April 03, 2020
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To Play The Nukebox Tune

If US think-tanks had their way, India’s most cherished dream, to emerge as a superpower, would be a reality. Harish Mehta looks at three extreme scenarios - of Pakistan being swallowed by a US-backed Indian confederation, Sino-Indian hegemony a

To Play The Nukebox Tune

"The United States of America uses its B-2 bombers in the year 2012 to launch conventional air-strikes to destroy Pakistani nuclear facilities in a bid to prevent the nukes from falling into the wrong hands. The extraordinary US action follows an unsuccessful Indian conventional attack on Pakistani nukes, and a retaliatory Pakistani nuclear strike against Indian border forces. This sparks the disintegration and disappearance of Pakistan, and creation of an expanded Indian Confederation or Superstate."

THIS is not some Nostradamus indulging in apocalyptic visions. It’s just one of the many futuristic scenarios culled out from the "Asia 2025" study - a 147-page opus - conducted by the US under secretary of defence (policy). Written last year and distributed in limited circles, these documents show that US defence planners are now shifting their focus from Europe to Asia where they would wish to contain the threat of an economically-resurgent China. This may in future lead the US to seek closer alliance with India.

Rand Corporation’s Ashley Tellis, one of the 15 top-guns of American policymaking who took part in the study, told Outlook: "These are long-range perspective studies. Their chief virtue is that they help policymakers think about alternative futures which would otherwise escape them under day-to-day pressures."

Held at Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, between July 25 and August 4, 1999, the study was meant to explore what Asia might look like and what challenges it might pose to US defence and national security planners till the year 2025. The participants realised that the scenarios were speculative and cautioned that they were not predictive. "Rather they are highly imaginative descriptions of things."

An Asian diplomat in Bangkok added: "The remarkable thing is that India has become such a major factor in US defence policymaking." The nuclear tests by the Vajpayee government coupled with India’s emergence as a global IT superpower are bound to lead, sooner or later, to a radical rethink on US defence alliances. What this means is that the US will soon see India as a partner of choice.

Scenario 1
The Day India Ate Pakistan

The "New South Asian Order" scenario begins unfolding in the year 2010 with the imminent collapse of Pakistan, where ongoing economic crises, ethnic conflicts and the government’s helplessness on the law and order front render it increasingly unstable.

"Sindhis, Baluch and Pathans, who have long resented a Punjabi-dominated Pakistan, rebel. Mohajirs take to the streets. Islamic extremism adds to the instability in two forms - Taliban’s destabilisation efforts and the growing power of the Jamaat-e-Islami party," the study says.

In contrast, India successfully combines political decentralisation and economic reforms, generating rapid growth based on steep decline in population growth and a massive influx of foreign direct investment. Simultaneously, China’s economic resurgence and belligerence in East Asia brings the US closer to India. As Pakistan slides into anarchy, the US remains focused on North Asia with its forces deployed in Japan and South Korea.

By 2012, the Pakistani state is totally paralysed and loses control to Islamic extremists who infiltrate Kashmir. "India demands that Pakistan end the Islamic incursions. When Pakistan fails to respond, India moves into Azad Kashmir. Pakistan issues a nuclear ultimatum for Indian withdrawal from Azad Kashmir. The Chinese echo Pakistan’s ultimatum and begin mobilising along India’s eastern flank between Nepal and Bhutan to sever the Mizoram-Nagaland-Assam-Sikkim outpost of India, and threaten to use ‘all available means to stop Indian aggression’. The US urges restraint, and despite other flashpoints, the US sends naval forces to the Bay of Bengal and warns China to stay out," the study speculates.

Fearing that Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons, India launches an unsuccessful conventional strike on the former’s nuclear capabilities. Next, Pakistan launches nuclear strikes against Indian forces along their common border, driven by a "use it or lose it" rationale.

The US intelligence shows that Islamists in Pakistan are seizing the remaining Pakistani nuclear weapons. This goads the US to launch "a conventional strike on Pakistan’s nuclear sites".

"The extraordinary US action is also motivated by a desire to preempt a full-scale nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. The US strikes by deploying deep penetration warheads launched from B-2 bombers to destroy Pakistan’s remaining nuclear forces. Faced with the reality of US-Indian cooperation, China backs off on the northeastern front," it adds.

"Total anarchy prevails in Pakistan. The Indian army moves in to restore order. As the country disintegrates, Pakistan’s regions accede incrementally to India. The Sindhi, Baluch, and North West Frontier Province parliaments vote to join an Indian-led confederation. An Indian Confederation emerges. Isolated Punjab is compelled to join the confederation and merges with its Indian counterpart to form a greater Punjab province within the confederation," the scenario goes.

"India’s central government grants extensive internal autonomy to the confederal units in exchange for control over their defence and foreign policies. Economically vibrant, the confederation is recognised as the regional hegemon and an economic magnet for trade and energy flows. The disappearance of Pakistan and the emergence of the Indian Confederation have a cascading effect across Central Asia. Afghanistan, is dismembered by its neighbouring states - Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan - who move in to annex the territory controlled by their own ethnic groups."

The study says that Pakistan disappears by 2020, and the Indian Confederation emerges as a regional superstate. With Central Asia stabilising, energy pipelines from Central Asia, via Iran, to the energy hungry subcontinent are constructed. The East-West orientation of energy and commerce in Central Asia gives way to a new North-South orientation. Iran becomes the main transit country and Karachi the main port, to the East Asian markets.

It sees India becoming a "regional hegemon", and US planners are now urging the US defence department to anticipate a heightened Indian economic and strategic role in the region, raising the question: What does all this mean for the US presence in Diego Garcia and the potential for military cooperation with India?

