Indo Pacific: war does not wait

(To Gino Lanzara)
18/10/21

History can be viewed from multiple angles; if for Churchill August 1948 marks, losing India, the beginning of the English historical-political downsizing, for Nehru it represents the appointment with destiny, the a moment that history rarely grants, that in which a people leaves the past to enter the future ..; the moment that brings back to the memory of Lord Mountbatten HG Wells and his the man who did miracles1; the moment that sinks into anguish Ciryl Radcliffe, despite herself responsible for a division heralding tragic errors. It is the story of a man, Gandhi, a symbol of an impossible utopia rejected by Muslims and by a number of Hindus who felt betrayed, unaware that his country had already started its own nuclear program in 1944.2; is the story of a country that grew up amidst the contradictions of smiling Buddha3 of the wars against China and Pakistan, of the thousands of victims of the Bhopal disaster, of the slums of Calcutta, despite everything for some the city of joy, of the burning pyres of the dead of Covid, mocked by a country, China which, as never before, in a post pandemic that has slowed down the political and economic apparatus operated by the BRI, should look to its tormented and anti-historic courtyard.

India, for years in the superficial Western imagination, represented the snobbish alternative for the wealthy on board yellow submarine, was the expression of a society incapable of discerning the features of policies which, without too many remorse affixed an unproductive and childish transcendence to the Mahatma, among the peaks of Muslim Kashmir have stigmatized the exploded and latent conflicts with Pakistan and China, and on the Indian Ocean are now outlining the contours of the upcoming war. A conflict that cannot fail to ignite the third body of water on the planet surrounded by key passages4, rich in energy, mineral and food resources, a sea that, after the Cold War, has regained its geoeconomic and geopolitical verve as a function of the strong rivalry between Delhi and Beijing, united, on a sea long neglected for the Atlantic SLOCs, from the defense of lifelines / lifeblood5 that push them to look to the west, to the fields of the Persian Gulf, and to the African coast.

During the last decade, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with the consolidation of the maritime concept and the contextual increase of the Asian political weight, an overlapping of political-economic-military interests has been staged, which has redefined the balance of power and relationships. of strength, caused by the assertive rise of the Dragon who, now grappling with the first real political crisis, aims to trace the boundaries of a new conceptual map characterized by a single arc of continuity.

India, pro mari its, want to check the his ocean which, despite its geographical name, is currently an extension controlled by the Americans due to the bases in Kuwait, Djibouti, Bahrain, Oman and Singapore from which they monitor access to the main straits.

Faced with the Chinese project to outline a new international order, Japan, attentive to American political fluctuations, Australia, India and the USA, the latter tied to the essential strategic logistic value of the island of Diego Garcia, remain antagonists of Beijing, placing the Indo Pacific at the center of a polarized and ideologized foreign policy, encouraging an integrated political-economic vision of area relations, relaunching connectivity and promoting free navigation, also in light of the pandemic that forced governments to reconsider health priorities and destabilizing side effects.

Indo Pacifico is a political term, not a geographical one, and its perimeter changes according to strategic assumptions: for the USA, the area extends from Hawaii to India, while for Japan it reaches the eastern African coasts; the fact is that the countries using hegemonic exercise, UK, Germany and Japan are not sparing attention and presence in the area6. If for Mackinder the region between Eastern Europe and Central Asia constituted the geographical pivot for the control of Eurasia, today the Indian Ocean can influence the distribution of power equally incisively; interesting are the observations of Spykman, in The Geography of Peace (1944), where he argued the importance of Rimland, that is, the region including the lands of the West, the MO and the Asian maritime regions which, allowing access to both the sea and inland areas, justified the geopolitical assumption that "..who controls the Rimland, rules Eurasia; who rules the Eurasia, controls the destinies of the World ".

Currently Russia and India are on distant positions, with Moscow intent on playing the role of the geopolitical balance needle, focused on the dream of the great Eurasia, far from the West, ever closer to Beijing, and with India set in the diadem US-led anti-Chinese.

India, for Moscow, represents the essential piece of the mosaic of Eurasia according to the vision of Evgenij Primakov, theorist of the Sino-Russian Indian trident, mitigator of American hegemony; an idea useful to the Indian plan which would open up an autonomous strategic space for Moscow with respect to Beijing, and which could also allow Indian access to the Arctic resources of the Kremlin.

