywords: China’s ‘Access Denial Strategy’, China Maritime Strategy, An ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’, Chinese Force Planning and Structures, Taiwan Straits, Multipolarity

Download full article here: Sea Power and the Rights to Unimpeded Entrée

Excerpts:

The Point of a Paradigm

            If we are to form an opinion on the current state of reality and to act upon it with any impact, some sort of a simplified chart or theory is necessary. The end of the Cold War and the paradigm that it represented brought in its wake scholarly works that sought to prognosticate what future international relations and order held. Wide ranging theories were advanced from the emergence of one world in which harmony, democracy and an end to conflict were prophesized, and with it an end to a turbulent history of man’s ideological evolution with the grand terminal formulation that western liberal democracy had prevailed.[i] Some saw the emergence of a multi polar order and the arrival of China not withstanding the warts of Tiananmen. Yet others saw in the First Iraq War, the continuing war in the Levant, the admission of former Soviet satellite nations into NATO and the splintering of Yugoslavia an emerging clash of civilisations marked by violent discord shaped by cultural and civilisational similitude.[ii] However, these illusions were, within a decade, dispelled and found little use in understanding and coming to grips with the realities of the post Cold War world as each of them represented a candour of its own. The paradigm of the day (if there is one) is the tensions of the multi polar; the tyranny of economics; the anarchy of expectations; and a polarisation along religio-cultural lines all compacted in the cauldron of globalisation in a State of continuous technology agitation.

So too when thinking of maritime affairs a paradigm only places in perspective the events that we are confronted with, provides a pattern and a context within which a strategy may be devised and force structures put in place to come to terms with an uncertain future. China’s quest to secure efficiently rights of passage on the sea to fuel her thirst for energy, primary produce and commodities has led her to the ‘Northern Passage’[iii]. Today that paradigm is a reality and in 2011 alone more than 18 commercial ships had made the now ice-free crossing and it is no surprise that Chinese merchantmen are leading the charge. To put matters in perspective, as a trade corridor the distance from China to markets in Europe has been cut down to less than 8000 miles from 14,700 miles. Significantly the route avoids two sensitive ‘choke points’ the Malacca Strait and the Suez Canal. China also theorises that the road to securing these sea lines of communication is through a strategy of ‘Access Denial.’[iv] The access denial paradigm was founded on China’s significant security concern in relation to Taiwan. The U.S. deployment of two carrier groups to the region during the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait crisis remains in Chinese memory as an embarrassing infringement of sovereignty. The value and logic of an access denial strategy is obvious in reference to Taiwan. But enabling such a strategy when scope and space are enlarged must clearly tax strategists world wide and suggest an uncertainty of an impending clash.

The Fear of Nations

As the curtains fell on the Cold War some of the symptoms that emerged were an increased and vicious securing of spheres of power and economic influence as exemplified by China in Africa; the competition between autocracy and liberalism’ an older religious struggle between radical Islam and secular cultures; and the inability to regulate the anarchic flow of technologies and information. As these struggles are played out the first casualty in the post Cold War era is the still born hope of a benign and enlightened world order. The endemic instability world wide is characterized by the number of armed conflicts that erupted between the periods 1989 to 2010 which total 49.[v] The nature of these wars, more than anything else, reflected what I tern the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm’ for they ranged from wars of liberation and freedom to insurgencies, civil wars, racial-ethnic-religious wars, proxy wars, interventions and wars motivated by the urge to corner economic resources. In all cases it was either the perpetuation of a dispensation, political ambitions, or the fear of economic deprivation that was at work below the surface. If that were not enough to underscore the fragility, gravity and self-centeredness of the international system, in the same period the United States of America alone has militarily intervened in foreign countries on 11 occasions; more often than at any time in history.[vi]