In the end, the US discovers unexpected partners in India and Iran, who take on enhanced roles to protect sea-lanes for oil deliveries, reducing US responsibilities in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. According to the study, China could respond to India’s emergence not by challenging it head on, but by increasing its activities in the Russian Far East and Indochina. It may, thus, challenge US interests in East Asia. It could, for instance, strengthen its position in Indochina and the Bay of Bengal, making Southeast Asia the future arena of conflict and competition.

And, if India does become a future US ally, what kind of development, regional and global, would be needed to cement these ties further? Tellis has a pithy list: "Collapsing Pakistan, aggressive China, threats to Middle East oil, deeper Indian-US economic engagement, high Indian growth rates, Indian willingness to participate in combined peace operations with the US."

Scenario 2
Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai, At Last

Asecond scenario is the creation of a "New Sino-Indian Condominium." In the lead-up to this development, the US tries but fails to reach a strategic arrangement with India till 2010. India resents US inattention, which feeds the Indian national psychology of wanting to be seen as a great power.

"In a blatant act of self-assertion, India conducts a new round of nuclear tests in 2008, precluding any possibility of moving forward in a strategic relationship with the US. Growing anti-hegemonic sentiments stimulate India to accelerate its military buildup, shifting attention increasingly towards naval power," the study says.

As the US initiative towards India founders and eventually collapses after India’s nuclear tests, and as Indonesia’s fragility becomes more threatening, India and China initiate strategic discussions on regional cooperation to secure sea-lanes, control regional unrest, and common concerns.... The anti-hegemonic undertones of their discussion gradually surface as an explicit shared objective in displacing the US from the regions they seek to dominate.

Just how deep is US mistrust of China in matters relating to defence? Tellis says the mistrust is growing. And, how does this sit with US economic interests in China? He responds: "Conflict not yet reconciled, and will not be for a long time to come since China does not yet pose significant direct threat to the US or US interests."

In 2014, Indonesia fragments, leading to a slaughter of wealthy Chinese, as separatist rebels seize Indonesian gas and oil production. "Everybody except China and India want the US to act" to restore order, the study says.

In 2016, during the run-up to a US presidential election, a small band of Islamic militants, intent on hurting the US, fires a series of powerful missiles at a US destroyer and frigate passing through the narrow Lombok Straits near Indonesia. More than 200 US sailors and marines are killed. All presidential candidates pledge to bring American troops home and the US announces immediate cessation of operations and orders US ships to pull back.

In 2017, Chinese and Indian leaders intensify their discussion of ways to eject US presence from the South China Sea, where China wants to establish hegemony, and from the Indian Ocean, where India wishes to establish its supremacy. They tacitly agree to cooperate and decide on joint action.

India moves rapidly into the Straits of Malacca, and China takes control of the Lombok and Sunda Straits and reopens them to international traffic. China also occupies the disputed Spratly Islands and Natuna gasfields. India’s navy takes command of the Malacca Straits by cracking down on the pirates.

Most countries, including Japan, praise China and India for their joint action. Between 2017 and 2025, the US presence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans rolls back, and America’s allies reach a new accommodation with China and India.

"The tensions between China and India are not eliminated by their dividing much of Asia into hegemonic spheres. But for the time being, cooperation suits both perfectly..... The New Sino-Indian Order begins."

The study suggests that Sino-Indian cooperation might be impeded if the US establishes a working strategic dialogue and common geopolitical objectives with one partner. "India appears to be the more logical choice of the two," the study says.

US may need to rethink its strict non-proliferation policy, the study says, because some states like India which acquire nuclear weapons may actually contribute to the US national security goals. "The US may be faced with a trade-off between selective proliferation and regional presence," the study says.

Scenario 3
Their Chairman is Our Chairman

THIS scenario is hinged on the fact that China’s long-term goal is to dominate Asia and this doesn’t change whether China is strong or becomes relatively weak due to domestic economic and political troubles. Beijing is now determined to control Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the Senkaku islands (also claimed by Japan).

Well before 2025, China will have established effective control of Continental East Asia and peninsular Southeast Asia will fall under its thrall. From 2000-2015, China increases its military presence in the South China Sea, establishing several naval bases there. asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) fails to act collectively against Chinese expansionism.

The study, very clearly says, "Next, China temporarily and adroitly neutralises India by recognising Indian hegemony in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. China withdraws from its de facto bases on Burma’s Indian Ocean coast. In return, India tacitly recognises China’s hegemony over the South China Sea, further undermining Southeast Asia’s will to resist aggressive Chinese encroachment."

Another scenario, entitled "China Acts" sees a full-blown naval battle between China and the US, with the latter losing lives and aircraft. This happens after the US withdraws from Japan and South Korea by 2015 following ultra-nationalist protests in those countries against US presence, ending in a series of terrorist attacks against US forces. The damage is done and the American people support a pull out of their forces from East Asia. China takes a series of steps to cash in on the fact that the US has effectively no forward presence in Asia.

"India sees the US withdrawal as an opportunity to elevate its position in the Asian prestige hierarchy. India, which has been developing a blue water navy, accelerates its programme and is capable of out-of-area deployments. Like the Japanese, it also remains open to new defence relationships and an enhanced diplomatic role in regional security issues, particularly in the Persian Gulf," the study says. Here, India’s role is enhanced but it remains subordinate to China’s strategic interests.

What also emerges from these scenarios is the fact that India becomes crucial to the United States strategic thinking, and could emerge as a major regional power.

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