All war is bad! War against neighbours specially so! It leads to unimaginable loss of life, normalcy, happiness and prosperity not only for the right here and now, but for generations to come. Its sad that the Ukranian and Russian people have to go through the mad whims of the “strongman” Putin. I hope the war ends soon. That is the only best case scenario!
Wars usually have extended ramifications, not localised in the areas where they happen. Specially in an interconnected world like ours, wars suck in other nations: close and far. The supply chains of the world are critically dependent on some nations and so wars that involve them attract more crowd and makes everyone revisit not only their own wartime strategies but post the current war scenarios.
For context here is a small political map of the region in conflict:
Marked in red are the regions who will have to seriously consider the implications of the war and make a change to their international policies
The EU and the US might look like the ones working day and night to come with resolution and changes in the way they plan to deal east post the war, but its the east who will have to radically change it’s foreign policy to continue to hold key positions in the world polictics. I am not much of a international relations expert myself, but having followed India’s response to the crisis winvolving its long standing friend and the sudden influx of foreign ministers of multiple countries in the last 15 days, I would like to pen the predicaments India finds itself in, and some hard calls it might have to take due to its unique position in today’s order of the world.
India and China
There had been an extended period of calm with China, on the border and also in trade relations for some time. That has quickly changed in the last 5 years. It started in 2017 with the Doklam stand-off. For nearly 73 days the world watched Indian and Chinese troops face-off. China’s plans to build roads in the plateau region of Doklam would have given it close views and quick access to Indian terriotories in the region. (An Indian post in Doka La is supposedly just 60 m away from a Chinese construction).
The more recent events of the Pangong So lake in Ladkah and the Glawan Valley, which resulted in ~20 of our soldiers losing their life leaving an unreported number of Chinese soldiers missing, give plenty of signals to the intentions of the Chinese government about its foreign policy with its neighbours, specifically India. India in response, sent around 12000 workers to start infra development activities in the region and blocked a huge chunk of digital economy with China (attempted push back at maintaining the status quo)
There are 3 major regions of dispute with China:
The first section stretches east of Bhutan, where the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by the Chinese to be part of southern Tibet.
The second section is a narrow 50-mile stretch of land that spans between Nepal and Bhutan. This border region is small but strategically important to India in that it connects India’s far eastern states with the bulk of the country. Parts of this region is claimed by Bhutan in addition to China and India.
The third section runs north of Tibet and borders the Indian territory of Ladakh and the Chinese region of Aksai Chin.
China’s GDP which was ~11% of the USA’s in 1960 is now nearly 70% of its global challenger in 2019. It has been expanding its influence in the area, ptentially taking a leaf out of NATO’s handbook of surrounding its closest adversaries borders from all sides, creating just enough turmoil to keep India busy in resolving those rather than focussing on its own development.
China’s investments in the Asian region (the table misses Sri Lanka) have been aggresive and have spelt danger for India. Sri Lanka at the time of writing has gone into a state of emergency and until India makes sustained efforts to satbilise the region using its influence, its only going to open up one more front for us to protect and be worried about.
The Ukraine war has put India into a spot. It has taken a similar (much milder) stance than China’s towards the mindless exploration of Russia towards the west. It is in line with out foreign policy of not meddling with conflicts which are localised to specific regions of the world. Just like we didn’t have an opinion on the US invasion of Iraq or Vietnam, it doesn’t make sense to take any sides right now! However, what this has meant though, is that it is being put into the same bucket as China and other autocratic regimes by the world.
Once again, the tone of the western world is funny while dealing with India. They fail to recognise and appreciate the struggles India has been put through, and for the most part of it, has been left wanting on the part of its western allies to do something about it. The US for a large part, kept supplying Pakistan with monetary and miltiary aid, sanctioned India for its nuclear program and gave zilch support against China. Moral high grounds of the US and the west are easy to support in words but seldom have meaningful impact on the ground.
