What the admiral said about China

Beyond a realistic appreciation of the situation

“Common sense” according to Admiral Sureesh Mehta, “that cooperation with China would be preferable to competition or conflict, as it would be foolhardy to compare India and China as equals. China’s GDP is more than thrice that of ours and its per capita GDP is 2.2 times our own.” (linkthanks Commodore C Uday Bhaskar)

The economic penalties resulting from a military conflict would have grave consequences for both nations. It would therefore, undoubtedly be in both our interests, to cooperate with each other in mutually beneficial endeavours, and ensure that the potential for conflict is minimised…

On the military front, our strategy to deal with China must include reducing the military gap and countering the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. The traditional or ‘attritionist’ approach of matching ‘Division for Division’ must give way to harnessing modern technology for developing high situational awareness and creating a reliable stand-off deterrent. [Adm Mehta/NMF]

Those looking for a hawkish tone would understandably be disappointed at these words, but the outgoing navy chief’s understanding of the geopolitical context is infused with realism. There is a wide gap between India and China in terms of aggregate national power—not least because China opened its economy earlier, did it more purposefully—and the gap may be widening despite India’s own growth take-off. A military confrontation, therefore, is not desirable. In Kautilya’s metaphor “attacking a stronger king will meet the same fate as that of a foot-soldier opposing an elephant.”

While Admiral Mehta’s reading of the situation is astute, his policy prescription summarily rejects the possibility that competition and conflict might be in India’s interests, should such competition hurt China more than it hurts India. That’s in Kautilya’s Arthashastra too, actually. Galrahn over at Information Dissemination has a valid point when he argues that “military asymmetry in interstate relations does not mean the weaker side must bend to the dictates of the stronger, nor should the weaker state seek to propitiate it.” Perhaps Admiral Mehta’s office constrained what he could say openly, but his point about countering the growing Chinese maritime footprint in the region suggests that he has left some things unsaid.

B Raman reads in Admiral Mehta’s speech the UPA government’s re-orientation of grand strategy “from power projection” to “deterrence and self-defence.” If this is a conscious choice, it is a bad one. It should be obvious for anyone to see—no one can reasonably argue that the extended neighbourhood is any more stable after the UPA government’s strategic myopia allowed China literally unbridled room to encircle and contain India. The question is whether this situation came about due to neglect or design. The former is perhaps excusable. The latter is not.

This blog has consistently argued that “projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development”. Because there are Maoris out there.

6 thoughts on “What the admiral said about China”

  1. > …allowed China literally unbridled room to encircle and contain India. The question is whether this situation came about due to neglect or design. The former is perhaps excusable. The latter is not.

    Are you serious?
    Both, to my mind, are nothing short of treason.

    A government is elected, first and foremost, to safeguard the current and long-term security of its people.
    Acts of omission and acts of commission that threaten this safety are equally inexcusable.

    The tragic reality is this: the leaders that matter in the UPA (including the PM and Shishi tharoor) are openly saying China is a friend when their action on the ground is anything but friendly (ref. from satyameva jayate).

    Deliberately lying is treason.

    Mehta’s matter-of-fact assertion is a direct consequence of political failure — at multiple levels and over sustained periods that have emasculated our economy and our ability to fund security forces.

    Myopia is too weak a term. Treason is more like it.

  2. I agree with your sentiments Nitin. However, I don’t think that neglecting to prevent the encirclement of your extended neighbourhood by a neighbour with a well catalogued history of aggressive expansion is ‘ perhaps excusable’. Comparatively, yes. It is the lesser of the two evils you mentioned. But not excusable by any means. I’m not trying to be a smartass here, just putting things in perspective.

  3. Newsflash: China’s rise is the geopolitical earthquake of this century.

    China will rise so fast and so strong it will eclipse the rest of the world. It will dominate the whole of Asia and split the spoils on the rest of the world with America, perhaps.

    It is so far ahead of India in any and every conceivable gamut of hard/tangible power that it is difficult to even believe that the two are even potentially in the same league.

    It is not without reason that most Chinese like to compare their progress with that of first world nations, not with a giant third world backwater that South Asia must seem like from across the Great Wall.

    Give up O Indians… the game is over…….LOL

  4. Hats off to the admiral. He seems to be a special breed in Indian officialdom. A guy at the top who speaks his mind openly.

    That said there are questions and questions about his motivation to say this in public. Is he expecting more funding from the GOI by raising up China as the bugaboo and exposing the capability difference as huge out in the open? Or is he signaling to the GOI saying it shouldn’t put too much pressure against China because it does not have the capability to “execute” it? Or is he jus trying to soothe the morales of uber-nationalist blowhard idiots in China by saying India is no equal to them and so no need for any confrontation (we are Gandhian onlee)? The timing with the start of Indo-Chinese talks is particularly noteworthy.

  5. Given the chinese need for puffery and “saving face”, this sort of flattery may work to keep the chinese “we don’t get no respect” angst down to manageable levels.

  6. It is no secret that even though our Boomer project is considered a national as opposed to a naval asset, its budget was being cut from the Navy’s budget. No wonder the navy was grumpy about it. I agree that there should be a separate budget for national assets upon which the second strike capability is based – either in the deep ocean or in outer space.

    The services’ operational budget is for more mundane things.

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