Interview with General (ret.) Asthana:“The Sino-American Competition can better be described as Cold War 2.0, which will continue in global arena, for long term, in multiple domains“
Global Review had the pleasure to have another interview with former Indian general Asthana about the Sino-American conflict, the Ukraine war, realism and realpolitik and India´s role at the G 20 and the world. Due to a surgery the interview had to be a little bit postponed. We wish General Astahna good health and are impressed that he so quickly anwered our questions after he recovered.
Sino – US Issues
Global Review: Due to the Sino-American conflict, the decoupling, diversification and de-risking, there was and is a India hype in the USA which reached Germany last month. There are a lot of projections and high expectations in India, be it as the new global work bench, as greatest democracy in the Alliance for Democracies and as military ally for the West and the USA against China. However there are more skeptic and maybe realistic voices in the USA which warn of wrong expectations like Ashley J. Tellis in Foreign Affairs“ contribution „America’s Bad Bet on India-India won’t side with the US against China”. Could you give the Western audience a realistic picture what the USA and the West can expect from India and what not?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
The United States is an important strategic partner of India with commonality of interests in many fields, but the most important of all is the challenge posed by aggressive China. At global stage it wants to dislodge US as superpower by 2049 and at regional stage it wants a China centric Asia. This congruence of interest is a long term engagement in context of “A Hundred Year Marathon” written by Michael Pillsbury. It is also a fact that China is Indian neighbour with unsettled border, which is unlikely to be resolved in near term, even if some de-escalation takes place on LAC; hence will continue to pose a threat to India in long term. China also poses a long term threat to democracies and rule based order by embracing rogue and failing regimes to pursue its interest. This long term challenge poses a compulsion that US led West and India need to work together to take on China challenge in all domains including political, diplomatic, economic, technology and supply chain resilience, information, cyber and other non- kinetic options for rule based order and free and open Indo-Pacific. US and West can expect full co-operation of India in the subjects listed above and those identified in Quad joint statements, and many common multilateral forums and bilateral agreements.
On the kinetic domain, India looks at US and other strategic partners in the West for its combat capacity building in terms of technology and intelligence sharing. I don’t visualise much probability of a Sino-US contact war in near term, but military posturing to indicate each other’s vulnerabilities will continue, for which mutual support is relevant, as bulk of Chinese vulnerability in terms of its sea lines of communications pass around Indian coastline and can be threatened by mutual support. Malabar Exercises do convey some strategic messaging in that context. India and West can expect good cooperation in these common areas. India therefore is Not “A Bad Bet” as Ashley Tellis puts it, but an “Inescapable Bet” in my opinion.
What the US and West should not expect from India is to give away its strategic autonomy, power to make sovereign decisions in the interest of its people and self-respect to pursue its national interest. While US and India will be great support to each other in Kinetic action against belligerent power, threatening peace in Indo-Pacific region including Himalayas, both will retain autonomy in escalating/de-escalating the confrontation. What should not be expected from India that it will follow dictat of any power blindly, even if its not in the interest of its people. West shouldn’t expect to find another Zelensky in India or use it as vassal state as Macron feared it for others last month. India is a strong country, and the only country in the world having unsettled borders with two belligerent neighbours, both nuclear powers, one of which has largest Army and second has most credible terror network in the world. The strategic behaviour of India will therefore be guided by these factors and therefore expected to be different from allies of USA.
Global Review: How does India perceive the Sino-American conflict? Are visits of Pelosi and other officials helpful to strengthen the US- Taiwan relations? Are they not a dangerous provocation for China while at a certain point could intervene? After the Pelosi visit China draw a new line of a “new normality”, crossing the previous median line, ended ADIZ, however replaced its former wolf war warriors by more pro- Western persons, promoting the “Spirit of Bali”. The Xi- Biden-meeting at the G- 20 meeting in Indonesia, the Yelen/Liu meeting and now the hoped for Blinken meeting, which was cancelled by the spy balloon affair. How do you see the present state of the Sino-American conflict and the future perspective for India and Asia, if Biden or Trump or Desantis be elected?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
The Sino-American Competition can better be described as Cold War 2.0, which will continue in global arena, for long term, in multiple domains. Despite all the rhetoric and provocation, the magnitude of economic engagement and dependencies restrict it from maturing into a contact war. US and Europe’s dependencies on China as a global factory are so intense, that in context of China instead of sanctions, it is inventing new words like diversification, decoupling and de-risking to deal with it. The contestation will therefore remain within Non- Contact Warfare domain in near term, to include economic, political, diplomatic, information, technological war besides other domains of warfare.
Regarding Taiwan, Provocations like Palosi’s visit will invite aggressive posturing but not necessarily a contact war. It does not make any strategic sense for China to invade Taiwan, as it has all the negatives except false bravado, with bright chances of loss of face globally and domestically, in case the operations fail; hence, it is likely to contend with activities short of war. Chinese strategist Qiao Liang, a retired PLA Air Force Major General, warned that taking Taiwan by force is ‘Too Costly’. Moreover, Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed as yet, giving no justification for China to cross US red line of ‘Changing status Quo by Force’. PRC’s aim is to pressurise President Tsai Not to declare independence, keep pressure on, hope DPP loses next election and work out favourable arrangements with opposition KMT, likely to be favourable to China. Neither China nor US want war, but none wants to give walkover as well, hence this strategic gaming and posturing will continue.
