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T. Greer on the Geopolitics of Rising India

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Friend of zenpundit.com, T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage had an outstanding post on the implications of Indian power relative to an increasingly aggressive China. It’s one of the better pieces I have read on the topic in some time.

Leveraging Indian Power The Right Way

Now that the affair in Doklam has come to a close, analysts of various stripes are trying to make sense of what happened and what lessons can be learned from the episode. One of the smartest of these write ups was written by Oriana Skylar Mastro and Arzan Tarapore for War on the Rocks. They’ve titled their piece “Countering Chinese Coercion: The Case of Doklam,” and as their title suggests, Dr. Mastro and Mr. Tarapore believe the strategy employed by the Indians in Dolkam can be generalized and should be deployed to defend against Chinese coercion in other domains. They make this case well. I agree with their central arguments, and urge you to read the entire thing without regret.

However, there is one paragraph in their analysis that I take issue with. It is really quite peripheral to their main point, but as it is a concise statement of beliefs widely held, it is a good starting point for this discussion:

Over the longer term, India should be wary of learning the wrong lessons from the crisis. As one of us has recently written, India has long been preoccupied with the threat of Chinese (and Pakistani) aggression on their common land border. The Doklam standoff may be remembered as even more reason for India to pour more resources into defending its land borders, at the expense of building capabilities and influence in the wider Indian Ocean region. That would only play into China’s hands. Renewed Indian concerns about its land borders will only retard its emergence as an assertive and influential regional power. [1]

From the perspective of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the other redoubts of freedom that string the edges of the Pacific rim, the rise of the Indian republic is a positive good. We should do all we can to aid this rise. Here both the demands of moral duty and the exacting claims of realpolitik align.

I’ve phrased these ideas with more strength and moral clarity than the dry and jargon laden language of professional policy normally allows, but the sentiment expressed hits close to how most D.C. politicos think about the matter. The rightness of a rising India is a bipartisan consensus. Far less thought is given to what shape that rise should take. This is not something we should be neutral on. The contours of India’s rise matter a lot—not only for them, but for us, and ultimately, for all who will inherit the world we will together build. It might seem a bit grandiose to claim that the future of Asian liberty depends on the procurement policies of India’s Ministry of Defence… but this is exactly what I am going to try and convince you of.   

Read the rest here.

Greer gives very pragmatic advice to American policymakers courting India as to reasonable expectations and to the Indian defense establishment as to where Indian defense dollars would give PLA generals the greatest fits. This is sensible as both groups are likely to overreach: America too quickly pressing India for defense commitments it can neither afford nor politically digest and India seeking a naval contest with China for nationalist prestige at the expense of other critical defense needs.

China will build its own cordon sanitaire against itself by the relentless bullying and interference in the internal affairs of all its major neighbors in the Pacific Rim, friendless other than for two rogue state clients, Pakistan and North Korea and impoverished Cambodia. Our job is to assist China’s neighbors, including great powers India and Japan, in accelerating their acquisition of the military capacity to resist Beijing’s coercion; if it is less than an East Asian NATO, that’s fine. What matters is a robust counterbalance that has to be reckoned with in Beijing’s calculus.

7 Responses to “T. Greer on the Geopolitics of Rising India”

  1. T. Greer Says:

    Thank you for the kind words Mark.

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    I am a bit less sanguine on this part:

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    “China will build its own cordon sanitaire against itself by the relentless bullying and interference in the internal affairs of all its major neighbors in the Pacific Rim, friendless other than for two rogue state clients, Pakistan and North Korea and impoverished Cambodia.”

    .

    The Thai experience is a counter-note to this optimistic vision. We underestimate what Chinese money can buy—but even more so we underestimate the relentless focus with which the Chinese us the economic, legal, and diplomatic tools at their disposal. They are engaged in vast influence operations across Southeast Asia and the Pacific isles. This is happening to an extent most Americans, including foreign policy wonks and even many China hands, are not aware of. I don’t think we can trust the Chinese to poison their own well. At worst they will learn from their mis-steps. At best, their provocations convince those they target of American impotence.

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    The only good thing in all this is that the Chinese feel almost as threatened by the Japanese and the Indians as they are of us. Those two will set themselves up against China, regardless of how the rest of the region goes. They are the foundation upon which the defense of Asian freedom must be built.

  2. J.ScottShipman Says:

    “The only good thing in all this is that the Chinese feel almost as threatened by the Japanese and the Indians as they are of us. Those two will set themselves up against China, regardless of how the rest of the region goes. They are the foundation upon which the defense of Asian freedom must be built.”
    .
    Completely agree, though Japan sits astride a demographic time bomb; they aren’t reproducing fast enough.

  3. morgan Says:

    J Scott, what effects are the old Chinese ‘one child’ policy having on China’s demographics?

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi morgan, If what I’ve heard and read is true, the effects of the Chinese one child policy will hit in 2025. The Chinese have a demographic problem, too, but they have a deeper bench than Japan.

  5. Grurray Says:

    This might be relevant to the discussion:
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/one-belt-road-china-model-follow-avoid-infrastructure-bent
    Bent Flyvbjerg studies megaprojects, and he isn’t optimistic about China’s ability to stimulate growth through expanding infrastructure
    .
    “We conclude that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, infrastructure investments do not typically lead to economic growth. Overinvesting in underperforming projects instead leads to economic and financial fragility. For China, we find that poorly managed infrastructure investments are a main explanation of surfacing economic and financial problems. We predict that, unless China shifts to a lower level of higher-quality infrastructure investments, the country is headed for an infrastructure-led national financial and economic crisis, which — due to China’s prominent role in the world economy — is likely to also become a crisis internationally. China is not a model to follow for other economies—emerging or developed—as regards infrastructure investing, but a model to avoid.”
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    China’s Silk Road plans may be one of the reasons why we’re still inexplicably staying in Afghanistan. Just our presence there could force China to ramp things up and overbid for Central Asia.

  6. morgan Says:

    Grurray, interesting point re: China’s Silk Road plans and US presence–Afghanistan–forcing them to spend more. Care to expand on that point? I would be interested in your thoughts on that. I would imagine Russia would be interested as well as southern Central Asia was the invasion path of the Mongols when they over-ran Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. I think fear of future invasion along the same path is embedded in Russian DNA.

  7. Grurray Says:

    Morgan, you are probably correct. The purpose of these investments is to link China with Europe via Turkmenistan’s gas fields. There’s no way that’s in Russia’s interests.

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