The Sino Indian interest in the acquisition of a maritime power projection it reflects the thinking of Mahan, who assigned Asian dominion to the power capable of controlling the Indian Ocean as an area within which to decide the destinies of the 90st century. Delhi, which for a long time has kept the ocean on the sidelines of its strategic calculations, and which remains dependent on imports of hydrocarbons especially after the pandemic, thanks to its geographical position, has officially structured its first maritime doctrine since the 1962s. A theory that recalls both the defense of the EEZ and SLOC, and the containment of the presence of Beijing, ready to recall the defeat inflicted in XNUMX, a debacle that suggests Delhi to implement naval and underwater forces7.

In the background, Pakistan, an adversary since 1947, and bound to Beijing by infrastructure projects useful for guaranteeing the corridors between Xinjiang and the port of Gwadar, a land alternative to the routes coming from the Persian Gulf, without counting the support for Afghanistan, an element strategic anti-Indian and object of aims that not only aim at infrastructural improvements but that concern access to rare earths and minerals worth over 1 trillion USD; to compensate for the geographical disadvantage, Beijing can only aim to support its long-haul logistics.

The Indo-Pacific stakes are very high, and presuppose the maintenance of American control over straits and routes, according to dynamics that have given new life to the QUAD8 and have induced Delhi to assume more assertive attitudes that cannot fail to consider the opportunity to create strategic nuclear weapons systems9 tolerated by the US, while engaging with the Iranian JCPOA. On this subject it should be remembered that, in the event of a conventional war like that of 1971 between India and Pakistan, the asymmetrical Indian superiority would allow the swift defeat of Islamabad, an aspect that led Pakistan, having recovered from the loss of the western territories which later became Bangladesh, to undertake the atomic path; While Delhi has achieved nuclear deterrence based on medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles and sea-launched SLBMs, Pakistan has developed a triad atomic capable of rivaling the Indian one, with the adoption, however, of a different philosophy of use and which does not exclude the first strike10 in light of its superiority in short-range and miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons.

How covered are Narendra Modi's shoulders?

There are many open internal fronts: from the discontent of farmers, fearful of falling at the mercy of private companies, to the privatization of more than half of the country's public banks, with the threat represented by the increase in non-performing loans, to the possible adoption of a national cryptocurrency which, however, would limit the growth of the financial market. Modi is attempting to turn India into one driving power, entitled to ask for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and to aim for a regional primacy capable of proposing it as an alternative model to the Chinese one.

Of particular interest are relations between India and Israel, which share a liaison characterized by pragmatic diplomacy; Beyond shared interests, there is a cooperative potential for civilian nuclear issues, for which Israel cultivates sound strategic motivations aimed at preventing the transfer of technology from Pakistan to the MO countries. It is no coincidence that until the 90s India was excluded from any level of negotiation; the importance attributed to the Indo-Pacific term therefore means how much and how the picture has changed, with Delhi becoming an immovable player in regional dynamics.

Since his election in 2014, Modi has attempted to compensate for China's rise with all sorts of tools by empowering the Look East by Narasimha Rao from 1993 then Act East, which wants to contain Chinese influence by connecting India with Southeast Asia through investments in economic diplomacy, strengthening relations with the US and regional actors, counteracting the soft power of Beijing accused of aiming to exploit financial leverage thanks to the debt trap. However, the political process remains impervious, given the China-Pakistan-Turkey alliance which, supported by Iran and Qatar, support jihadist formations in India, according to a strategy that wants to generate a syndrome of encirclement between Nepal, Pakistani Kashmir and Chinese Ladakh, to which Delhi reacted by creating a new internal office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Oceania Division, concerning the Indo-Pacific area, South East Asia, the Islands and the countries between Thailand and Australia, an area where China is almost everywhere involved in maritime disputes.

Kashmir also highlights further relevance for the actions carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad11, whose dynamics are directly linked to Afghanistan, given that the NATO withdrawal allowed the group to return to its home area; the Qaedist AQIS fighting group must be added to the jihadist theme12, born with the intention of bringing the verb of al Zawahiri to India, Bangladesh and part of Pakistan.

Taking into account that without ambition one cannot even imagine a possible competition, especially in the protectionist century of the BRI, it should be remembered that Delhi, which perceives itself as the heir to the British naval power held in control of the emerging regional navies, is an atomic power with an economy destined to follow the upward path of an explosive demography.

Foreign policy also benefited from a new impulse, which exploited the wave brought by the regional needs for economic and geopolitical expansion, according to a strategy that affects energy, commercial and industrial security. Three key areas: the implementation of regional relations13, the Act East Policy14, a new maritime role in the Indian Ocean to be associated with the Sagarmala Project, an infrastructure program that intends to modernize six of the major Indian ports by developing transport and related industrial areas.

