The Gestation of a New Indian Strike Corps

Indian newspapers have variants of this headline today: “India to create new Army corps along China border.” (For example, here and here.) And I think to myself, man, am I getting old? I swear I read this story like ten times now. So, I decided to go look. It might only be interesting to those that track Indian security issues closely, but I think glimpsing the news stories over the years on the new Indian strike corps gives you a little bit of a feel for the Indian bureaucratic process at work. It’s not pretty, but it’s not absurd either. A proposal is generated. It moves forward. Questions are asked. It goes backward. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. More after the jump for those that care. Continue reading

What We’re Reading

An Offensive Shift? Don’t Overestimate Japan’s New Guidelines

Since the implementation of the U.S.-written Constitution, Article IX has imposed a self-defense requirement on Japan’s armed forces. While this constraint has been relaxed to some extent over time (which has led to debates and near crises at times), the fundamental principle of self-defense as the mainstay of Japanese military policy has remained fairly constant. But Japan’s government has recently announced a change to their military policy, one that represents an important but tempered shift.

The exact terms of this shift are still in flux, but the basics of it are simple: where Japan’s military was previously only allowed to respond, measure for measure, to the offensive actions of another state, new guidelines currently being compiled will allow Japan to expand the scope of operations in order to proactively defend itself, as Kirk Spitzer writes here. This means that Japan now has the capability to escalate conflict in a way that was not previously available, though it is still incapable of directly starting it (though indirect action, through movements toward the Dokdo/Takeshima or Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, for example, remain a viable possibility). If Japan is attacked, rather than simply counterattacking the forces that initiated the conflict, Japanese forces will be able to expand the scope of the conflict, striking missile bases, ports, or other viable military targets.

While not going so far as to represent a full-on preemptive capability (which appears as if it would still be restricted under these revisions to military guidelines), this does open up a new range of options for the Japanese Self-Defense Force should they find themselves under attack. But it is important to not overstate the importance of these changes, as I am concerned that Spitzer does in his article. Whereas his own language states that this change will “allow Japan’s armed forces, for the first time, to develop offensive capability, and to strike first if an attack appears imminent…,” he quotes Narushige Michishita: “What they are basically saying is, ‘When a potential enemy has started attacking us, then we would start offensive operations to take out their missiles, as well as their missile bases.” There is an important and wide gulf between these two positions. For the time being at least, Japan still finds itself constitutionally constrained in a very significant way, one that removes a potentially enormous strategic advantage, in the form of preemptive strikes, that could be very useful should Japanese relations with China or either of the Koreas actually come to blows.

There is an important trade-off here that should be considered: while Japan is unable to preemptively strike a clear and present threat, by not enabling the Japanese military to attack first also creates an important degree of certainty for those that find themselves in a potential conflict with Japan, knowing that since Japan will not escalate it would fall to the other state to do so. In theory, this should stabilize relations and help prevent tensions from boiling over, a valuable factor that should not be overlooked. At the same time, however, if another state cares enough about whatever is at stake (such as the aforementioned islands), then this one-sided restraint will not be enough to prevent a high-intensity conflict or war.

Admittedly, at the end of the day, Japan’s Article IX is only as good as the paper it’s written on. Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has certainly shown an interest in undercutting, if not eliminating, the constitutional constraint, and this is a step in that direction. But for the time being this action should not have the effect of any significant destabilization of Japanese relations with other states, and only time will tell if the LDP continues in this direction and whether further changes would lead to a deterioration of peace in Northeast Asia.

What We’re Reading

  • Fair and balanced: “Over the past few months, the (state-run) People’s Daily in China has launched a lovely series called “Dishonest Americans.”  Supposedly this is meant to give Chinese readers a more balanced and “objective” picture of American life, when juxtaposed with their own overly rosy impressions. Or so the PD editor has claimed: ‘Most Chinese people think that Americans are honest, reliable, and righteous. However, once you live in that country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading.'”
  • Mitra and Ray test a model for economically motivated ethnic violence in India: “The fact that Muslim expenditures display a significant and positive connection with later conflict, while Hindu expenditures have a negative link, suggests that (statistically speaking) Hindu groups have largely been responsible for Hindu-Muslim violence in India, or at least for violence driven by instrumental, specifically economic considerations.”
  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: “These poor-against-poor riots were not spontaneous, grassroots protests against the city’s shortage of work. Riots seldom were, in modern Mumbai. Rather, the anti-migrant campaign had been orchestrated in the overcity by an aspiring politician–a nephew of the founder of Shiv Sena. The upstart nephew wanted to show voters that a new political party he had started disliked bhaiyas[migrants from North India] like Abdul even more than Shiv Sena.” (Though, to be clear, in Boo’s book at least it seems as if these particular riots targeted anyone from North India in the slums, and while the character Abdul’s family happens to be Muslim, it’s not clear if his Muslim-ness is especially relevant to this riot.)
  • Paul Staniland examines cooperation between rebels and democratically elected governments in India over at the Monkey Cage. Make sure to check out his related working paper on the long-term consequences of government use of “non-state armed groups” as well. These groups, and especially their interaction with state actors, remain poorly understood but Paul is doing some great work to advance our knowledge.
  • How to Play Well with China: Fascinating look at US-China relations in the 21st century by Ian Bremmer and Jon Huntsman. It’s not necessarily a pessimistic piece but this part does not exactly inspire confidence: “In some ways, the stakes are higher for Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi than they were for Ronald Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. There is no American-Chinese nuclear threat to focus minds on stronger ties, nor is there a Berlin Wall to separate the two countries’ fortunes. For better and for worse, America and China are bound together in a form of mutually assured economic destruction.”

