20 August 2017

Doklam Crisis: Testament To India’s Strategic Confidence, An Exclusive Piece

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

India is celebrating its 70th Independence Day. The nation has come a long way since 1947 when doubts about its very survival were making a run. It was dependent on food aid from the United States (US) and security assurances from the Soviet Union. However, the evolution of Doklam crisis signals that India is now a matured, assertive nation capable of defending its national values and interests by relying on own capabilities.

Immediately after the partition, Pakistan had initiated decades long conflict over the Kashmir issue, leading to wars. India also had to face an adversarial China in 1962 destroying the optimism about their friendly relations and common development. In 1971, India faced its worst military situation as it was confronted on all sides by Pakistan and its international supporters. Only the presence of Soviet Navy helped de-escalation from possible global nuclear showdown. This explains the dominance of Soviet equipment in India’s defence arsenal.

The military-strategic reality during that period compelled India that its security is best guaranteed only by nuclear weapons. Even as existing nuclear powers decided to stop this process, India tested a nuclear device in 1974 but stopped short of declaring itself a nuclear power. With missile technology development in an advanced stage, India decided to go nuclear in 1998 becoming a de-facto nuclear power. India’s scientific community was able to develop indigenous technologies for these purposes and therefore making India self-reliant for its security.

These experiences helped India to evolve a nuanced approach towards securing its borders. India has emerged the major arms importer in the world. However, recent developments suggest a shift away from relying on a sole exporter to a more diversified base of suppliers. Moreover, India has released a policy to strengthen domestic defence industry to become self-sufficient for its security needs.

The current government has made North East a top priority for both economic development and territorial security of India. Civilian road and airport infrastructure is being developed that can double as strategic assets during emergencies. North East is also the gateway for India to reach South East Asia, the principal point in Act East policy.

India has also made Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan a top priority in its Neighbourhood First foreign policy as well as other regional connectivity initiatives. Amidst the debate on whether it should be the United States or China India’s Prime Minister should go on his first foreign visit, he decided on Bhutan.

In this context, China had clearly miscalculated that its salami tactics would yield results not only of territorial concessions from a small neighbour but also coerce India for strategic gains. The fact that China tried accentuating the 1962 war during the stand-off shows that it has undermined the determination and capabilities of India never to accept the same fate. The stand-off will continue since China is now stuck in a quagmire unable to escalate or pull back. However, it will have to face the inevitable as winter approaches closing off the logistics lines.

India’s calm and calculated response to China over the Doklam issue is perhaps the first credible, decisive push from regional countries that are concerned about China’s territorial expansionism. This will elevate India’s role as a responsible, leading power that is determined to defend the status-quo and ensure proper security for common development of the region. The fact that India was able to defend China’s attempted incursion without support from external partners proves the country’s confidence on its own defence capabilities.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is well suited to Himalayan warfare as it can maneuver over sharp turns and steep dive onto the enemy’s airfields, tank columns, logistics lines etc. The strike aircraft like Su-30 MKI are license produced in India while the transport aircraft like C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster are imported from the United States. India is also yet to firm up its rifle procurement even as the Comptroller and Auditor General found that the country is lacking critical spares and ammunition. India’s defence budget is expected to raise because of the Doklam crisis but major reforms are required in defence R&D, production and acquisition.

India could use this momentum to actualize procurements as well as joint projects with major defence suppliers such as France, Germany, Sweden and the United States which are also concerned about China’s rise and its attempts at territorial expansion while disrespecting international norms.

India is young as a nation-state but its civilization dates back thousands of years from which certain governing principles of its foreign policy and military security evolve. There are still certain technical elements that are yet to fall in place but the consistency of current government to reform the defence sector is quite apparent. It is important to note that the country’s human and natural resources, economic potential, geographical setting, international relations etc. also come into the equation altering the strategic equation. Considering this, it is not overstating that India has evolved into a strong nation and its leadership is much needed amidst regional and global uncertainties.

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