The predicament that Ukraine finds itself in is also because the west’s inaction during the invasion of Crimea, almost no involvement in the Minsk agreements and hollow promises to Ukraine, asking them to disarm of their nuclear weapons (in 1994, trialterally signing it with the US and Russia) in echange for economic compensation and security assurances. Ukraine transferred its last nuclear warhead to Russia in 1996 and dismantled its last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in 2001. The west was also slow to move against Russia in its sanctions. The greed of cheap energy for itself (making the EU largest consumer of Russian energy) kept the EU from thinking long term about the the regions independence from Russia.
While it is good to come together in a time of crisis, international poilitics has little room for moral highgrounds. It needs to be more practical, and take full cognisance of the past. US’s bad judgements in the Indian subcontinent (not that it has ever taken a good decision) have left the Afghanistan region in turmoil. India’s over dependence on Russia for defence technology doesn’t help it either. However isolating itself completelty from Russia, even after the war would be a big risk for India as it would give China a free card to be Russia’s biggest market and closest friend. It cannot afford to let that happen.
The independence of India’s foreign policy has proven good so far. (Look at Pakistan’s internal polictical turmoil right now) The time has come for the west to recognise that India cannot be coerced into a certain narrative which suits its current requirements. Dalip Singh’s blatant remark that
And the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breaches the Line of Actual Control, Russia would come running to India’s defence
depicts a childish rhetoric the US has resorted to in times when it should have risen to the role of a resolver and a mediator. Instead countries like Turkey are arranging talks between different parties, since the US seems to have given up all diplomatic hotlines to the Kremlin. If China breaches the LAC, I don’t see US taking any action whatsoever, just like in the present scenario. Consultant-esque poise or threats don’t solve diplomatic complexities.
India needs to keep itself distant from the politcs of this war, by not taking any sides. In the meantime a strategy to be more independent of the Kremlin which has been continuously entertaining stronger ties with China and more recently Pakistan will go a long way in making it completely non aligned. India’s problems with China are hardly understood by the west. China is a rising superpower and it recognises the that it is tough for two giants to coexist in close geographical proximity (specially if it is the size of India) Moreover there is some truth to India’s response to Ukraine crisis that it is Europe’s problem not India’s. Obviously there is sympathy with those suffering but that’s the exact same response that the west has also abided to. There are more pressing issues for India. It is to deploy its first Russian made S-400 triumf missile defence system and at time of tension across its border regions, it cannot afford to lose consistent supply of arms and spare parts from Russia.
The west has to quickly start creating real value for India. So far the Quad (US, Australia, Japan and India) hasn’t yet delivered anything meaningful. Rather it has left a bad taste in the mouth of the Chinese and the Russians, both of which are major concerns for India right now.
Russia might end up invading Ukraine completely or capturing some of the key regions near the black sea’s coastline. The most likely outcome is an unconditional assurance of the neutrality of Ukraine (like Austria or Finland), ensuring that it does not join NATO, which is what Russia has been vocal about. Whatever the result may be, Russia is a declining power. Its population and economic size has been shrinking and with the current conflict it will only dwindle. India need to plan ahead and diversify its military sourcing channels. It can emerge as a strategic partner for the west to combat China’s global expansion plans. The value that the west could derive by aligning with India is more than the reverse. India has found ways to survive without the west’s help.
If India can
- continue to create good internal policies, meaningful reforms and strengthen its internal institutions (Strong internal institutions create an environment of economic prosperity and reduce inifighting)
- continue to strengthen its economy with consistent high growth
- reduce dependence on oil (India has a huge oil deficit and a current account deficit)
- continue to be strong with respect to food security
- continue to strengthen its military preparedness (it lags China in terms of defence tech, but has an advantage of terrain)
it can be a key swing state in deciding the politics of the world!
All theories and outlooks are oversimplifications of the actual situation and this might be so as well. This is a simple summary of my understanding of the repurcussions and opportunities due to the war for India.
Long Read on Saturday! 🙂
A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.