Chinese “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” seems to have been replaced by a new era of Charm offensive, use of soft power, infrastructure offensive, digital and economic encroachment to pursue Chinese interest and undermining interest of others which needs to be acknowledged as a threat. The smart diplomacy of Xi Jinping 3.0 era aims at having strong relations with any country, which has troubled relations with US due to any reason, on Chinese terms. It signed a $ 400 billion deal with Iran, to ensure its long term supply of oil, which was suffering under US sanctions. What Chinese have learnt is to avoid picking up issues with partner country, which do not impact it economically. Therefore, China ignores what Iran is doing to its women protesters, or Taliban doing to its people as part of its new smart diplomacy.
To summarise the “The Hundred Year Marathon” between China and USA will continue and Asia and Indo-Pacific will continue to be an important playground for it. For India, there is no doubt that China poses a threat to it and USA doesn’t; hence the choice is obvious one. The Sino-American and US Indian equation is unlikely to change in near term, irrespective of who gets elected in White House, because of compulsions explained earlier.
Global Review: Isn´t it wrong to assume that the Ukraine war is about Ukraine. Isn´t it about the fight for a New World Order and would it end with a ceasefire or a Korean solution for Ukraine or only be a short break and be continued? Hasn´t Xi given Putin the green light to invade Ukraine at the Olympics because he, like Putin, believes the West was indecisive, divided, in decline, rotten and that the Ukraine war will, as Western military experts also had all predicted, be an easy 3-week affair. Didn´t Xi give green light to Putin as Stalin gave Mao and Kim back in the Korean War, then to tie the US in Asia and distract from Europe, today in reverse to tie the US in Europe, distract from the Asian Pivot and weaken its Asian pivot against China and as a battering ram and first step towards the military implementation of the new multipolar world order. As Lavrov noted at the MSC: A new international security architecture must first be in place, only then can regional conflicts such as Ukraine or Syria be resolved, but not the other way around. And the Global Times ran the headline: Vietnam Yesterday, Afghanistan today, Taiwan tomorrow? A great deal was expected from Putin’s Ukraine war, but the calculations didn’t work out for the time being and the West remained more unanimous than assumed, which is why the peace dove is now being played, especially China with its Global Security Initiative along with the Global Development Initiative including BRI and the Global Civilizational Initiative as part of the Xi Jinping Thought. Is this only a tactical adjustment, until the West and other parts of Asia and the world are not so united anymore? Is Xi and Putin only playing for time? What role does India play as it supports the idea of a multipolar world—in a Chinese- Russian meaning or has India its own Concept for a multipolar world?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
The ongoing war in Ukraine is certainly not about only Ukraine, but it’s a big power contestation happening in Ukraine as the battleground. While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war between Russia and Ukraine continues, the US-led NATO is waging an undeclared, non-kinetic, non-contact war against Russia in the economic, information, diplomatic, and political spheres, making them de-facto parties to the conflict, that is unlikely to have a victor.
You are right that the war in Ukraine is more about global dominance in general and European dominance in particular. Logically Cold war 1.0 between US and Russia should have ended with disintegration of USSR, and US should have concentrated on ongoing Cold War 2.0 with China posing bigger threat to global dominance, but US continued with eastward expansion of NATO and has woefully mixed-up Cold War 1.0 with Cold War 2.0 with clear advantage to China.
Whether Xi Jinping gave any green light to Putin to invade Ukraine during Olympics in 2022 is a matter of speculation, but what is certain that China will welcome any country taking any action to harm US interest, in any manner and will be ready to make friendly relation with any country having any problem with US, anywhere in the world, as part of Cold War 2.0. Iran being a case in point; hence closer relations with Russia is obvious outcome. The Biden Administration’s overdrive to weaken Russia, reduce its influence over Europe, cut out Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and NATO’s over involvement in war in Ukraine have proved to China’s advantage and created an anti-US Axis bringing Russia closer to China than ever, along with many other countries Iran, North Korea and much bigger foothold in Middle-East. USA may not admit but the signs of it being distracted from Indo-Pacific as well as Middle- East are clearly visible and both have worked to China’s advantage. The West will like to colour this war as Russia and China trying to militarily impose multilateralism on US unilateralism, but if Seymor Hersh has to be believed US has successfully imposed its unilateralism on Europe by knocked off cheaper energy pipeline to Europe to decrease Russian influence over the EU, which is compelled to keep purchasing its expensive oil and military equipment from US, besides gaining lucrative contracts to rebuild Ukraine in future.
Any idea of quick consolidation of Ukraine through Russian offensive was unsound as Ukraine too was preparing for war since 2014. The prediction of ‘Three day affair’ was flawed as Russian forces which entered Ukraine were neither organised or equipped for reducing large built up areas like Kyiv. SurelyRussia miscalculated/under-estimated Ukraine’s resolve to defend itself and NATO’s resolve of such prolonged support to Ukraine. Russia knows its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information warfare, and political warfare, which are heavily skewed in favour of US led NATO and Ukraine and the collective conventional might of NATO is stronger than its residual combat power; hence, talking of option touse nuclear weapons, in case of existential threat will continue to be a powerful tool to prevent NATO entering into contact war with Russia in future too.
President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow with “Strategic Partnership with no limit” tag was impressive optics, but nothing worthwhile in terms of military hardware support to Russia. It however gave stern diplomatic message that neither Russia is diplomatically isolated as US led NATO will like to imagine, nor sanctions can bring Russia to knees and both countries are looking towards “Multipolar Global Order”. The partnership also assumes significance in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean.