The Risk of War with North Korea is Teensy

The risk of war with North Korea is small, mostly because war is a very rare event in the international system. Bennett and Stam found that the risk of war in a single directed-dyad year (e.g., U.S.-North Korea in 2013) is 0.000065. Now, this current situation is much more dangerous than your average directed dyad (e.g., U.S.-Uruguay in 1996), but my guess is even if you plugged all the variables into your handy-dandy war predicting machine, you would not get much above a 2 percent risk of war onset. With that said, since the potential costs of a North Korean conflagration likely reach hundreds of thousands of casualties, the expected value of war with the Norks is unpleasantly high (let’s say, 200,000 casualties x .02 = 4,000). By comparison, there is an approximately 100% chance that 30,000 Americans will die in car accidents this year. With all of that said, I fully support anyone that wants to engage in Doomsday Prepping, because it just makes for quality television.

Does China Want Change?

(Ed.: The following is a guest post by Rory Truex, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Yale University. Rory is currently conducting field work in China.)

Among China watchers, there is an ever-louder group of voices singing the imminent downfall of the country’s political system. The chorus goes something as follows: “The faux representation afforded by the National People’s Congress, the empty channels for public participation, the meaningless village elections— these shell institutions do little to stem the CCP’s growing legitimacy deficit. Protests are already on the rise. Sooner or later, something will happen and the people will rise up and demand real democracy. It’s only a matter of time.”

For many in the prediction game, that time has already come and gone, or it is rapidly approaching. In 2001, Gordon Chang predicted The Coming Collapse of China, asserting that underperforming loans would break China’s financial system and trigger the fall of the CCP within a decade. In a 2011 editorial, Chang revised his estimates to say that the system would fall within one year’s time. This has also proven false. In 1996, Henry Rowen used economic data to predict that China will become democratic “around the year 2015.”

Perhaps the reason the “fall of China” prediction has fallen flat to date is that it rests on the notion that Chinese citizens actually want a new political system. A simple glance at the data, or simple discussions with a few citizens, would make us reconsider this assumption.
Confidence in Government (World Values Survey)

The figure above shows summary data from the fourth wave (2005-2008) of the World Values Survey (WVS). Among other attitudinal questions, the WVS asks respondents their level of confidence in their government on a four-point scale. The bars reflect the fraction of respondents responding “a great deal” or “quite a lot.” With the exception of Vietnam, Chinese citizens voice greater support of their government than any other country in the world.

Of course, we should take this fact with an oversized grain of salt. Cross-national surveys of this sort are notoriously bad and suffer from a host of biases— incomparable sampling procedures, poor translations, different cultural interpretations of question wordings, among others. Most importantly, respondents living in repressive political contexts— like China and Vietnam, for example— may be unwilling to voice their true opinions when asked sensitive questions about government. It may be that Chinese citizens have confidence in the CCP, or it may be that fear leads them to systematically bias their answers.

At the risk of sounding like a party mouthpiece, my guess is that the truth is probably closer to the former than we would like to believe. China scholars have long documented that Chinese citizens have a deep reservoir of trust in “the Center.” Many ostensibly subversive activities— protests, non-compliance with rules, petitions— are actually ways for citizens to communicate their grievances to the central government, which is perceived as responsive. The “fall of China” crowd likes to point to rising protest figures as evidence of a desire for change, but the vast majority of protests have nothing to do with political reform. Peter Lorentzen has argued that the regime deliberately allows this “regularized rioting” to help monitor lower level cadres.

In the end, public opinion in authoritarian contexts is difficult to gauge, and so we are left trying to blend imperfect survey data with more impressionistic anecdotal evidence. To build my own impressions, I have taken to asking a simple, direct question among my closer Chinese friends.

If you could change China’s political system today, what would you do?