China, in the 18th century under the Qing dynasty enjoyed a golden age. It was a period of shengshi, an age of prosperity. Currently some Chinese nationalists say that, thanks to the Communist Party and its economic prowess, another shengshi has arrived.[vii] In 2010 China became the world’s biggest manufacturer, a position that the US had held for most of the 20th century. By 2020, it has been forecast, that China could become the world’s largest economy. Significant to political influence is its matching economic and military growth. Power, changes the very character of nations and its people and of their standing in the comity of nations. It transforms their outlook towards the world and places primacy to their beliefs and interests in the international milieu giving it new drive to shape global affairs in a manner that promotes their well being. This search for geopolitical space that the emergence of a new cognizable revisionist power precipitates, historically, has been the cause for global instability and tensions. Add to this that the principle of nationalism is inextricably linked, both in theory and practice, with the concept of war,[viii] then, we are faced with a situation when the military dimension of power will potentially throw up conflictual circumstances that will have to be contended with. In this context the slogan of the 18th century Qing dynasty “the dream of a prosperous country and a strong army” today has new connotations.[ix]

In this era the fears and anxieties of nations are driven by four vital traumas. At the head of these four is the perpetuation of the State and its dispensation, a factor that every nation lists as primary to their national interests. In second place is the fear and understanding that impedance to the nation’s ambitions of growth and development may come about due to internal or external stresses or a combination of the two; in all cases it is the duty of the State to ensure through polity, diplomacy or military power that these stresses are effectively countered or put down, if it is a matter of access to external resources then its denial becomes a matter that calls for the use of all dimensions of power in the quiver of the State. The third trauma is that the remaining interests that the State considers critical must be recognized and accepted by the International system; this distress places the system on the horns of a dilemma, particularly so when interests overlap at which time there is a real potential for friction and conflict. Lastly, is a conundrum faced by all major powers or those that aspire for such status, and that is, given a circumstance when the State deems it necessary for military power to be applied, it must do so with the confidence (at times misplaced) that they will prevail.

It will not fail anybody’s notice that both India and China fall into this very same cast ensnared by the ‘four traumas’, with one very critical difference, and that is the cooperative stimulus along with an egalitarian tradition is strong in India’s case, while China has no belief in respecting either. Against this backdrop, when the politics of competitive resource access is put into the same pot as survival and development of State, to which is added the blunt character of military power, we have before us the recipe for friction and conflict. It is against this canvas of competitive resource access that the development and structuring of Indian maritime power must be gauged.

[…]

China and her case for Lebensraum

China’s claims on the South China Sea as a territorial sea (see Map 1); her handling of dissent within in Tibet and Tiananmen; her proliferatory carousing with rogue states such as North Korea and Pakistan are cases, amongst others, that do not inspire confidence in change occurring within that nation without turbulence. We also note with some foreboding, the emergence of China from out of its, largely, defensive maritime perimeters as defined by the first and second island chain strategies into the Indian Ocean region as a major stakeholder.

Map 1:  China’s claims of Territorial Sea along with the UNCLOS approved EEZs of the Littoral States. Shaded circles indicate the disputed Islands. Source: bbc.co.uk                                                      

To this end, it has through diplomacy and economic inducements established bases in Sittwe, Hambantota, Gwadar and Marao in the Maldives. The geographic and strategic significance of these posts were apparent in the past and are equally vital today, whether for purposes of control, regulating, providing havens or assuring security to energy lines. Sittwe and Gwadar also provide the front end for piping energy into China. These long term strategic investments by China maybe seen as the coming of the ‘Third Island Chain’.

China in a departure from the Western model of first identifying ends then conceptualizing methods and finally generating means to achieve ends; follows the comprehensive national power route where it sees the effect of an event on its own endowment and its ability to control the event as primary. Therefore in articulating its strategic objectives in order of precedence it has unambiguously identified three canons, the first of which is internal and external stability to its own gauge; the second is to sustain the current levels of its economic growth and lastly to achieve regional pre-eminence. Gone is the ‘power bashfulness’ that marked the Deng era, in its place is a cockiness that is discernible by the contemporary conviction that “the world needs China more than China the world”. Lt Gen Qi Jiangua, the Asst Chief of General Staff’s comments on the building of an aircraft carrier (refurbishment of the derelict Varyag) is revealing, he stated “It would have been better for us if we had acted sooner in understanding the ocean and mapping out our blue water capability earlier. We are now facing heavy pressure in the oceans whether the South China Sea, the East China Sea or the Taiwan Straits.”[x] At the heart of the matter lie three vulnerabilities:[xi]

  • Vulnerability of the economic powerhouses located along the east coast and the communication lines by land, air and sea that bring in resources to fuel the economy and transport finished products.
  • Vulnerability of Taiwan, and therefore the need for its denial as a base for foreign powers. This accent highlights China’s continued sensitivity to sovereignty issues.
  • Vulnerability of the sea spaces, so dramatically demonstrated by the crisis of 1995-1996 and consequently the need to deny the theatre to any interventionary  power.