China has left USA led NATO speculate with concern, the extent of Chinese lethal support to Russia (if any), notwithstanding Zelensky’s reports of increasing traces of lethal support. US threatened China for sanctions, which responded by mocking US as morallynot qualified to give orders to China, after sending billions of dollars’ worth in aid, to fuel the war and its history of invasions in Iraq and Libya. China, however is unlikely to compromise its largest consumer market in US and EU; hence, has denied any combat/lethal support to Russia. China therefore has gone in for ‘Charm Offensive and attempts to improve its diplomatic score by offering a 12-point peace proposal, which it knows that US/Ukraine will never agree. It has again sent its envoys to Kyiv and Moscow to showcase its additional efforts as possible peacemaker after its recently claimed success in getting Iran and Saudi Arabia together, checkmating US in Middle-East. China with its Global Security Initiative along with the Global Development Initiative including BRI and the Global Civilizational Initiative as part of the Xi Jinping Thought is working towards its long term aim of increasing its global footprints to dislodge US as lone superpower by 2049 or earlier, and be the second pole along with US.
India doesn’t contribute to anyone else’s idea of ‘Multipolarism’. Irrespective of what China says, its actions suggest that it wants China centric Asia and bipolar world order where it shares top spot with US before dislodging it from there. I am not too sure that Russian meaning of Multipolarity is in sync with China, which to my mind looks at Eurasia and CAR more closely. India, in my opinion doesn’t contribute to their idea of Multipolarism and is wanting equitable representation of entire world for shared peace and prosperity including global South. It therefore looks at rule-based world, free and open oceans structuring of global institutions like UNSC accordingly to avoid inequitable over-centralisation of power. There could be multiple poles emerging like Europe, Arab world, ASEAN, India and others besides US, China and Russia. The world seems to be slowly making adjustments accordingly, although the old players are resenting the shift as long as they can. In context of Indo-Pacific, the multipolar Asia is a pre-requisite to Multipolar world.
Global Review: There are big disputes in the West about realism and liberalism/idealism. The realist claim that the Ukraine war had its cause because of NATO expansion and a show of strength by the USA and the West which provoked Russia to invade Ukraine. A NATO membership of Ukraine also wouldn´t have been a direct military threat to Russia, as Poland and the Baltic States were already NATO states directly at the border of Russia and Moscow and if the first NATO soldier would pass the Russian border, Russia would have reacted with a direct nuclear reaction. Therefore if there never was a military threat, why did Putin invade Ukraine? For his idea of Novo-Russia and that there is no Ukraine or Ukraine people, but only Russians who want to be liberated as an united in Novorussia as part of the Eurasian Union and a bigger part a multipolar world with China and India? The idealists/ liberals say that the NATO decision by Merkel/Macron against a Georgian and Ukrainian NATO membership was the demonstration of weakness and invited Putin for his aggression, Then there are more radical points of views like the Green think tank Liberal Modernity which claim that any authoritarian regime tends to expansion, wars of aggression, therefore you have to make a regime change and fight democracy wars against them. More holistic thinking people as John Mearsheimer think that the Ukraine war was not just a regional conflict, but had its deeper cause in the unnegotiable antagonism between liberal democracy and authoritarian statehood, the USA while criticising that Russia and China want spheres of influence that the USA perceives the whole world as its sphere of influence and even wants to enlarge it, which will meet resistance by other great powers. However Mearsheimer doesn’t analyse the structure of states but only sees them as existent entities and as great powers they always would behave like Russia and China are doing, Why doesn´t India accuse the Russian aggression, while it tries to get support for the Chinese offensive behaviour in the Indo- Pacific and at the Himalaya border?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
Before answering your question about Indian position let me comment on the preamble to your question. The realist claim that Russia Ukraine War was provoked by NATO’s eastward expansion is logical and is backed by US efforts to cut out Europe’s dependency on Russia for energy and other resources fearing loss of influence/hold over European countries had Nordstream 1 and 2 become operational to full capacity. The incentive for US Arms manufacturers for instigating a war in Europe was that it will be a bumper sale of its military hardware, because a war elsewhere doesn’t guarantee US Arms sale because there are many exporters including Russia in competition. This is a motivating factor for Biden Administration to prolong the war as long as it takes. Unfortunately the European countries did not prepare to defend themselves, had no sovereign choice but to follow US narrative; hence the rhetoric continues, despite Europe loosing cheaper energy sources and power to make independent decisions.
The idea of Novorussia is not new and did not trigger a war before 2014, but became prominent after increasing discrimination of people of Donbass under Zelensky and picked up as a theme of information war by the West, to justify that there eastward expansion was not really the cause of Putin’s aggression.
As an analyst viewing this conflict from a distance, I don’t contribute to the idea of US led NATO is fighting for democracy. The fact that they negotiated with Taliban side-lining democratically elected Government of Abdul Ghani, supported and armed military dictatorship in Pakistan for decades against democracy in India, supported CCP of China economically to break USSR, and replaced democracy of Taiwan in United Nations by CCP of China to suit its economic interest, indicates that its opportunist call for democracy to make good narrative. In any case Ukraine is under Marshall Law dictatorship of Zelensky since the time war has started. Russia Ukraine war is a big power contestation between NATO and Russia, as extension of Cold War 1.0 wherein Ukraine seems to be the battleground and willing Zelensky as the puppet to pursue the proxy, to keep escalation level below nuclear Armageddon.