There is no shortage of demands— more transparency, more freedom of speech, an open media, unregulated internet— but I’m always struck by how often multi-party competition is missing from the list. When probed on this issue, most will give a reply of the sort “this is not appropriate for China.” Some will flip the conversation back at me and point to recent Congressional debacles over the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff. These events are smugly broadcasted by China’s state media outlets, and they undermine the very credibility of the American system. If this is what democracy is, we’ll stick with our one-party system, thank you very much.

So does China want change? It is impossible to know for sure, but there seems to be a societal current pushing for limited liberalizing political reforms. Full-blown multi-party democracy and the “coming collapse” of the CCP?

I’m not sure we should be singing that chorus just yet.

Great Power Confrontation: India and China, 50 Years On

After a series of smashing victories in the border war with India, Chinese troops swept down from the towering Himalayas and were poised at the edge of the fertile plains of Assam, whose jute and tea plantations account for one-fourth of India’s export trade. Then, with Assam lying defenseless before her conquering army, Red China suddenly called a halt to the fighting.

Radio Peking announced that, “on its own initiative,” Red China was ordering a cease-fire on all fronts….

–       Time Magazine Cover, October 1962

Fifty years after India and China had a month-long confrontation that ended in a humiliating defeat for India, the two great powers still continue to have friction over the northeastern border, the subject of 14 fruitless talks between the two nations. The McMahon Line, the initial cause of the disagreement, was demarcated by British officials in 1914 in order to settle the issue of Tibetan suzerainty. As the map below shows, India claims a part of the northern frontier for its Ladakh. In the eastern part, China claims a huge chunk of one of India’s states, Arunachal Pradesh. The dissatisfaction with these boundaries as well as the Chinese refusal to recognize Tibetan sovereignty resulted in a war that has led to one of the most militarized borders in contemporary times.

Source: The Economist

What does this underlying friction mean for Indian security and defense policy? By looking at Indian efforts towards both internal and external balancing, we might be able to gauge whether India visualizes China as a threat or not. In terms of internal balancing, the graph below shows us the steadily increasing value of Indian defense spending. The biggest jumps  have been in the last two years, with an 11% and 17% increase in the defense budget in 2011 and 2012. One of the main targets of these expenditures has been the development of the Agni-V missile. The missile has a range of more than 5,000 km (3,100 miles), potentially bringing targets in China within range. The development of such long-range missiles was clearly carried out with China in mind, as with its previous level of capability, India already possessed the capability to hit Pakistan, its traditional rival. There have also been growing fears in India over the strength of the Chinese navy. The most powerful signal of recent Chinese naval expansion has been the purchase of an aircraft carrier which they have recently begun testing at sea. Because Indian power and trade is reliant on open access to the seas, it is vital that India try and keep up with the Chinese buildup, at least to a certain extent. To that end, India has set out on its own naval expansion program.

Indian military spending. Data from SIPRI.

Interpreting such developments in terms of an offensive posture, however, might be misleading.  In August 2009, India’s former Chief of Naval Staff declared “In military terms, both conventionally and unconventionally, we can neither have the capability nor the intention to match China force for force…” Pointing out that India’s expenditure on defense has been hovering around a low two-three percent of the GDP in recent years, Mehta said that the strategy to deal with China on the military front would be to introduce modern technology and create a “reliable stand-off deterrent.” Such increasing armaments programs are counter-intuitive from the perspective of deterrence theory, as both India and China already possess nuclear weapons. These efforts then, should not just be interpreted in terms of preparation for explicit military engagement, but rather in terms of containing China’s sphere of influence in the region.

This broader Indian security policy can be understood by looking at efforts involving other nations in military exercises and informal security arrangements. In 2011, India started conducting naval exercises with Japan after a five-year hiatus of not involving any country except the U.S. in such exercises. Indeed, in terms of external balancing, it is not only India who might seek out the U.S., who might very well need India to counter-balance a rising regional hegemon.

Developments in this region do not just have huge implications for India, but for the U.S. as well. Robert Kaplan predicts that the Indian Ocean will replace the Mediterranean as the central arena of global energy flows, container traffic, and politics in this century. Though necessary, systematizing an alliance with India however, will not be the easiest choice for the United States. The Indian government is plagued with uncertainty – this was visible in the stalling that took place in implementing the nuclear deal with the United States. As Narang and Staniland point out, “The combination of tight electoral competition, pervasive patronage, and coalition politics has led to minimal political incentives for ambitious (Indian)politicians to invest in strategic assessment, policy debates, or the other mechanisms of strategic optimization that are supposed to bolster strategic preparation in a democratic polity.” While it is too early to claim that India has gotten to the point of seeing China as an immediate and direct threat to its national interest, it certainly seems that India is hedging its bets, even if it is just in terms of threat preparation via internal balancing.