Seen in this frame of reference General Liu Jinsong’s words carry new meaning, for if the first salvo is the build up; then it is not from the precincts of pre-emption that a strike emerges but as a reactive and a defensive strategy. This rationale gives form to the ‘Access Denial Strategy’. When projected in consonance with the Third Island Chain, one cannot but note that ‘Access Denial’ would apply not just to the region of purpose, but also to the points of origin and to the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) along which energy, trade and resources are moved. The waters and littorals of the Indian Ocean and specifically the West Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Bengal (together here after termed as the Eastern Ocean) will now become the region where this strategy will be played out.

[…]

Contemporary Challenges

Contemporary challenges in the region are dominated by three currents. While there are several regional and sub regional issues whose influence on the region cannot be denied it is these three that will have the greatest impact on the success or otherwise of our policy.

  • The Challenge of a Rising China: Towards the end of 2003 and early 2004 senior leaders of the Communist Party of China studied the rise of great powers in history noting the destructive inventory of conflicts that proved to be the engines of supremacy from the 15th century onwards. This brought them to the central theme of their examination: could China dominate without recourse to arms? Unfortunately, in its relationship with India it has shown no propensity to establish co operative stabilizing arrangements nor has it taken any measures to resolve long standing boundary disputes (it must be said that nor have they put in place measures that aggressively vitiate the situation). Its collusion with reprobate states further pushes Sino-Indian relations downhill, the nuclear tie up both in the weapon and civilian field with Pakistan along with possible doctrinal links and in March 2010, the failure to issue a condemnation when North Korea sank a South Korean warship does not suggest a pacific approach to relations. It’s disputes with Japan and its forceful reassertion of claims to sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea are very serious ulcers in current relationships in the Eastern Ocean. This conundrum continues to push affected parties and like minded states into countervailing arrangements. As, no doubt, the history lesson would have told Chinese leadership that the relationship that determines regional conflict or otherwise is the stability of relationship between  powers that have the greatest impact on the region.
  • The Hyper Power: The overwhelming ascendancy of the single hyper power and its penchant to resort to military force seen against the backdrop of the intricate economic relations that the US and China currently enjoy poses an ironic dilemma. Is the American posture in the Pacific and Indian Oceans intrinsically antagonistic and would it break out into a hot conflict given the strategic links that USA enjoys with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the other littorals of this region? The noises that currently emanate would seem to suggest that the war of words is just a few turns away from a conflictual situation. The impact of instability in this region will be to adversely affect India’s economic and developmental aspirations in addition to the hazards of being drawn into an unintended clash.
  • The Mixed Blessings of Globalization, Rise of Nationalism and Non State Actors: Impact of globalization and the inability of the State to reconcile with the stresses that it places on the very concept of sovereignty makes historical sores take centre stage, when their resolution ought to be the focus. Nationalism and Ideology which was the underlying force that sparked off the major wars of the 20th century has today become the source of China’s confidence, to an extent, when the words of Chairman Deng who started the reforms in the early 80’s “Coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capabilities, bide your time, never try to take the lead, accomplish things where possible”[xii] which became the essence of Deng Xiao Ping’s 24 character strategy, now has a hollow ring about it, particularly so, since there is a growing perception within that the arrival of the ‘Middle Kingdom’[xiii] is nigh (!). According to Yuan Peng of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations “many Chinese scholars suggest that the Government give up the illusion of US partnership and face squarely the profound and inevitable strategic competition.” [xiv] It is also apparent that the surge of nationalism that sweeps China has led it to formulate an affordable military strategy of asymmetric weapons (the ‘Access Denial’ and ‘Assassin’s Mace’ strategies are part of such a concept). These unorthodox strategies have set into motion three areas of rapid modernization in the military establishment; firstly the most active land based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world, secondly an enlarged nuclear attack and nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet, and lastly  concentration on what China calls “informatisation,” an active and passive method of waging information warfare.  China’s intriguing involvement with maverick nations such as Pakistan and North Korea does not in anyway enthuse confidence for the prospects of a stable future. The direction in which the Sino Pak alliance is headed is a vexed question. If it is the image of China that is going to predominate, then collusion with Pakistan on military and nuclear matters must witness a dilution and yet if the intention is to keep the Indian establishment on the boil, then for China to set aside an enthusiastic collusive partner would be tantamount to Janus shutting down his second face. In this calculus what would be a dampener for Sino Pak complicity, is the worsening non-state actor and political situation in Pakistan, which presents some nightmare possibilities for all parties involved including China.