India stands for peace and has rightly avoided taking sides. It has good connections with all of the opposing powers and will like to maintain it. While each country’s sovereignty must be maintained, and both sides have rejected it when it has served their interests, as in the Iraq war, Crimea and Afghanistan; hence, if India has to blame Russia it must blame US led NATO for what it did in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Why India finds it morally correct to ask the world to condemn Chinese aggression because an independent India hasn’t violated sovereignty and territorial integrity of any neighbour and has respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. Indian criticisers in the West must remember that despite their support to Pakistan, having achieved total victory in East Pakistan, Indian Army not only returned back to its country, allowed new nation to be born, saved lives of 93000 Pakistani Prisoners of War who could have been lynched by Bangladeshis, by bringing them to India and releasing them to Pakistan. Moreover, Chinese aggression in all dimensions poses a threat to entire globe, not only to India and needs a collective response, which is a common requirement.
Global Review: After the West decided to deliver battle tanks, Zelensky now prepares for a spring offensive against Crimea. Ex-general Ben Hodges thinks that Crimea could be liberated by August 2023.,then the Donbass would fall and maybe Putin too. This also seems to be the position of US Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin, while JCS General Milley, CIA chief Burns and National Security Adviser Sullivan in a RAND study thinks that there could be a negotiated solution. Some say that a Long war was in the US interest and It would absorb power needed for the fight against China. Therefore, there would be only two Options: A quick Victory or a negotiated solution? Which scenarios do you think are realistic and which conditions have to be met to come to a negotiated solution? And how do you think a post-Ukraine war Europe will look like? A Europe with a New Iron Curtain and without Russia and may be a Korean solution for Ukraine with US bases in the remaining Ukraine?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
Your question symbolises western optimism as well as narrative of putting too much hopes on Proxy Hybrid war through Ukraine. As military analyst I would not give much chances for quick victory to any side. The idea of elimination of Putin or Russia without it firing any of its nuclear weapons is fairy tale for NATO, well away from reality. Ultimately it will have to be a negotiated solution, but the time doesn’t seem to be ripe for the same.
While Russia can choose its time and place for its offensive/counteroffensive, Ukraine is under pressure to launch its overhyped Spring Offensive. NATO will like to see Zelensky delivering ‘Bang for the Buck’, having met his 98 percent requirements of military hardware, and shaping the battlefield accordingly. It is interesting to note that Arms dealers of US, working like deep state, will continue pushing US administration to continue with war, who in turn will push NATO & Ukraine to continue till last Ukrainian standing.
Pentagon knows that ultimately Ukraine will finally have to make some compromises to its territorial integrity, as it’snot possible to fully evict Russians from there. However, Russia winning additional 15 percent of Ukraine after Crimea, is an unpalatable pill for NATO, which can encourage Russia to grab more in future; hence it would like to give offensive a chance with willing Zelensky, overhyped to show Russians their weakness, more so when NATO carries no burden of body bags. President Zelensky has no choice but to continue the war, with western propaganda depicting him as the undisputed winner, overplaying poor morale of Russian military, having shaped the battlefield accordingly.
Apparently, Ukraine may be pushed into offensive soon and Russia and Ukraine will see some more destruction before coming to terms with reality of changed territorial alignment, after delaying it as long as it takes!
Global Review: What do you think of Lula´s Peace Club initiative which tries to bring in India and the BRICS as mediators? And how does India think of India´s Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative and Global Civilizational Initiative under the Xi Jinping Thoughts that want to portray China as the world peace power for stability, prosperity and development and send the meta message that the USA is the world trouble maker and destructive force? Will India join China´s Initiatives which seem to materialize in the China- Arab Summit, Saudi Arabia deal and maybe as peace initiative in Ukraine? Why didn´t India and Modi start an own Indian initiative?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
President Lula’s recently proposed plan for a “peace club” – a group of “non-aligned” countries to generate negotiations and mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, or Beijing’s peace plan to my mind are pre-mature, as US led Ukraine and Russia are not keen to negotiate, at least for the time being. The basic precondition for any negotiations is that Both sides must ‘Agree to Agree’, which is not the case in Ukraine. Russia holding additional 15 percent of Ukraine after Crimea, is an unacceptable reality for NATO, which feels that it can encourage Russia to grab more in future; hence it would like to give belated spring offensive a chance with willing Zelensky, more so when NATO is not to carry any burden of body bags. Russia too finds itself well short of achieving its overall strategic aim of annexing entire Donbass Region, capturing entire southern corridor to link it to Crimea and extend it to Transnistria to ultimately landlock Ukraine to secure Black Sea for its maritime movements. With heavy burden of economic cost and casualties, it is struggling with its desired end state for conflict termination. A hard slogging tug of war, in otherwise stalemate situation in Ukraine exists, wherein each side hoping better gains to secure better position for talks, putting a brave front despite suffering war fatigue is a reality. Negotiations/Mediation, therefore will have to wait till both sides get closer to accepting realities. India will certainly like to mediate for peace provided both sides want it and show keenness/ acceptability of Indian mediation. Till then its futile to risk its goodwill with either.
