The Indo-Pacific arena has evolved into an unstable geopolitical and geo-economic equilibrium due to China’s unilateral expansionist schemes in the region.
By Milind Kulshreshtha
The Indo-Pacific arena has evolved into an unstable geopolitical and geo-economic equilibrium due to China’s unilateral expansionist schemes in the region. This has further led to a significant reconfiguration of global balance of power. The Indian Peninsula, surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east is now the new destination of international multilateralism and India’s role is seen as crucial for ensuring an international legal order in the Indo-Pacific. The common interest of the like-minded nations participating as QUAD or EU (European Union) with the regional countries is towards achieving freedom of navigation (FONOPS) in the Indo-Pacific for an assured rights, freedoms and lawful use of the sea within the purview of the international laws. Various unlawful and sweeping maritime claims established by China in the waters around its coast (like South China Sea etc.) have been challenged as these claims pose a threat to the freedom of the sea, navigation and free trade in the Indo-Pacific.
It is agreed by all the like-minded nations that diplomacy remains as the first option while handling any conflict in the region, and any military escalation shall be detrimental to the people in the Indo-Pacific. US, Australia, Japan and EU countries are looking forward to working closely with India to build the necessary capacity and capability to safeguard the Indo-Pacific region against any untoward incident, similar to one seen by India at Ladakh.
India’s Military Readiness for 21st Century
The 21st century war preparedness requires weapons to be inter-connected through data so as to enhance the warfighting capabilities in a multi-domain operation i.e. in air, sea, land, Space and Cyber battlefields. In the recently concluded Raisina Dialogue, the discussions amongst top military brass from India, US, Australia and Japan highlighted the need for modern resilient weapon systems which are rapidly re-configurable. This is imposed due to the hybridization of modern conflicts as a complex combination of conventional warfare, irregular forces etc. so as to exploit the geopolitical vulnerabilities. Several new trends in digital warfare too have emerged, like the invisible instantaneous threat emanating from a cyber attack due to the global reach of the internet.
India’s CDS (Chief of Defense Staff) General Bipin Rawat mentioned the lack of technological superiority with India viz-a-viz China and this may be considered as the tipping point for the modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces. The predominantly human-centric Armed Forces along with the R&D organisations have been showcasing various Make in India or Atmanirbhar Bharat projects in Communication Systems, Artificial Intelligence, Cyber-security or UAVs. However, in the times of real crisis, India was required to import some key systems due to lack of ‘deployability’ of these indigenous alternatives to face an onslaught of a technologically superior adversary like China. India is already many years behind China when it comes to military technology and the existing solutions in progress do not provide a safeguard against a proficient state sponsored aggression. This very acknowledgement by the top military leader may be considered as a good sign and an indication of the sincerity required to restructure the huge infrastructure of the Armed Forces of India for meeting the challenges of the next war. The Theatre Commands for fighting the next war need real teeth through technology so as to be a lean and mean war-winning arm rather than being a mere administrative rehash of the existing resources.
India’s Military Prowess and Entwined Economic Growth
Together, China and India make Asia as the world’s economic centre of gravity, with the US and European Union (EU) investing billions of dollars in the region. After the 2020 Ladakh crisis, today India’s policies are spurred by a drive to limit China’s military influence, which actually well aligns with the similar objective of the global powers. These developed nations wish to safeguard their commercial interests against China’s unilateral economic expansion as a superpower. China has a large influence in the Asia region so as to be able to control the markets and lay down the rules which may not be conducive to the sustenance of other companies in Asia. Multiple Free Trade Agreements and multilateral or bilateral trade agreements are being finalised by the EU with countries like Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam. Various other trade deals with ASEAN, Australia etc. is in progress. India would do very well in case it is able to reap commercial benefits from the QUAD, trilateral and bilateral agreements for a win-win situation.
As has been observed in the case of developed nations like the US, Russia, China, Japan, France and other countries, the economic growth and military powers are closely intertwined. Modern India too is categorised as a large and fast growing economy in the Indo-Pacific, with an external environment which is highly unstable. It is inevitable that India commits more towards military expenditure in the future for procurement of contemporary weapons so as to maintain its supremacy in the region.
With India’s decision to participate in the multinational formations like QUAD naval forces, the Armed Forces of India are now likely to play an expeditionary role in the regional geopolitics. For India, US and France are growing arms suppliers for some of the key weaponry, while the Russian share of arms sales to India is reducing rapidly. This puts India into a contradictory spot, where the US challenges India’s EEZ, but on the other hand, to-date Russia has always respected India’s sovereignty as a trustworthy strategic partner. India may not see a more direct role of Russia in the Indo-Pacific, but Indian military inherently has a Russian DNA from the past and future modernisation of the weaponry would be closely tied to the existing systems.
With a growing economy, India’s defence budget too is likely to see a positive trend, which in-turn shall help Indian Armed forces to modernise and transform into a potent regional power capable of safeguarding India’s global commerce. An association of India’s economic growth due to military power shall be a new dimension for modern India. Indian Navy shall play a crucial role under these new circumstances, not only by protecting the blue economy but as a power projection apparatus, collaborating jointly with the other like-minded nations to limit the influence of monocratic nations. To devise an appropriate Defence Budget for India is a challenge for GoI, especially when China has shown a fast and robust recovery post-pandemic. Undeniably, for a stronger India, the new course of military power projection for an economic equilibrium in the region has many mysteries hidden within the Indo-Pacific waters.
(The author is a C4I expert who has worked on the development of the indigenous Naval Combat Management (CMS) systems. He has a keen interest in Joint Warfare C4I solutions pertaining to Threat Assessment & Warfare modules, Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)