|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | AMBERISH K DIWANJI|
|May 14, 2001||
Amberish K Diwanji
Chinks in the armour
India has readily accepted United States President George Bush's National Missile Defence and Theatre Missile Defence programmes. While this makes India a virtual ally of the US, it is also fraught with immense dangers for India. Alas, not for the first time it appears that while India appears pleased at being called a US ally, we seem ill prepared to implement the consequences of this momentous decision.
There is no denying that in the coming years China will be India's greatest potential threat. Pakistan remains our worst neighbour at present, but it can be taken care of (in the coming decade and next, Pakistan's fragility poses a greater threat than her strength).
But China is a huge country with increasing wealth, military strength and ambitions. Thus, for India to align with the US in any likely face-off against China would appear to make perfect sense. Moreover, India has more trade with the US than with China; there are more Indians out in the US than in China; both India and US have similar legal and political systems; and most important, both do not (yet) threaten each other's strategic space (which India and China do to each other).
Also, compared to China, the US is clearly more powerful and India showed a killer instinct by joining hands with the bigger side. Size does matter. Only in romantic novels do the small guys win; in the real world, to quote Napoleon, God is with the bigger battalions!
But there are two problems that come to the fore. First, in cozying up to the US against a perceived Chinese threat, India runs the risk of becoming the battleground in any possible Sino-US conflict. Unless India is imperilled, Indian soldiers must not be in the frontline should China and the US decide to face each other militarily. At the height of the Cold War, Western Europe had a similar fear of being the battleground between the US and Soviet Union.
China is unlikely to ever actually strike at the US unless its existence and sovereignty is direly threatened. The US, with the vast Pacific Ocean as a buffer, is too far away to be threatened by current Chinese military capabilities. But China won't be so chary of striking at India to assert itself or send a message to the US.
Tragically, the entire sub-Himalayan belt stretching from Ladakh in the west and moving in a semicircle to Arunachal Pradesh in the east is within easy striking distance of Chinese missiles located in silos in the Tibetan plateau. This belt comprises the highly populated states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and big cities like Kanpur, Lucknow and Patna. Even Delhi and Calcutta are not too far away. Worse, for India to effectively counter-threaten the Chinese, it has to strike at its key population centres like Beijing and Shanghai located thousands of miles beyond the Tibetan Plateau. At present, the Indian military lacks the power to actually do that.
This means India is far more at risk than either China or the US, and we need to be clear about this danger even as we cuddle up to the US. We also must be clear to what extent the US will back India.
Second, it is believed that China is at present not keen to engage in a military race with the US because it first wants to become an economic superpower. Surely, India is in the same boat. If at all India has reason to avoid getting caught in an arms race against China at present, it is because it needs to become an economic giant which, in turn, can support India's military ambitions. Alas, India appears to have put the cart before the horse!
To simply choose guns over butter will destroy India in the long run. India cannot afford that, even if the Indian middle class (which must be most pleased with this growing Indo-US relation) thinks otherwise. Simply building up our armed forces while ignoring the social infrastructure will leave India a hollow power. We have the example of the failed Soviet Union and the failing Pakistan before us. Let us never follow their path of becoming economic weaklings and military giants. Such a combination is doomed to fail, always. The Chinese have clearly realized this. India must also understand it.
Thus, to be at par with China in every sector and ensure our sovereignty (with or without US help), India has to achieve growth rates of 10 per cent and more for a decade; wipe out illiteracy, poor health, unemployment and poverty among its citizens; achieve painfully drastic land reforms so that agriculture production trebles to ensure that India is never at someone else's mercy for food; increase industrialization while ensuring that our manufacturing is world class... the list is long, and difficult.
Alas, all these tasks are boring chores that don't grab headlines like aligning with the US; these are jobs that have to be done diligently every single day and yet take decades to accomplish; these are hurdles for which the ruling and middle classes have little patience. Worse, these require extremely tough domestic decisions, which our political leaders don't implement for fear of losing votes in the next election.
Now that we have taken sides with the US against China, we need to implement the consequences of this decision. We need to match China on our own strength. Otherwise, we are sowing the seeds of our doom. If we fail, we will end up an American puppet, completely dependent on the US, like Taiwan. Or be forced to accept Chinese lordship in South Asia. Both are humiliating and unacceptable to any self-respecting Indian.
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