China in Xi Jinping 3.0 era, with challenges of increasing decoupling, has gone for ‘Smart Diplomacy’ aslatest version of Charm Offensive, where it seems to have made some significant gains in denting US influence in many areas. PresidentXi Jinping’s successful visit to Saudi Arabia, after not so welcomed visit of US President, scored a diplomatic point with many commercial agreements in place.China brokering resumption of diplomatic ties between arch rival Saudi Arabia and Iran, has bigger implications in shrinking US strategic space in West Asia. The Arab unity seems to be rejuvenating with some of them welcoming Syria in Arab fold. The biggest advantage which China may gain is that such group of partners will soon be trading in local currencies/Yuan which marks the beginning of decline long term monopoly of dollar, which made US most powerful, due to its hold on global financial system.
China’s Global Security Initiative, Global Development Initiative and Global Civilizational Initiative under the Xi Jinping Thoughts are steps to portray China as the world peace maker and alternate option for stability, prosperity and development.
Chinese charm offensive of Xi Jinping 3.0 era aims at having strong relations with any country, which has troubled relations with US due to any reason, on Chinese terms, with no concern to any morals. India doesn’t contribute to China’s idea of charm offensive and has snubbed it in every forum, wherein China has been luring India to normalise relations despite standoff in Ladakh. India also maintains its strategic autonomy not to compromise its national interest under undue influence of any power.
The world community must take note of the Chinese new era of Charm offensive, use of soft power, infrastructure offensive, digital and economic encroachment to pursue Chinese interest and undermining interest of others and acknowledge it as a threat. It must counter it in similar dimension, collectively, to ensure that assertive China` doesn’t become too aggressive to build a China centric chaotic world order on the name of multi-polar world order.
On the one hand: A programmatic article in Forbes India “Seven Security Nightmares India must prepare for”, which deals with possible threat scenarios and the question of whether India is sufficiently prepared for this.
The second contribution is Brookings expert Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta’s book “Arming without Aiming”, a summary of which can be read in the article The Drag on India’s Military Growth. (http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2010/09_india_cohen_dasgupta.aspx)
Comments of Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
India has unique security challenges, which is not easy for many analysts in the West to appreciate. Let me comment on both the articles mentioned above from my perspective having served for four decades in Indian Defence Services.
Seven Security Nightmares India Must Prepare For by Forbes
The article has correctly identified some threats which India is dealing with, but has exaggerated the magnitude of the threat to alarming level in most cases, which is away from the reality. It is understandable that this article was written 13 years back and lot has changed since then. Let me comment on each one of them.
· Pakistan’s Nuclear Capacity Falls into the Hands of Rogue States/Terrorists. This is not only a threat to India but the entire world, more so with the kind of internal disturbance, which Pakistan is undergoing now. The nuclear arsenal currently seems well under control of Pakistan Army, but the possibility of a dirty bomb being passed on to some terror organisation like al-Qaeeda or LeT can’t be ruled out and the same can be applied in West or India, depending on the orientation of the group. It is therefore necessary that all world powers collectively work out the options of such an eventuality, wherein India can play its part. Any unilateral action by India except punishing terrorists can be counterproductive in nuclear domain. A peaceful democratic Pakistan not favouring terrorism, with strict hold over nuclear arsenal is in Indian interest, but unfortunately China and US backing to Pakistan Army, which has been the root cause of jihadi threat and is a radicalised organisation, has drifted the country towards misplaced idea of Jihad, wherein such threat has become imminent.
· War on Terror Fizzles out and the Taliban Returns. This point was speculated in 2010. For now Taliban is already in power, and India is dealing with it appropriately and terror incidents have declined appreciably.
· China Encircles India and Launches a Limited War. China continues to try to encircle India through China Pakistan Economic Corridor, China Myanmar Economic Corridor, naval bases like Gwadar port and increased maritime excursions in Indian Ocean. It breached all Confidence Building Agreements and sheepishly sneaked in Eastern Ladakh, which was responded by mirror deployment of India and some pro-active actions, resulting in some disengagement and the standoff continues. China has been given befitting reply and India continues to do additional capacity building to undertake China challenge. In addition, India has gone into many strategic partnerships and agreements with like minded countries like US and France, who see similar Chinese threat in Indo-Pacific Region.
· India’s Nuclear Deterrence Fails. It’s a valid point. India’s ‘No First Use’ policy needs a revisit as it should not serve as a handicap for it. The policy was adopted in the backdrop to prove that India is a responsible nuclear state despite not signing the discriminatory NPT. The realities are changing and I am sure that the officials dealing with it must be considering the currency, validity of the policy and modifications, if any.
· Naxalite Rule Replaces Government in Wider Areas. It is an outdated point, grossly exaggerated, as Naxalites movement is dying due to inclusive growth and good governance. There are very few incidents, which are fraction of gun violence cases in US. It is reducing to merely a law and order problem.
· Home-Grown Jihadists Spread. Its again outdated and exaggerated. The homegrown jihadi numbers have reduced to miniscule level (in hundreds), well under control of India. Indian security forces are well capable of handling them.
· The Rest of South Asia Turns Hostile. It is outstretched imagination of 13 years back. The reality is that most countries in South Asia except Pakistan have excellent relations with India. Some of them do strategic balancing with China at times, but it hasn’t affected bilateral relations appreciably.
The Drag on India’s Military Growth
The book “Arming without Aiming” as well as the Article “The Drag on India’s Military Growth” are both outdated by over a decade. The Chief of Defence Staff, as recommended in the article is very much in place. Indian Defence Forces have come a long way in defence modernisation since the book has been written, however India still has to cover a lot of ground in military capacity building vis a vis its adversaries.
