Opinion: Reactive defensive strategy will not work against China

New Delhi Published: May 04, 2021, 09:14 PM(IST)

File photo of Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel (Representative image) Photograph:( ANI )

Story highlights

The need for dedicated Mountain Strike Corps for India is inescapable, to create worthwhile punitive deterrence against China, which can also be used elsewhere

Backdrop

For decades, the strategic planners of India have been boosting offensive capability along western borders for credible deterrence and remained contented with limited offensive capability with reactive mindset along northern and eastern borders, against the basic military strategy which says “Offense is the best form of defence” and a defender can at best respond to offensive as he doesn’t have the initiative. The number of Strike Corps earmarked for western borders versus northern/eastern borders bears testimony to this observation. 

Was our Strategy against China reactive?

One of the reasons for adopting reactive/dissuasive strategy against China by various decision-makers was unwarranted faith in the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) between China and India, in the form of various Border Peace and Tranquility Agreements (BPTA), although the basis of the faith was unrealistic, in light of Chinese repeated misadventures like 1962, Sumdurong Chu, Doklam, to name a few.

The fact that Chinese have been dragging their feet on demarcation of LAC/Border settlement also proves the fragility of any agreement with them. Except for few proactive actions at tactical/operational level like Pangong Tso heights, Nathu La and Doklam, by and large, the Indian strategy against China has been reactive at strategic plane.  

Voices for “China being enemy No 1” and proposals to have mountain strike corps have been on the tables of South Block since long, but the delay in complete raising of Mountain Strike Corps apparently has been due to economic and bureaucratic reasons, together with the idea of not disturbing peace and tranquility on borders, due to over-reliance on CBMs, BPTA and other agreements, despite China violating them repeatedly. The fact is that incidences of patrol clashes and soldiers pushing each other, having different perception of LAC have been quite frequent, which remains an unsatisfactory arrangement for any professional force to guard borders/LAC without firing.   

Hasn’t the need of having Mountain Strike Corps become Inescapable? 

After China junked all the CBM’s in Eastern Ladakh, and now reluctant to disengage in ‘other areas’ after disengaging North and South of Pangong Tso, it’s evident that de-escalation is nowhere in sight. The campaigning season is approaching with summers, which can again lead to heavy troop concentration by both sides. With many similar actions taken by China along LAC in past few decades, it is evident that a reactive, defensive strategy will not influence China to negotiate LAC/borders, which is important to avoid repeated standoffs. 

The need for dedicated Mountain Strike Corps for India is inescapable, to create worthwhile punitive deterrence against China, which can also be used elsewhere. As per media reports, some re-alignment/rebalancing of existing offensive forces, grouped with adequate mechanized forces and other elements is being done to create corps level offensive capability for Northern Theatre and partially raised ‘Mountain Strike Corps’ for eastern theatre, with adequate flexibility of application in other theatres. It makes strategic sense to meet the offensive requirements of various theatres and is a reasonably practical option, till India completes further capacity building.

Strike Corps Headquarters versus Integrated Battle Groups under Theatres? 

The much-referred division/independent brigade-sized ‘Integrated Battle Groups’ (IBG) is a concept tried in many exercises in the recent past with adequate media coverage, but there is a need for all such forces to operate under offensive Corps Headquarters, tasked for an offensive role in adversary’s territory so that they are oriented, trained and equipped accordingly, which is a time-consuming process. Historical experience of operations in these areas indicates that the theatre commanders by virtue of such long borders and wide span of control, had a tendency to manage their defensive posture as a higher priority.  

To create deterrence and not be reactive, India needs offensive Corps Commanders to be looking for objectives into adversary’s territory and posturing accordingly. The logistics requirements and equipment profiling of an offensive corps have to be much different in terms of light tanks, guns, clothing and other equipment. It needs detailed planning and earmarking resources, which IBG’s are not designed to handle, and Theatre Headquarters will find it difficult to concentrate on offensive build-up, due to large span of control. 

The Mountain Strike Corps Commander will be able to pick up his objectives across LAC, capable of threatening its vital objectives, oriented, trained, equipped and organized with logistics set up to sustain forces across LAC, which will improve punitive deterrence capability of India. There may be a need to locate parts of such offensive corps at heights to minimize the acclimatization requirements, to cut short the mobilization timings. It is therefore recommended that the Mountain Strike Corps must be developed with Corps Headquarters, IBG and other components as part of it, on priority. This will impose required cost on China, making settlement of LAC/border issue a better option than not doing so. 

Future Military Strategy in Dealing with Aggressive China

India needs to adopt multi-pronged strategy to include military, economic, diplomatic and other elements of power. Preparing for ‘Two Front War’ for India is not a choice, but a compulsion, although it may/may not happen. The only way to avoid ‘Two Front War’ for India, is to convince the potential adversaries that it is capable of fighting it successfully and posing multiple front for China. This convincing has to be backed by building capability to do so. India seems to be working on it, fast-tracking procurements and boosting indigenous production of necessary equipment through ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, besides a tough stance by forces on borders. India needs to be prepared to pose a threat to Chinese vulnerabilities in maritime domain in collaboration with Quad and other friendly navies. The overall strategic approach has to be proactive at tactical, operational as well as strategic level.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Major General S B Asthana

The author is a strategic and security analyst, a veteran Infantry General with 40 years of experience in national & international fields and UN. He has been awarded twice by President of India, United Nations, former Prime Minister Moldova and Governor of Haryana. He is currently Chief Instructor at USI of India.

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