Modi Can Build a Viable Indo-Pacific Alliance (Sunday Guardian)
The Indo-Pacific has the highest chance of witnessing kinetic conflict between the US and China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood from the start of his term in office that it was the Indo-Pacific and no longer the Atlantic that was the centre of gravity of global geopolitics. He also factored in the importance of working with Washington, as is clear from the speed and warmth with which he extended the hand of friendship to the US leadership. This was despite two successive US administrations seeking to curry favour with Congress president Sonia Gandhi by revoking the visa earlier given to him. This was an act of spite which represented a slap in the face of the world’s most populous democracy rather than be directed just at a single individual. However, within days of being sworn in, it was clear that the new Head of Government of the Republic of India had no subjective feelings about the move, and indeed made the US among his earliest foreign ports of call. First Barack Obama and subsequently Donald Trump in the White House have established warm personal bonds with Narendra Modi, ties that have resulted in substantial modifications of policy in both Washington as well as in New Delhi. Social distancing may be necessary in a world ravaged by Covid-19, but the distance between several policy decisions on major matters has been getting reduced each year since Modi took office to a degree much greater than what took place during the Sonia-Manmohan era, although irritants remain. Among these has been the relentless effort of the US Trade Representative (USTR) to neuter generic drug manufacturers in India to serve the interests of the billionaires he so transparently represents. Of course, the USTR professes to speak not just for the 300 richest men and women in the US, but for the 300 million people of what is still the world’s largest economic and military power, and who would find their health problems vastly more manageable were much cheaper generic products from India not blocked from sale in the US or the EU, where too Big Pharma exercises a similar degree of control over policy. Such leverage gets used in efforts at applying pressure on the Government of India to resort to measures that benefit large foreign drug companies at the expense of domestic pharma.
More than any other theatre, it is the Indo-Pacific which has the highest chance of witnessing kinetic conflict between the US and China, especially over Beijing’s efforts at securing control over Taiwan and the waters of the South China Sea. Should such a conflict take place and the PLA Army, Air Force and Navy succeed in overcoming US efforts at preventing the takeover of Taiwan, the effects on US credibility worldwide would be disastrous and irrecoverable. As for China, war planners in key countries believe that a PLA defeat in a naval and air battle in either the South China Sea or the Taiwan strait would reproduce what took place in Imperial Russia after the Japanese navy demolished the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905. The prestige of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after such a setback would, in the estimate of such planners, get reduced to such a level that there would be mass eruptions against the CCP on a scale and with a level of accompanying violence impossible to control. If the words of Prime Minister Modi at the 2018 Shangri La dialogue are to remain true, that differences between countries should not develop into conflicts, what is needed is an Indo-Pacific security mechanism in place that ensures an effective deterrent against the impulse for kinetic action designed to alter the status quo. During the period after President Xi took over the leadership of the CCP in 2012, the PLA, PLA Air Force and PLA Navy have become a force too large to launch a pre-emptive war against, even by the US and Japan acting together.
China is, therefore, safe from unprovoked attack. In similar fashion, a comprehensive defensive alliance including the US and India is called for. This would not be to launch a war with China, but to prevent military conflict from taking place. A meshing and sharing of manpower and materiel between the two biggest democracies would be a sufficient deterrent to maintain existing boundaries and deters effort at change, for example by an attempt to forcibly unite the two Koreas or to alter the status quo across the Taiwan Straits. For such an equilibrium state to happen, the US would need to ensure that India be given the same favoured attention that China got during the 1980s. Indian policymakers (most of whom are still romantic about Russia) would need to come to terms with the fact that a new Cold War with kinetic potential has begun in earnest, this time between Beijing and Washington. In such an era, at least in matters of security, non-alignment is not a viable option. India will have to join either the ever-strengthening alliance which is clustered around China (and which includes Russia and Pakistan) or the grouping that has begun to form around the US, now that the Indo-Pacific and not the Atlantic is at the heart of that country’s defence posture. Comprehensive exchange of resources and intelligence will need to take place between the new allies in order to ensure constant battle readiness, which is the only state of preparedness that would deter any country or combination of countries from initiating kinetic action as would provoke a conflict because of an effort to forcibly change the status quo.
Before 2027, the world may be nearing another 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis creating the risk of a war between superpowers. Hopefully this time too, war and its accompanying destruction will be avoided. Such a result would be exponentially more likely were India to become an active part of a security alliance designed to ensure continuation of the status quo in the Middle East and East Asia.