Of these three dominant currents what direction China’s rise will take and whether it wears a largely benign or malignant mantle is a matter of conjecture that will be influenced by both internal as well as external factors. With the coming of the Third Island Chain; the maturing of the long range access strategy and the cultivation of the string of pearls, what is of significance is that the potential for a collision is a reality and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability of India to attain a strategic posture in the Eastern Ocean that serves to stabilize.  On the ‘globalization-nationalism’ non state actor conundrum, clearly plural societies with decentralized control are more likely to transform, adjust, adapt and tweak their systems than monolithic centrally controlled States such as China which are intrinsically brittle in form; as cracks begin to show, the fallout on the region can only be traumatic.

It is only India’s relationship with the USA that is, to some extent, within the hands of our policy makers and therefore it would be in order to examine this in some detail. Since Independence, Indo American relations have seen dizzy highs and plummeting lows. However, it was only after the 1998 nuclear tests that the two countries awoke to the realities that an engagement suggested. The consequences was the inking of  the ‘Next Step in Strategic Partnership’ an agreement that identified and formalised areas of  bilateral cooperation in January 2004 which included civil nuclear enterprises, civil space programmes, missile defence and high technology deals. Of critical importance was the opening of technology doors which culminated in the watershed Indo-US nuclear agreement of 18 July 2005. The larger significance of this deal was the arrival of India on the global stage as an equal and an acceptance of its potential to play an influencing role in the rarified environ of the club of nations that sought to control and oversee world order (the impending G8 +5).

[…]
Conclusion

The ultimate reality of the international system is the place that power, in all its dimensions, enjoys in the scheme of assuring stability in relations between nations. Uncertainty in international relations queers the pitch, in view of the expanded space of possibles. The strategy of Anti-Access Denial is one such defensive power tool which is available to a nation provided it nurtures and develops capabilities that serve to ‘contest and deny’ adversarial power projection. History has suggested that for the strategy to have impact not only must in-theatre force balance be tilted towards the rebuffer through asymmetricity, but also, the first salvo must be his. China takes the comprehensive national power approach, where it sees the effect of an event on its own endowment and its ability to control the occasion and its outcome as a primary virtue. In articulating its strategic objectives it has unambiguously identified three stability, growth and regional pre eminence.  Gone is the ‘power bashfulness’ that marked the Deng era. In the absence of a security oriented cooperative impulse, the problem with such sweeping strategies specifically the coming ‘Third Island Chain’ superimposed on a long range power projection strategy is its blindness to recognize that, we are in fact dealing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast commons”. The reluctance for collaboration makes the potential for friction high.

Contemporary challenges in the IOEO are dominated by three currents. What direction China’s rise will take is a matter of conjecture, of significance is that the potential for a collision is a reality and the only consideration that could deter it, is the ability of India to attain a strategic posture in the IOEO that serves to stabilize. On the globalization-nationalism-non state actor conundrum, clearly plural societies with decentralized control are more likely to transform, adjust, adapt and tweak their systems than monolithic centrally controlled States such as China which are intrinsically brittle in form, the fallout on the region caused by a transformation inconsistency can only be traumatic. The third current is India’s relationship with the USA. It is here that some control exists in the hands of our policy makers. India has shown itself, through restraint, pluralistic and popular form of governance to be a responsible State that upholds the status quo yet invites change through democratic forces. Its rise, in the main, is not only welcomed but is seen as a harmonizing happening that could counterpoise China.  The next step would logically be to establish an Indo-US strategic framework in the maritime domain, if we are to resourcefully contend with the challenges that the IOEO presents.