India is largest importer of military hardware in the world importing 11 percent of global military imports, which justifies some of the arguments in the article, but the speed with which it is progressing self-reliance or “Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ in defence manufacturing is unprecedented. The indigenous production of military hardware in 2022-23 has gone up by 12 percent over previous year crossing $15 billion mark. India has made a modest beginning in defence exports too.
The comments on Indian procurement process too is outdated, which has over a period been refined with well laid out Defence Procurement Procedure under DPP-2022. The idea of civil hierarchical dominance/control over military is a story of all democracies in the world at varying degrees and India was no exception. The civil-military fusion in recent times has seen fair amount of improvement in India.
The context in which this book was written is that India has been consistently denied defence technology by the West resulting over-dependence on Russia for defence procurement. India of today has diversified procurements, gone full throttle on indigenous manufacturing, and is emphasising on transfer of technology in defence imports. Collaborations and improvement in rules for FDI in defence manufacturing increased to 74percent from erstwhile 49 percent is showing positive results.
Global Review: India will chair the G 20 Summit. What is Modi´s agenda? Will India just manage the meeting or push new initiatives? What could Modi achieve in the Ukraine war, in the Sino-American conflict, at a UN reform, climate protection, an Indian economic reform which attracts foreign investors, not let India become the next benchwork of the world like China or join RCEP, but create its own economic program that will boots India in the next 21st century ? What could be and will be the Indian agenda?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
Although G20 Presidency is rotational but India will like to make the best of its Presidency period for seeking common solutions for larger/common good of humanity, which is the true purpose of the organisation. The objectives of G20 of bringing stability to global economy through international economic and financial cooperation and addressing other challenges faced by the world to include conflict, terrorism, climate change, food and water shortages, health, energy and people’s welfare remain unchanged. The Indian effort is to stick to its purpose of global good and do its best to avoid it being hijacked by motivated narrow agendas, like most global meetings in recent past have landed into.
India has identified six shared priorities i.e. firstly Green Development, Climate Finance & LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), secondly Accelerated, Inclusive & Resilient Growth, thirdly Accelerating progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fourthly Technological Transformation & Digital Public Infrastructure, fifthly Multilateral Institutions for 21st Century and sixthly promoting Women-led development.
India, as a responsible country aims to shape the global response to global challenges in critical areas and addressing problems of segment of humanity who don’t have a voice in such forums. Towards that end, India is emerging as a leader of Global South and has conducted Voice of Global South Summit on 12-13 Jan 2023.
India has invited Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and UAE as guest observers besides other organisations which are invited for all G20 meetings in past.
India has no intention of losing the focus from the purpose of the organisation and will try its best to resist tendencies to the G20 being hijacked by narrow motivated agendas. India plans to conduct 200 meetings on global agendas and has already conducted over 100 official meetings across 41 cities covering 28 states/Union Territories to increase awareness of delegates about India besides main agendas.
Despite best efforts by India, there may be spoilers/distractions, given the geo-political rifts, North-South divide and polarisation of interests within G20. Over-emphasis on Russia-Ukraine War, geopolitics of China and Pakistan campaigning to miss out some meetings at specific places like Arunachal Pradesh and Srinagar and such distractions may pose some challenge in getting consensus on globally relevant issues. India will try and moderate to minimise distractions.
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who retains the copy right). The author can be reached at Facebook and LinkedIn as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site https://asthanawrites.org/ email email@example.com LinkedIn Profile www.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6
SHORT BIODATA: MAJOR GENERAL (DR.) S B ASTHANA, SM, VSM, Ph.D. (VETERAN)
Globally acknowledged Strategic and Security Analyst, Ph.D. from JNU, has authored over 450 publications. Veteran Infantry General with 45 years of experience at national and varied international fields. Former Director General Infantry in Indian Army. Held various key appointments in Army and United Nations.
Director Courses, USI of India, the oldest think tank of India. TV commentator, Speaker in various Strategic, Military forums, UN Organisations, Think tanks and Universities. Interviewed by various National and International news channels/newspapers/organisations on strategic, military and UN related subjects. Currently On Governing/Security Council Confederation of Education Excellence CEE, International Organisation of Education Development (IOED), and other UN Organisations. On Advisory Board of Global Advisors Consultants Corporation, IOED representative in UN Headquarters, Vienna, Austria. Distinguished Expert, Bharat Centre of Canada. Advisor Amity University, Bharat Media LLC, USA, former member Expert Group Challenges Forum, Sweden.
Awarded twice by President of India, twice by UN, CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana. Awarded for “International Diplomacy and Global Conflict Resolutions” by IOED twice, a Consultative body for ECOSOC and International Police Commission – IPC India, by former Prime Minister of Moldova.
Following the interview, some readers had additional questions and comments on General Asthana´s statements which we summarized and sent him for further discussion. Here his answers:
Global Review: General Asthana ignores two facts when using the argument that the Ukraine war was provoked by an continue Cold War 1.0,the NATO enlargement and the discrimination of Donbass Russians by the Ukraine nationalist.
First, there is the NATO-Russia Founding Act 1997, in which both side agree that the former Sovjet republics can choose their military alliance at free will including Ukraine and that NATO won’t build permanent military bases in the East or deploy permanent decisive troops. NATO has never acted against this, but kept its promises. Even the alleged pro-Russian president Yanokutschw allowed NATO manoeuvres inside Ukraine in an annual Basis.
