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

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What We’re Reading

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.”

Missing Women, Missing Mechanisms

In 1990, Amartya Sen coined the term ‘missing women’ to denote the shortage of women contributing to the skewed sex ratios in Asia and Africa, where men outnumber women, in stark contrast to North America and Europe, where women outnumber men. Estimates of missing women were originally meant to represent some measure of the degree of gender discrimination. This discrimination was attributed to three main causes causes: sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, and the comparative neglect of female health and nutrition during childhood, which led to their deaths early in life.

In 2010, Anderson and Ray, used the Sen-Coale counterfactual, which compares birth and death ratios of men and women in developing countries to similar populations in developed countries, in order to examine the ratio of these missing women across both age and diseases levels. They found a wide variation in the pattern of these missing women between India and China.

“A large percentage of the missing women in China are located before birth and in infancy. We estimate that around 37–45% of the missing women in China are due to prenatal factors alone. But the numbers for India are more evenly distributed across the different age groups.”

In a more recent work in 2012, they further explore the unlikely distribution of missing women across India, and find that

“… a total of more than two million women in India are missing in a given year….First, the majority of missing women, in India die in adulthood. Our estimates demonstrate that roughly 12% of missing women are found at birth, 25% die in childhood, 18% at the reproductive ages, and 45% die at older ages.”

They also find a great deal of variation in the distribution of missing women by age group across the states: Punjab is the only state where the majority of missing women are found at birth, while Haryana and Rajasthan are the only two states where a majority of these missing women are either never born or die in childhood.

The above results show us that commonly considered explanations such as sex-selective abortion or female infanticide cannot explain the age distribution of these missing women. This is certainly true in India and may hold for other countries with similar distributions of missing women as well. It is not as if the woes of adult women are completely ignored (see Chen and Dreze (1992) and Kochar (1999) ), but contrary to conventional wisdom, it turns out that excess female mortality in adulthood is as serious of a problem as missing girls who are never born or die prematurely in childhood.

So what are some possible mechanisms for the existence of so many ‘missing women’ in adulthood? More importantly, is the number high due to differentiated access to healthcare leading to higher maternal mortality and other diseases or due to overt social basis of gender discrimination leading to dowry death and bride-burning? Bloch and Rao (2002) document how women who pay less dowry are more likely to be victims of marital violence. More research is needed to tease apart these mechanisms and understand the reasons behind the surprisingly large number of ‘missing women’ in adulthood. From a policy perspective, at time when new legislation against sexual violence is being debated in India, it is also important to have a broader conversation about the kinds of discrimination being faced by adult women in order to find the most effective ways to address it.

 Follow Suparna on Twitter here.

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.

Island Fever: Understanding the Recent Tension in East Asia

Recently, tensions between countries over numerous islands throughout East Asia have been rising. Of particular note are the heated disputes between South Korea and Japan over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands and between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. At its core, as the New York Times notes (see two links above), the timing of these clashes can be traced back primarily to domestic politics, specifically upcoming elections or significant leadership transitions.

Dokdo/Takeshima islands (Source: NY Times).

The Dokdo/Takeshima Islands dispute has its roots back in the post-World War II settlement and the maritime boundary that the U.S. established between Korean and Japanese claims. On one hand, South Korea (and, in fact, North Korea as well) argue that the islands have historically belonged to them and that the omission of any mention of the islands in the Treaty of San Francisco was made in error. Japan, on the other hand, points to the islands that they explicitly lost control over in the treaty–and to the fact that this particular set of islands was not included–as evidence that they should retain control.

The increased tension appears to be an attempt by Lee Myung-bak, the president of South Korea, to solidify his credentials among the nationalists, especially after the nearly solidified South Korean-Japanese security agreement was put on hold. As I have noted on this blog, opposition leaders used that as an opportunity to paint Mr. Lee as “pro-Japanese,” a particularly damning term for a Korean politician, laden with lots of historical baggage. Thus, it only makes sense that Mr. Lee would use this as an opportunity to counter critiques being leveled by other South Korean political leaders.

This is not to say that there isn’t a national security argument to be made here. In fact, Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has framed it in just those terms. But while this may be a possibility, from a strategic standpoint, it doesn’t seem particularly credible given the relative lack of value of the islands militarily. Namely, the islands are too small and difficult to employ as, say, a base or garrison (though, interestingly, Kimie Hara argues that the U.S. viewed the islands as having strategic value, which is why they were kept under Japanese control, in case South Korea fell to the communists). A resources argument seems more credible but still unsatisfactory. The islands provide valuable fishing rights as well as oil and gas reserves, which, in turn, provide each side an incentive to maintain control over the islands. However, the presence of resources cannot explain why we are seeing tensions rising now, since there have been no new discoveries of resources or new pressures for access to those resources.

One of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands (Source: NY Times).

The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute goes back even further; to perhaps the Meiji era, when Japan established control over Okinawa and its leaders debated over whether further expansion into disputed islands should occur. Following the first Sino-Japanese war, the Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede control over these islands to Japan. However, the Treaty of San Francisco again left the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in an unclear position, with Japan, the PRC and the ROC all laying claim.

Both Japan and China are facing impeding changes to their domestic politics. From this alone, we should expect to find that both Japan and China would be stepping up nationalist rhetoric in order to strengthen their positions domestically. But beyond the incentives to ratchet up tensions to appeal to domestic factions or groups, there is the broader geopolitical landscape to take into consideration: in particular, Japan’s fears about the rise of China. Of course, Japan is not the only state to become concerned about China’s increased power (the Philippines and Vietnam for instance have also been in disputes with China over islands that each side claims control over), and one reading of the tea leaves, as it were, could indicate that the U.S. and other states have started aligning together for the purpose of containing China. But these pressures are particularly acute for Japan. Thanks partly to China’s close geographic proximity and partly to the historical animosity between the two, the Japanese are especially fearful of what China’s rise might entail.

It is this fear that has led some in Japan to push back against China’s growing influence. There are some concerned that such a row might end up culminating in a confrontation and perhaps even a war that would draw the U.S. in as well. While I think this is probably going a bit too far, I do not find it unreasonable to say that the dispute between Japan and China could be a contributing factor to a crisis or war if tensions between the parties continue to rise. But in and of themselves, the islands are not a salient enough issue to lead a drive to war. Therefore, while we should clearly pay attention to these events, understanding the broader context that they are happening in is just as, if not more, important.