Dragon appeasement pointless
According to the Pentagon’s recent annual report to the US Congress, China has bolstered its defence capabilities and force posture on the disputed border with India. This has raised the question: Why and how must India respond? Building defence force does not mean much since China has mobile, hard-hitting regular forces, which, in large numbers (about 32 divisions or 4,00,000 troops in two to three weeks) can be brought to the Tibet Autonomous Region with road, rail and air-lift capabilities.
The worrying capabilities are the huge storage sites for ammunition, missiles, fuel, spares and critical assembly parts (China has an impressive indigenous defence industry) – together called operational logistics – which China has built in TAR facing India. Also worrying are China’s impressive capabilities to simultaneous fight war in the domains of land, air, sea, electromagnetic spectrum, outer space, cyber and irregular by supporting insurgents into India’s North-East.
Equally worrying is the interoperability (the capability to fight war missions together) that the Chinese forces have achieved with the Pakistan Army and Air Force. The two have been doing advanced exercises together in north Kashmir since 2011. Incidentally, in December 2010, China announced that it did not have a border with India in Jammu and Kashmir (Ladakh).
The above-mentioned capabilities, though worrying, are nothing compared to the Chinese new force posture on the disputed border. A force posture which determines how capabilities will be optimally used, announces the winning side. Two critical components of a successful force posture are unity of command and joint operations. By disclosing the creation of the new and unique Tibet Military Command on 13th May, 2016, as part of military reforms by President Xi Jinping, India has militarily been put on notice.
The Commander-in-Chief, TMC, has been placed under the highest land-force headquarters, the Peoples’ Liberation Army headquarters or PLAA, based in Beijing for administrative, including outside resources and logistics, needs. Since China has resolved 12 of its 14 land disputes, the PLAA would ensure that the entire PLA resources are made available against India and, if needed, Bhutan (which has a special military relationship with India). For operations planning and actual combat, the TMC would be under the Western Theatre Command based in Chengdu. In war, the PLA chain of command would run from Commander-in-Chief, WTC, directly to President Xi Jinping, who is also C-in-C of the highest joint operations command in Beijing. The secretariat of the joint operations command is provided by the tri-service Joint Work Department which also has the responsibility to provide seamless integration between conventional and nuclear war plans.
By itself, the TMC commander would have dedicated capabilities from Army, Air Force, missiles, air defence, Special Forces, war-logistics, specialised equipment for high altitude warfare and so on within his area of responsibility. The commander would train all forces together for decided war missions. This is what unity of command and joint operations are all about. The commander would also have under him all border guards (equivalent of India’s paramilitary forces) and militia (equating roughly with India’s Territorial Army) to ensure internal stability within TAR.
The TMC’s area of responsibility includes India’s Arunachal Pradesh and a bit of Ladakh. Most of Ladakh, including Aksai Chin, is the responsibility of Lanzhou Provincial Command based in Xinjiang. Unlike the TMC, the commander of LPC has only border guards and militia under him. The regular troops and war resources are directly under the WTC.
According to Chinese experts, the commander LPC may also get upgraded in rank and stature to the TMC. However, this is unlikely. Since China says it does not have a border with India in Ladakh, it may allow the Pakistani forces to take the lead against India in the Kashmir war theatre by covertly providing military support.
Why has China, that professes peace with India, created the TMC? Building military power is not about war alone. It is about the ability to do successful military coercion (Chinese regular and one-sided transgressions across the disputed border); enhancing one’s foreign policy options; putting psychological pressure on adversary’s political leadership, military commanders and troops; and eventually winning wars without fighting.
What are India’s options in the face of growing Chinese military power? First, unlike what experts say, India’s dilemma of continental defence cannot be offset with maritime options, because no other nation will fight India’s land war.
Second, the hope that, with increased bilateral trade, China will stop its transgressions across the disputed border, amounts to wishful thinking. A case in point is China’s relationship with the United States. Despite huge trade with the US, has Beijing relented on its territorial assertions in South China Sea?
Third, India needs to review its mantra of cooperation and competition, suggestive of equality, with China. As long as the border dispute remains, China, which holds most legal, military and psychological cards, will not allow India space to grow. India needs to develop strategy to make the cost of military coercion expensive for China. More than military reforms and infrastructure building, it requires the political leadership to understand military power.