Given the particularly changing continental geopolitical framework, including Chinese expansionisms, wavy US political lines, the shift of Russian interest from Washington to Beijing, it is essential for India not to suffer the events, even at the cost of negotiating with the sanctioned Iran in order to enjoy supplies of crude oil15, however bound to the non-circumventable caudine gallows of Hormuz, otherwise insured by the Saudis.

In any case, the Sino-American friction with Delhi remains dangerous, given that, after China, the USA is the first trading partner, and that China is the holder, for India itself, of the highest trade deficit; on the one hand, Beijing is therefore responsible for the Indian trade deficit, on the other Washington guarantees the surplus which compensates for the Chinese deficit. Strengthened by its membership in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, India has not entered into formal alliances with either Russians or Americans, which has favored the propensity to entertain, unlike China, extensive cooperation with the West without succumbing no foreclosure towards multilateralist SCO initiatives16 and BRICS; in fact, if it was not Modi who induced a different geopolitical attitude, this is to be found in the aggressiveness of Beijing, a friend of Islamabad.

Although there is no real possibility of transforming ties into binding alliances with Western democracies, sooner or later India is destined to join the ranks of countries with stable anti-Chinese relations with the USA, which confirms that, to unlike what happened during the cold war, it is no longer possible to isolate oneself by following one third way.

Character naval relevant Indian was KM Panikkar, ideal continuator of AT Mahan and the theory of command of the seas, which prompted the Indian management to plan the setting up of one world-class Navy aimed at a policy centered on infrastructural renewal on land and on significant operational installations, thanks to which it can offer itself as a guarantee of safety throughout the Indian Ocean17. However, it should be remembered that budget difficulties affect stocks and operations, which is why it has already been announced that, in 2027, instead of the expected 200 ships, the Indian Navy will have only 175, and with a previous shortage of helicopters accompanied by an alarming rate of accidents18. In this regard it should be remembered how, between the Andaman Islands and the mainland, to the north east of the Indian Ocean lies the Bay of Bengal, with the center of Visakhapatnam where the Eastern Naval Command operates, the first base for submarines and where, a little further east, missile test installations insist.

But how much does the non-alignment? Not a little, however, given the unwary FONOP19 of Washington, with which a naval logistics agreement has been signed since 2016, and which could greatly cool the enthusiasm for possible diplomatic liaisons with a country that, moreover, has not signed UNCLOS, an agreement not fully implemented by law not even from India.

That Delhi is a partner to be preserved is however testified by the diplomatic activity of the CNO20 American, Admiral Gilday, who wanted to underline the level of cooperation between the two nations, also thanks to the acceleration given by the Biden Presidency following the Afghan withdrawal which, with the AUKUS affair21, accompanied the rise of the Indo-Pacific pivot, the generation of doubts about the American reliability, the simultaneous loss of relevance of the European partners, in turn subject to severe American scrutiny for relations with China. AUKUS itself induced President Macron to make contact with Prime Minister Modi to re-establish a relevant French political position in the diplomatic, economic and military spheres, to which the supply of Rafale fighter jets is no stranger. There is no doubt that it will be necessary to follow the evolutions linked to the US decisions on possible sanctions22 comminable to India and consequent to the purchase of the Russian defense system S-400, which could significantly change the Pakistani deterrence which, unbalanced, could be induced to carry out a beheading attack able to overcome enemy anti-missile defenses.

The realistic politics of the double oven on the part of both antagonists, even Americans who, engaged in complex areas, cannot detach the economic framework from the strategic-military one, given that, moreover, the existing strategies do not seem to be all integrated and coherent23.

The convergence between the USA and India is based first of all on Chinese containment, given that neither country has a shared Indo-Pacific vision, relatively more contained than the American one, more extensive than the Indian one. The Delhi strategy aims at a defense of the SLOCs, necessary to ensure energy supplies, with a demand that summarizes an expected growth and that justifies the geopolitics of the West look e look East, linked toAct East, which laps the extended area between Hormuz and i choke points of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok with an intense activity of naval diplomacy. Beijing therefore perceives the threat of East look Indian who, from Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, could interrupt Chinese communication lines to Malacca; the hypothesis of the scenario of the India-China-Russia chimera, the Sino-Indian conflict of interest persists which, in its latency, justifies the naval, nuclear arms race, or in any case with oceanic battle groups that must consider the presence of the most powerful political entity, the USA24.

In summary, the Sino Indian relationship could characterize the geopolitical future in Asia; at the moment the EU is absent from these dynamics, not intending to risk commercial interests with China. Should a short-term conflict erupt, China would not receive particular damage, given stocks and war capabilities, so India, overwhelmed by conventional and nuclear means, could find itself engaged on two fronts, the terrestrial on the northern peaks and the even more dangerous on the Ocean, even if the geography does not facilitate the Dragon by covering the Indian shortcomings hidden by the deterrences cultivated since 1962.