Second. Putin in his famous and so called peace speech at the German parliament Bundestag in 2001 claimed that Europa could only become a real world power if it merges its „economic, cultural and Defensive potentials with Russia“, means: He wanted a Eurasian military without the USA, but against the USA. He also have the French Front Rational 40 million Euro that it makes the Frexit, withdraws from NATO-means: Smash the German-Franco axis as the engine of the EU and by this the EU, weaken NATO as Germany and Poland would get in a Sandwiches Position between a nuclear armed fascist France and Russia, change the power relations in the UNSC. Isn’t this the real cause of the Ukraine war and the real motives by neo-imperial Russia. Not defense against NATO, but its deletion and pushing USA out of Europe while China wants to push the USA put of the Indo-Pacific?
Third: There never has been a military threat for Russia from Ukraine, even if it became NATO member or from East European NATO potentials. The first NATO soldier crossing the border to Russia would cause a nuclear war. Why can’t Russia accept a NATO membership in Ukraine as promised in the NATO-Russia Founding Act 1997?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
In reference to your first point, as an independent analyst I don’t ignore that in 1994, ‘The Memorandum of Security Assurance’ was signed at Budapest, in which Russia, US and UK assuredthat its sovereignty will not be compromised, which was a major factor in Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal (Third largest nuclear arsenal in the world at that time, although they were Russian assets placed in Ukraine) and signed NPT. Now, Russia has violated its sovereignty, and the United States and the United Kingdom are unwilling to send boots on the ground to protect it, due to fear of escalation to a nuclear catastrophe. I also do not ignore NATO-Russia Founding Act 1997 mentioned in your question. But, I can’t also ignore that In his meeting with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, former US Secretary of State James Baker’s famous „not one inch eastward“ assurance about NATO expansion was one of a cascade of guarantees about Soviet security provided by Western leaders, although no agreement was signed. Post USSR disintegration in 1991, NATO adopted open door policy allowing erstwhile USSR countries to join NATO, if agreed by all existing members, which was viewed as eastward expansion of NATO and resented by successive Russian leaders, but NATO prevailed. When such eastward expansion, after adding 14 countries, reached at consideration of Georgia and Ukraine, Putin, seemingly confident of the military power at his disposal, drew a redline, failing which Russia would have to face a direct land border with NATO at strategically sensitive area and perhaps deployment of NATO arsenal threatening Russia, in his opinion. A geostrategic study would reveal that it would have also made Russian Black Sea fleet redundant, and almost blocked Russian entry to Mediterranean, thus compromising security of Russia. Even Pope had mentioned that why US had to bark on the door of Putin? Russia thus reacted with annexation of Georgia, Crimea and operations not to allow Ukraine’s entry into NATO at any cost. This I had predicted and published before the war ‘Why Ukraine is a test bed for big power contestation’.
Let me add answer to your third point also here as both are linked. President Zelensky would have expected a violent action from Russia after signing decree aimed at de-occupation and reintegration of the Crimean Peninsula on 26 February 2021. before the war. If any strategist under-estimates relevance of Crimea for Russia, he is bound to make miscalculation. Joint exercises with NATO gave up Zelensky’s as well as NATO’s intentions too, adequate to alarm Russians, even if such acts were aimed to impress domestic audience to garner support for Zelensky. Surely Knowing Putin, he would not have waited to allow Zelensky and NATO to execute their plans and he taking no action with such heavy military arsenal; hence he seems to have launched a pre-emptive ground offensive. While Russia can be accused of violating territorial integrity of Ukraine, the US led NATO can also be accused of provoking him to do so. No-one is a holy cow in this contestation.
The second point mentioned above is a Western interpretation of Russian intentions. From neutral perspective, the same is true for US also. There is no doubt that what defines Cold War 1.0 is the scenario described in the question, wherein Russia and USA both tried to increase their influence in Europe in what I call Big Power Contestation. The pity of Europe is that it did not prepare to defend itself and depended on USA for collective security after Second World War, and did not emerge as strong defensive block at its own. Now, threatened by offensive posture of Russia, NATO and EU have no choice, but to cuddle with US for collective security, overlooking the fact that continuation of this war is sacrificing peace and energy security of Europe, triggering refugee crisis, and related internal security issues with so many mercenaries, armed volunteers licensed to fight, who may continue their activities in Europe, even after the war. If Europe can’t figure out that US/Zelensky has ensured that their source of cheap energy in terms Nordstream pipelines has been strapped, it has to buy costly fuel, it has to buy more US weapons and divert tax payers’ money, and many of its sovereign decisions are hostage to US Administration, then it has certainly placed politics over people’s interest. In my opinion the ideal Europe should have been strong, sovereign, buying energy from cheapest sources and keeping Russia and USA both at bay not to muddle with their national interest, but I think its too late to realise it.
Lastly, the information war is intense and the West has decisive advantage in it over Russia; hence I am not surprised that public in West is being fed a narrative of USA led NATO leaders. We in India do get some balanced news and therefore analyse it from balanced perspective, which might appear biased to readers flooded with western news. Incidentally my most analysis have been published in Europe and I speak my mind in all think tanks of USA too.
