It is time for us to discuss what needs to be done to eliminate the threat of war on two fronts



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Starting with a stellar cricket career as the first batsman on India’s match-winning test team, then a leap to becoming a presenter on a not-so-cultured TV show, ultimately followed by a political career , Navjot Singh Sidhu is a man who courted controversy. This he succeeded in doing by opening his mouth often, only to set foot in it. But lately his statement on relations with Pakistan and emphasis on the importance of trade, which its critics have strongly condemned, is perhaps close to the truth.

This endorsement from a security analyst might sound strange, but what is more bizarre – and frightening – are those security analysts in India who gleefully talk about waging a war on two fronts, as if it was a result desirable.

Isn’t making peace with Pakistan – to face the terrible danger in the north – a sensible step? If reducing the threat of war on two fronts is a good strategy, what is so bizarre about resuming trade with Islamabad? After all, those were the only two statements he made: to improve relations with Pakistan and to revive trade. Interestingly, after Galwan and the brutal murder of 21 Indian soldiers, trade with China has skyrocketed to $ 100 billion.

What appears to foster enmity with Pakistan – and appease China, if that is government policy – are bizarre miscalculations on the part of the political institutions of the Union government.

Almost three or four decades ago, when this author’s job was to write strategic articles, there was a universal feeling that once we established a National Security Council with its own dedicated staff and we we are headed towards the integration of the armed forces, the decision-making in matters of defense and security things would be more far-sighted and wiser. But alas, these new institutions have yet to produce a single open source document, white paper, or policy statement. Even a dictatorial, autocratic and authoritarian government like China has continuously produced strategic documents, policies and white papers despite accusations of opacity in their operation.

The big gap in government over the state of the world in 2030 or 2035 results in policies that do not give the impression of coherence emanating from New Delhi. On the one hand, we had the aggression in Galwan, and yet the MEA refuses to take small steps to take advantage of the Quad in the security space, keeping it as a place of diplomatic discussion. The recent summit of the Quad hardly alters its passive nature. The government’s reluctance is likely aimed at appeasing Beijing to negotiate peacefully on the Line of Effective Control (LAC), assuming Beijing respects the appeasement. On the other hand, the financial constraints on the budgeting of defense expenditure are forgotten by many soldiers who talk gleefully about engaging in a war on two fronts, whatever the cost.

Quad leaders (LR): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Photos: Reuters, Twitter. Illustration: The wire

The great American strategic thinker Andrew Marshal, who all but died in office at the age of 92, has left a legacy in strategic planning. The writing strategy was not to be launched until each department was on the same page about what the near future would look like. Even today, there are senior Foreign Ministry officials who believe China will rise peacefully and become a benevolent power, while the world is widely convinced that Beijing has hostile hegemonic ambitions. Most major Western governments produce a periodic open source document outlining what they think the world will look like, strategically, economically, and technologically, in a decade or two. But as previously reported, the Indian government has not produced any open source strategic assessments over the past quarter century.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are quickly taking concrete steps to become a global military power, pursuing bases in United Arab Emirates and in the pacific islands. They already have overtook the United States in net wealth in 2020, as predicted by Arvind Subramaniam, who was previously the chief economic adviser to the Indian government. They are doing this by producing an aircraft carrier every four years, introducing hypersonic bombs for slip vehicles, and doubling their nuclear arsenal. All this as India has its main offensive component – the army’s three strike corps – facing west against an increasingly bankrupt Pakistan.

China’s only weakness is its maritime geography. Its maritime coast adjoining the Pacific Ocean does nothing to protect 40% of its GDP, which is its foreign trade, in the Indian Ocean. The Pacific Ocean allows the US Navy to operate only at its doorstep. The Indian Navy, which has one foot on the Chinese jugular in the Strait of Malacca, is crippled by a tiny budget and weak industrial infrastructure, which builds an aircraft carrier every 14 years.

What is needed immediately is a directive from the PMO, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to produce a quadrennial perspective of the “world of India”. It should be an open publication, as is the custom in the United States, and also serve as a guide for all departments in planning policy. We cannot financially afford to have two hostile neighbors, so we must speed things up to defuse the Western Front and reorient our grand military strategy towards the Indian Ocean, as recommended by a document distributed to all authorities governments concerned. This will put an end to aberrant policy making of the type where a Four Nation Quad is formed, but only as a talk shop.

The point is, Quad members are the primary operators of maritime patrol aircraft. These aircraft are flown as part of normal peacetime operations. A proposal was made to divide the Indo-Pacific into maritime air research zones between the Quads. This would have been a very minor step and would not have constituted the overt militarization of the Quad. The proposal was sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but nothing came of it. A former Indian Navy chief had suggested the tiny step of setting up a Quad Maritime Air Research Secretariat at Port Blair, which was also overlooked. There will undoubtedly be other ideas and suggestions. But the underlying weakness of the Indian government is its opacity and lack of intellectual debate.

Admiral Raja Menon was a career officer and submarine specialist in the Indian Navy. He commanded seven ships and submarines before retiring in 1994 as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (Operations).

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