US military support for India is not automatic in the Sino-Indian war. Delhi must know

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IIn the wake of the ongoing military standoff between India and China, there is considerable debate about the possibility of deeper engagement between New Delhi and Washington. While a deeper strategic relationship is highly likely due to Chinese military conduct aimed at unilaterally shifting actual control of the Line (LaC), it could be far inferior to Americans fighting alongside Indian forces in a Sino-war. Indian. Therefore, whatever optimists may be about the strategic partnership between the United States and India, the Modi-led government would be well advised to temper its expectations of an alliance and prepare for the worst.

There are basically two problems associated with a US-Indian alliance. Here, the author defines a military alliance to cover US military fighting alongside Indian forces in the event of a Sino-Indian border war. First, the United States’ national governance architecture limits the extent to which it can militarily support New Delhi in the event of an escalation between China and India, despite offers by the Trump administration to deepen cooperation in defense and mediation, which was politely declined by New Delhi and Beijing not only rejected, but even berated Washington’s offer. Regardless of the objective realities of American power, both in the form of its economic might and its capabilities to project military forces, Washington is likely to be hampered in its alignment with India. To be sure, the Modi government might not be convinced that Washington will come to India’s military aid in the event of a larger Sino-Indian military conflagration.


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Nonetheless, New Delhi should be reminded that it should not assume that US military support is automatic in the event of a larger Sino-Indian war. There are critical reasons to remain cautious about the degree of US military aid to New Delhi, despite a difficult military challenge for India to restore the status quo ante in Ladakh. Indeed, India may be forced to use force to achieve the reestablishment of the status quo ante regardless of US support. A weakened Republican president, let alone the United States Congress with the House of Representatives under Democratic control in the middle of an election year, will struggle to provide significant aid in the event India continues an escalating response to foreclosures Chinese territorial. in Ladakh.

Second, another key factor that will limit the United States is its social conditions and institutional realities. Its social conditions are linked to its ambivalence regarding the continued exercise of military power, which makes the public support system too weak for sustained and prolonged military campaigns. Even if a possible Sino-Indian military conflict does not continue, it could be costly and risky that Americans might be reluctant to incur. Empirical and historical data throughout American history over the past seventy years suggests a lack of enduring determination and motivation. The American defeat in Vietnam is the most glaring example of American limitations in the exercise of military might. In the case of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 which involved the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the American occupation of that country for eight years, even though some analysts and experts could declare it a victory, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

A final factor is the inability of the United States to defend its interests successfully. As a former Indian envoy to the United States, although on a different triangular relationship involving India, the United States and Pakistan, not so long ago, “the United States have not been able to get Pakistan to act where its own interests are involved. The United States has failed to convince Pakistan to stand up to the Taliban. The United States was unable to get Pakistan to deliver on the Haqqani Line. Therefore, the most glaring recent example of America’s limitations in pursuing a successful military campaign is its defeat at the hands of the Afghan Taliban with the explicit support of the Pakistani state. Indeed, the almost unconditional withdrawal or rather the surrender of Washington as part of an agreement reached between the Trump administration and the Taliban in February 2020 should clearly settle and destroy any segment of the hopes of the Indian strategic establishment that Washington can. really helping India. militarily in the event of the outbreak of military hostilities or a “hot war” between China and India.

Thus, whatever the extent of the current American-Indian engagement, will at most come in the form of continued and increased assistance in matters of intelligence, provision of military supplies, including during active hostilities with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Here too, there are no guarantees and preserving the diversity of military supplies must remain a priority for the Indian government. Yet American support will not be enough to actively participate in hostilities.


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Historically, post-independence India has never had any rock-solid guarantees of military support. Take, for example, the case of the 1971 Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the Soviet Union and India, which never in itself provided mutual military guarantees in the event of an attack on either side. of both parties by a third party requiring each party to the Treaty to deploy military forces to fight alongside the other. The Indo-Soviet friendship treaty closest to the extension of military assistance was enshrined in article 9 of the treaty, which read: the other holiday. In the event that either Party is subject to and attached to or threatened by it, the High Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to eliminate this threat and take the appropriate effective measures to ensure the peace and security of their countries. After all, the Soviets did not deploy their forces for joint action with Indian forces when the latter invaded East Pakistan in 1971, and New Delhi did not do the same when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. eight years later.

Thus, the Indo-Soviet friendship did not provide any watertight or automatic guarantee in military assistance as does Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), under which a military attack against one Member State is considered an attack against all Member States. Given that India does not have any automatic or unconditional military guarantees from the United States or any other country and there are individuals within or outside the Modi-led dispensation who subscribe to the idea that Washington will jump to the aid of India, must be immediately disillusioned with such a possibility for the aforementioned reasons. Rather, New Delhi’s approach in the current crisis with China in particular and against Pakistan and China together should be one that steadfastly follows the age-old saying: “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.

Kartik Bommakanti @ KartikBommakan1 is an associate researcher in the strategic studies program of the ORF. Opinions are personal.

The article first appeared on the Observer Research Foundation website.

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