India is not seeking direct US involvement in the India-China border dispute but is likely confident – barring any major contingencies that Washington would have to tend to elsewhere – that it can count on the United States for support, if necessary, states a new report by an American think-tank, Center for a New American Security.
Indian officials probably believe they would be able to reach out and obtain substantial support from the United States in the event of another potential border crisis, the report adds.
One of the co-authors of the report is Lisa Curtis, who served in the Trump White House as deputy assistant to the president and National Security Council senior director for South and Central Asia from 2017 to 2021. India’s ongoing border crisis with China in Ladakh began in May 2020. Derek Grossman is the other co-author of the report, which has attracted attention at the highest levels of the Biden administration.
Speaking at an unrelated event at CNAS on Thursday, March 30, Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator at the Biden National Security Council praised the think-tank’s report on India-China tensions. He said that he had already borrowed specific policy recommendations from the report for implementation.
“The United States responded to the 2020 border crisis by extending full diplomatic and material support for India. The United States provided information and intelligence and expedited delivery of equipment, including two MQ-9B surveillance drones and winter gear,” states the report which was released in Washington DC earlier this week. “U.S.-India relations deepened as a result of the U.S. response, and senior Indian officials have noted privately that U.S. support for India during the crisis had a profoundly positive impact on India’s ability to defend its borders,” it adds.
Based on the experience of the clash in the Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020, where 20 Indian soldiers were killed and another 150 taken captive by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the report says that the Modi government “would expect intelligence support and winter gear from the United States, but it also might request things like joint exercises, emergency senior-level military and defense consultations, and inclusion in Quad statements of the need to defend Indian border claims – all to enhance its deterrence vis-à-vis Beijing.”
The report warns the American decision-makers that the Modi government “clearly wants to convey to its people that India alone can handle military operations competently and successfully, even in a wartime scenario. Additionally, India probably believes that joint statements with the United States that frame the border crisis through the lens of intensifying US- China competition would be provocative and unhelpful.”
The report, titled ‘India-China Border Tensions and U.S. Strategy in the Indo-Pacific’ makes eight recommendations to the US to “help deter and respond to further Chinese aggression along the border with India”. One of the recommendations is to “conduct joint intelligence reviews with India to align assessments of Chinese plans and intentions along the LAC and enhance coordination with Indian officials on contingency planning in the event of a future India-China conflict.”
In its recommendation for the US to “establish or support an official or unofficial organization charged with collating unclassified commercial satellite imagery on the position of PLA troops along the LAC and disseminate these images routinely for public consumption,” the report counsels that this comes with a potential downside. It states that the current dispensation in New Delhi “might not want its public to know the full extent of PLA activities in disputed areas as this might become fodder to protest government incompetence or inaction.”
India’s political opposition parties have regularly raised the issue of loss of control over territory in the border areas under the watch of the Modi government. The government has denied all questions on the subject in parliament and has not conducted any debate on the matter. It has neither been discussed in the in-camera sessions of the parliamentary standing committee on defence nor any official briefing of the opposition political parties done after June 19, 2020. In that meeting, Modi had claimed that no one intruded into Indian territory, essentially supporting the Chinese argument that the Indian soldiers who died in Galwan were killed when they were on Chinese territory.
Another recommendation wants the US to tell “Pakistan – and enlist help from Pakistan’s other important partners to convey similar points–about the need to stay neutral in the event of a potential future India-China border flare-up”. A two-front collusive military threat from China and Pakistan has been a nightmare scenario for India.
The danger has been brought home after a new special report by United States Institute of Peace which summons evidence to argue that “despite China’s eschewal of formal alliances, the China-Pakistan military partnership has deepened significantly over the past decade, approaching a threshold alliance.”
Authored by Sameer Lalwani, the special report provides data to show that “Beijing has become the leading supplier of Pakistan’s conventional weapons and strategic platforms and the dominant supplier of Pakistan’s higher-end offensive strike capabilities”. It also posits that “China and Pakistan have accelerated the tempo of joint military exercises, which are growing in complexity and interoperability. Increasingly compatible arms supply chains and networked communications systems could allow the countries to aggregate their defense capabilities.”