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Learnings from Galwan Valley- Part II. Implications of conflict with the strongest neighbour

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Shalin Divatia
Shalin Divatia
A Chartered Acccountant  with a keen interest in history , economics and international relations

In Part I, we discussed the similarities in the rise and advancement of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Communist China. Both, Hitler and Xi Jinping blundered in provoking open conflict with their respective immediate neighbours. Why were these a blunder? Read on.

There are certain important reasons which make China’s provoking conflict with India in 2020, a turning point in its vaulting global ambitions.

a. Opponents having similar or more population and size: Soviet Union was the largest neighbour that Germany had after its occupation of Poland, in terms of geographical mass and more importantly in the size of population. In 1939, German population (including sympathetic Austria being of German ethnicity) was estimated at 79 million as against France and England having a population of around 40 million each. It was only the Soviet Union which had a larger population of around 170 million. Wars initiated before the era of Weapons of Mass Destruction, intended to defeat the adversary by physically occupying its land mass and controlling its population. This needed, amongst other things, a large army of able-bodied men. In Europe only Russia had the human population to raise an army to match the size of the German army.  By bringing Soviet Union into the war, Hitler, provoked a conflict with a potentially larger army.

China has a population of more than 1.40 billion. Of all the Asian countries, only India has a population (1.30 bn approx.) to raise and sustain a large army to match the numbers of the Chinese army.

b. Capability to sustain an armed conflict: Equally importantly, was the capability to sustain a military conflict. After the initial setbacks, Russia activated its manufacturing base to produce military hardware in large quantities for its war effort. Though generally of a lower quality as compared to that of the German armed forces, it was of a large enough quantity to fight a prolonged war with Germany.

India has the largest economy in Asia with a robust industrial base which can produce everything from a pin to planes. These may not be of the best quality, or made at the cheapest price, but if needed can produce enough military hardware to sustain, in conjunction with a large army, a prolonged conventional land-based war.

c. Common Land Border: There is a saying in the armed forces, “Amateurs think War, Professionals think Logistics”. Having a common land border with the adversary, makes it easier to sustain a war in terms of providing adequate logistical support to sustain a fighting army. Germany and Soviet Union were on the same land mass of mainland Europe. The Soviets won back a far larger land mass than the Western allies who had the far more difficult task to launch a sea-based invasion. The area of the land mass covered by military conflict off the western borders of Germany was much lesser than the geographical area of conflict across its eastern borders.

China’s main adversaries are separated from it by the sea. Of all its neighbours, only India has a large army capable of a long drawn armed conflict with China. The fact that India and China share a common land border means that the logistics of supporting the Indian army can be conveniently managed in case of an armed conflict with China.

d. International Support: Countries have to, almost invariably, fight their battles alone. But the support and supplies they receive in various forms from other countries can go a long way in a military conflict. Nazi Germany may have been able to sustain a war in Europe for a much longer time. But it was unable to match the combined resources of the Allied forces, especially after the USA entered the war to support the allies. Germany’s allies were inconsequential and of no assistance.

The entire world is unhappy with the aggressive and adversarial Chinese approach. However, in the absence of size, strength or proximity and importantly, certainty of a quick victory, no country in today’s times would ever enter into military conflict. If, however another country has a military conflict with China, there are enough number of strong military powers who would render all possible support in terms of equipment, arms and ammunition. While China doesn’t have to fight a two-front war, it has to reckon with the fact that in any military conflict, India would be supported militarily by powerful Western powers who feel threatened by the growing aggression and rise of China. USA for one, has openly indicated its support to India and so have other western powers, directly or indirectly. China, on the contrary, is likely to have no support beyond, Pakistan and North Korea, both of little consequence.

e. Motivation:  Hitler’s motive in invading Russia was out of revenge, and partially out of contempt for the Russians as an inferior race. The Russians on the other hand were fighting for their survival and to protect their land. The Chinese motivation in land grabbing in Ladakh is largely economic to secure its land connectivity to Pakistan. The predominantly Han Chinese, conscription based, army lacks sufficient motivation to fight, other than their military orders.

India on the other hand has a nationalistic government which remembers the defeat in the 1962 war and has been tremendously antagonised by aggressive landgrab attempt and subsequent events in Ladakh. The Indian army is one of the most highly motivated armies in the world, especially when the call is to fight for the motherland. In an armed conflict, high motivation levels can do wonders as has been seen by seemingly impossible acts of bravery of Indian soldiers, against unsurmountable odds, during the Kargil war.

To sum up, it may be disastrous for China to enter into an armed conflict with India, irrespective of which country initiates it. India can match China in terms of the strength of the army and capability to sustain a conflict over a long border. International support in terms of superior quality military hardware can negate China’s advantage of possessing larger quantity of military hardware. And most importantly, the highly motivated personnel of the India’s armed forces can tilt the balance against China.

At the same time a peaceful withdrawal by China, irrespective of the optics it may seek to create, will reduce its aura considerably. A perceived negative outcome for China, will embolden its adversaries to stand up against Chinese domination.

India, on the other hand, has no choice but to ensure that China vacates the territorial encroachments  of 2020, peacefully or by force. Indian sentiment respects honourable death rather than a dishonurable living. Its a matter of  pride and honour for the nation and  an issue which will define Prime Minister Modi’s legacy for generations.

By provoking India into displaying its military strength and political resolve, China has managed to put itself between a rock and a hard place. 

Possible Outcome of the Ladakh conflict of 2020

In view of the factors set out above, it is unlikely that China will want military conflict with a firm and determined India. Communist China has a history of short military conflicts with far weaker opponents. Any adverse outcome of a military conflict with India will hugely dent China’s aura and clout internationally. It is likely, that the shrewd Chinese will look for a face saver, trying to retain whatever advantage they can. If India displays readiness  and willingness to go for military action, the chances are that China will buckle down and avoid conflict. It is up to India to display a resolve of steel to its adversaries, notwithstanding any adverse economic impact of a potential military conflict. This will also send a long overdue message to India’s other neighbours who continuously play the China card to India’s detriment. The Ladakh conflict of 2020 is a battle of minds.

Shalin S Divatia

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Shalin Divatia
Shalin Divatia
A Chartered Acccountant  with a keen interest in history , economics and international relations
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