Phased implementation of the Anti-Access Denial Strategy, from deployment through demonstration prior to a hot exchange is intrinsic to the scheme and essential to its mechanics if the interests of deterrence are to be served. The question of when or under what conditions the plan is to be brought to bear is a dodgy call for if Phase III is arrived at, it may well signify a point of no return. The paper has suggested four ‘red lines’ which when breached may enable our Anti-Access Denial strategy; it is the second of these which will challenge decision makers to the extreme, for if a military build up at Hambantota, Gwadar or Sittwe is threatening, then at what stage of the mobilization should the strategy be called into play? The obvious answer is “at an early stage” at which time we must find the will and resolve to translate rapidly from Phase I to Phase II. A focused 50 year technology and infrastructure plan in support of and in harmony with our Anti-Access Denial Strategy must be placed on the anvil and resolutely hammered out, if we are to come to grips with the ‘Uncertainty Paradigm.’

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[i]Fukuayama Francis. “The End of History.” The National Interest, 16 (Summer 1989), pp 4, 18.

[ii] Huntington. Samuel, P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of  World Order, Penguin Books, India 1997, pp 30-39.

[iii] Article by author titledThe Gwadar-Karakoram-Xinjiang Corridor”, publishedin the September 2012 issue of the DSA. The Northern Passage was a fabled sea route theorised by adventurers, merchants and money chandlers over the last six centuries to

link the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean. The Route lay through the Arctic archipelago the treacherous ice flows that frustrate passage across the Arctic Ocean.

[iv] Security analysts  have examined China’s efforts to develop weapons systems that can retard or even stop a potential adversary from entering an area of interest. Dubbed “access-denial,” the aim of such a strategy is to use weapons that deter and should the need arise challenge or indeed prevent inimical forces from operating in conlict zones or oceanic areas of interest . The teeth of this strategy is an anti-ship missile. Such a missile, fired from land, sea, underwater or air can cause tremendous damage to an enemy surface vessel. While such technology isn’t new, the effective ranges of such weapons have increased tremendously, along with their accuracy, speed of delivery and precision. Defending against such systems is therefore a major problem for planners

[v] The World at War http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/index.html.The United Nations defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen “lesser” conflicts ongoing with varrying degrees of intensity.

[vi] Occasions of US military intervention 1989 – 2010 :

1989 – Panama, 1991 – Iraq, 1992 – Somalia,1994 – Haiti, 1995-96 –  Bosnia, 1998 – Iraq, 1999 – Kosovo, 2001 – Afghanistan, 2003 – Iraq, 2009 – Pakistan (Drones), 2010 – Libya .

[vii] The Economist, June 25th – July 1st 2011, special report China.

[viii] Howard, Michael. The Lessons of History, Yale University Press New Haven and London, p39.

[ix]Peter Hays Gries, China’s New Nationalism. Pride, Politics and Diplomacy Berkeley & London, University of California Press, 2004, p 105.

[x] BBC E-news 08 June 2011. Lt Gen Qi Jiangua speaking to the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

[xi] Lampton, David M. The Three Faces  of Chinese Power. Might, Money and Minds. Berkeley, University of California Press 2008, p16, 40-41 and 50.

[xii] The 24 Character Strategy is attributed to Deng Xiao Ping in the early 90’s as quoted in the Pentagon’s annual China report dated 17th August 2010

[xiii] The phrase Middle Kingdom was first applied to the XII dynasty of ancient Egypt (1991BC – 1778BC). As the Chinese name for China it first appears in 1000 BC when it designated the Chou empire, who unaware of earlier civilizations to their west, believed their empire occupied the middle of the earth, surrounded by barbarians. Since 1949, the official name for China is ‘The Middle Glorious People’s Republican Country.’

[xiv] As quoted in The Economist of Dec 4-10 2010 Special report p9.