Global Review: Is India really such a harmless defensive power? It threatened to reconquer Pakistan or Pakistan Kashmir as part of India before Pakistan had nuclear weapons, ignited the Bengali separatists in East Pakistan, threatens Sri Lanka and supports the Baluch separatists in Pakistan? Doesn’t the US support Pakistan to counter and balance the Indian threat?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
I appreciate the concern of Pakistani reader, given the kind of economic and political turmoil that the country has led itself into. I can only draw attention of readers to the fact that the tale of ignoring democratic win of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, atrocities of Pakistan Army and the resultant defeat of Pakistan Army, with 93000 prisoners has been narrated by their former Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly. India despite being victorious moved back to its own boundaries after independence of Bangladesh and creating condition that no more refugees enter India. The use of terrorists as strategic assets was admitted by their former President General Parvez Musharraf. India entered Sri Lanka on request of Jaywardene Government and left the country when it confirmed to be capable of handling the internal security situation itself. There is no evidence of Indian support to any Baluch separatist nor is anyone in exile in India, although some of their activists are in western countries. Incidentally, Pakistan has maximum number of UN designated terrorists in their soil as per UN data. There is no Indian threat to Pakistan, but it is being pushed as a narrative by Pakistan Army to retain all levers of power. China and USA support Pakistan Army as both want to use their strategic space whenever required. None of them has any special love for Pakistani people.
Global Review: Beyond the peace initiatives in the Ukraine war as the Turkish, Israeli, which had no success there is now a peace initiatives by Brazil (Lula’s Peace Club) and the Chinese 12 point plan. Till now there is no Indian Initiative or mentioning as mediator in the Ukraine war. But now also Africa under the leadership of South Africa is starting an own Ukraine Mediator peace Initiative. Many think this is more a symbolic show without substance to demonstration that for the first time not Europeans have peace initiatives, but that for the first time Africans in Europe representing the Global South, if not the AU. However: Is there the possibility that there could be a kind of BRICS peace initiative in Ukraine or which role should India play in the Ukraine war? Could it try as Lula to integrate all these efforts? Or are these initiatives more symbolic activism ?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
Globally the people want the war to end, as it is hurting everyone by inflationary pressures, unprecedented energy and food crisis, especially global South, which is not party to this war. The same is the thought process is India. The fact the PM Modi made it a point to meet President Zelensky during G7 Summit in Japan and conveyed that he will do everything possible he can to end the war, indicates Indian seriousness. However, Indian diplomacy is quite mature and knows that so long White House and Putin don’t want war to end, all mediation efforts have no chance to succeed. All mediation efforts mentioned by you have failed so far vindicates what I mentioned in my interview earlier. Certainly when both sides are in a mood to “Agree to Agree’ then I am sure such efforts will have some chance and India has conveyed its willingness to pursue it on many occasions. Till then it may not be wise to risk Indian political goodwill with both the parties, till both want India to mediate.
Global Review: Which Indian nuclear deterrence or deterrence strategy would be appropriate instead of the No first use strategy-also in view of South Korea’s Kill chain and KAMT/KMPT deterrence and Japan’s New enemy base strike capabilities? Do you think that Modi will adopt the New necessities in appropriate time? Are there any plans or drafts for it? And what if China will bring its own nuclear ICBM arsenals to US and Russian level? Couldn’t it be better if India becomes the initiator of Nuclear Arms Control Initiative in Asia?
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
India’s nuclear doctrine of maintaining a posture of „No First Use“ nuclear weapons, will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere has served Indian strategic interest well so far. The current policy caters for nuclear retaliation to a first strike to be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage to adversary. It also lays down that in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.
There is no doubt that with growing strategic competition between US and China, and Chinese plan to increase its arsenal to 700 nuclear warheads available for delivery by 2027, and as many as 1,000 by 2030, the Arms Race is likely to intensify. China symbolically hasn’t changed its No First Use policy on paper, although on ground there are indications that it is planning to use nuclear weapons not only to deter the adversaries, but also be able to counter-attack if deterrence fails, to protect its national security. China is also known to have violated its signed policies at opportune moment, as seen in case of UNCLOS in South China Sea and CBMs in case of LAC in Himalayas; hence, its statements are not worth relying. India will certainly continue to re-evaluate its strategies at appropriate levels and in case any changes are required it will be undertaken, whenever our national interest demands so.
India is a nuclear country with effective nuclear triad, maintaining the nuclear arsenal just to meet the requirement of minimum credible nuclear deterrence. Japan and South Korea are both non-nuclear countries; hence the concerns and comparisons are not the same. South Korea’s Kill chain and KAMT/KMPT deterrence and Japan’s New enemy base strike capabilities are good response mechanisms, but India has an option of retaliatory nuclear strike in case of a nuclear attack and has delivery systems to reach Chinese heartland with Agni5 and will have capability to reach anywhere with Agni 6 under development. India has its own air defence and missile defence umbrella and is constantly looking to upgrade its capabilities. Some of the systems you mentioned are also subject of considerations in developing its capabilities.
The nuclear arms control will be driven by Big Power Contestation and is a global issue, which might not get resolved in Asia. Chinese are comparing themselves with US and Russia and all these powers have to be on board for any possibility of disarmament initiatives. We also have some rogue states like Pakistan, who attribute their survival to nuclear bomb. Indian policy supports disarmament and nuclear arms control in non-discriminatory manner and shall continue to do so, but currently there are not many takers. Conversely more countries in Asia are wanting to go nuclear like Iran or may be Japan or South Korea in future, should their adversaries continue with crude threat of nukes! Possibilities of nuclear arms control don’t look positive in near term in Cold War 2.0 scenario.