Monday, October 12, 2009

Drawing the Next Line of Actual Control

Newsweek has an article on recent Chinese-Indian tensions. It isn't bad, but this is bad advice for India:

India needs to be careful not to overreact: it views with alarm the tens of thousands of troops China has deployed to the border region since the 2008 Lhasa riots, but most of these moves are designed to reassert control over Tibet. M. Taylor Fravel, an MIT expert on the India-China border dispute, says many of the troops deployed in Tibet are internal-security forces, lacking heavy armor or artillery, representing less of a threat to India than Indian hawks believe.

India would be wise to invest in -longer-range weapons—such as missiles and advanced-strike aircraft—that allow it to maintain a standoff deterrent, without the need to go toe-to-toe with Chinese troops on the border. India has also begun deploying sophisticated radar systems along its frontier with China—a way to police inhospitable terrain while avoiding direct confrontation.

With infrastructure capable of moving in combat troops as readliy as internal security forces, India would be wise not to count on enough warning to match a sudden Chinese build up. Plus, given that India's recent decision to move two divisions to the northeast is in the short run about internal security, why isn't the analysis as understanding of India's troop plans as China's actual deployments? And what about all those border violations by China?

While India needs to upgrade their air power, as I've argued given their geography, India needs to be able to hold their ground in the face of a surprise Chinese offensive. Should two nuclear-armed powers go to war, there will be tremendous pressure on both sides to end the war with troops in place to avoid nuclear escalation. This means that rapidly gaining (or holding) crucial ground will be very important to both sides. If you hold land after a week of fighting, it is little consolation that you could recapture it in week eitght if a ceasefire is imposed after two weeks. The line of actual control will not likely budge much after that event.

Defense is not a one-dimensional task and simplistic talk of building a stand-off deterrent and remotely policing terrain does not erase the need to go toe-to-toe with an enemy over actual territory--and win. Just ask the people on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control 47 years after it was drawn in a toe-to-toe match. Newsweek authors may not be haunted by that history, but India is.