At the moment, the Indian Navy cannot block traffic in the South China Sea or even prevent Chinese access to the Indian Ocean; mountain ranges and oceanic extension therefore remain of fundamental importance to try to guarantee safety. The Indian balance of Chinese capabilities, in addition to military deterrence, must focus on diplomatic work, exploiting the fact that Beijing, for the moment, seems to have opted for the inappropriate use of fighting forces outside the areas of immediate interest. , however, guaranteeing a constant presence, capable of deterring dangerous policies, such as the possible Taliban support for the Uighurs.

More realistically, Modi is aiming at a system of formal and informal relationships useful for maintaining a balance of power; in this sense Sino Indian relations fall within the congagement, a fluid balance between containment and cooperation.

Italy has also expressed its intention to enter the Indo-Pacific area, trying to associate India and Japan in a partnership where the maritime dimension is fundamental; however, it is essential not to restrict the dispute in a commercial context, given that the military meaning in a geopolitical key is fundamental, as evidenced by the constant presence of Marine Nationale, Iranians and Israel. Not surprisingly, Beijing implemented an immediate strategy to counter AUKUS, putting pressure on Mexico for its offer to join an Asia-Pacific trade deal.

It is evident that the AUKUS submarines, as nuclear, are not intended only for Australian defense, but are aimed at operations such as to justify, in terms of time and distance, the use of a reactor.

In any case, globalization also requires Italy, where it intends to remain a commercial hub, to look to the Indian Ocean and its passages. The problem therefore remains political, with a persistent lack of desire to affect without which it is impossible to preserve the indispensable balance of power and national interests.

1 Story of an Englishman who for one day was invested with the power to do whatever he wanted

2 Led by Homi Bhabha

3 Code name of the first Indian atomic bomb

4 Cape of Good Hope, Bāb al-Mandab Straits, Hormuz, Malacca and Lombok

5 maritime communication lines

6 London has destined the HMS Queen Elizabeth”, Berlin the frigate Bavaria.

7 The Nuclear SSK Chakra, chartered from India since 2012, it was returned to Russia in advance. According to Indian sources, the reason is "increasing unreliability of the propulsion system and maintenance problems ".

8 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic military diplomatic agreement between the USA, India, Japan, Australia, in response to the increase in Chinese power. Beijing reacted with formal diplomatic protests.

9 See the Arihant, first nationwide nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear ballistic missiles (SSBN)

10 The existence of the doctrine has recently been confirmed "Cold Start”Which would consist of a cold start in the event of an escalation of frictions with Pakistan. Conventionally, Indian forces would be employed by exploiting technical and quantitative superiority to disable Pakistani nuclear capability.

11 Army of the Prophet, a Sunni Islamic extremist organization based in Pakistan that mainly conducts terrorist attacks in the India-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir with the intent of inducing Indian forces to withdraw to put Jammu Kashmir under Pakistani control. 

12 Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent 

13 Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar

14 South Korea, Mongolia and Japan

15 India is the third largest oil buyer in the world; imports 85% of what it consumes, in addition to 34% of natural gas.

16 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Sco). Born as a mechanism to facilitate the resolution of territorial disputes between the six adhering countries - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran is coming soon

17 the Indian strategy in the "Mare Indicum" contains the three main geographical pillars of the Mahanian theory: a) construction of a blue water navy also acquiring nuclear-powered missile submarines; b) logistical support functional to the protection of supply lines; c) control of Sea lines of communicationhampered by China's string of pearls strategy.

18 India aims to have at least 3 advanced aircraft carriers and frigates by developing indigenous outfits

19 Freedom of navigation operations

20 Chief of Naval Operations

21 If the French resentment for the loss of the contract of the century is now understandable, the previous resentment of the other possible competitors excluded from the contract should be similarly understandable.

22 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)

23 Beijing autonomously gave life to the trade agreement in 2020 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - which includes (for a total of 15 members) key allies for the US, such as Japan and Australia

24 In this regard, the Maritime information sharing technical arrangement (Mista), which establishes the protocols for the exchange of intelligence in real time, significantly improving the level of cooperation between the Indian and US navies, and the "white shipping" agreements should be considered. with 21 countries to improve situational awareness in the Indian Ocean region with dynamic exchange of information on commercial vessels.

Photo: Indian Air Force / Kremlin / Government of India / US Navy / Indian Navy