The human race has experienced two devastating world wars and the race is not ready to experience one more. Although another world war is neither hoped nor acceptable by the general human race, the developing incidents in Arctic region, South China Sea, Europe and Middle East indicate that the military superpowers may impose on human race another of such devastating wars.
The Arctic – surrounded by the landmasses of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the US – was “inaccessible” until the end of the 20th century due to the layers of thick ice. Thus, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of the (21st) century. However, with the ice caps melting rapidly, access to the Arctic oil and gas reserves, which is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, will become easier – a prediction that has already sparked a rush for ownership.
The region is increasingly catching the world powers’ attention and the aforementioned five Arctic countries are in rush to exploit the energy resources from the region. Such circumstances have given rise to plenty of disputes among the aforementioned five countries.
In the prevailing scenario, all the five Arctic countries have been moving towards militarizing the region in order to acquire each of their respective interests. While Canada has been annually conducting large-scale military exercises, known as Operation Nanook, within the periphery of the region, it has also been participating in the Norway-led “Cold Response” military exercises within the region, where four out of five Arctic countries (except Russia) participate.
Norway has been hosting the “Cold Response” military exercises for several years, where the NATO countries are invited to participate. The fact that these exercises have been taking place within the Arctic periphery shows that the Arctic countries are militarily preparing themselves in order to safeguard their interests within the region in case of any future military escalation. This year’s (March 2016) “Cold Response” exercise took place in the Norway’s Trondheim region, which is only 500 kilometres from the Arctic Circle, and included approximately 15 000 soldiers from various countries, including four (Canada, Denmark, the US, and Norway) of the five Arctic states.
In August 2015, another Arctic state, the US, permitted Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, which falls within the periphery of the Alaskan Arctic. The US Coast Guard had deployed sophisticated ships, aircrafts and other maritime assets in the Alaskan Arctic for the duration of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. However, after months of exploration campaign, Shell had subsequently declared to stop its exploratory drilling for the “foreseeable future.”
On the otherside, in 2007, Russian scientists dived to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and planted a titanium Russian flag (Russia claimed that it was flag of Russia’s ruling party) in order to beef up their claims. Russia has already moved to restore Soviet-era military base and other military outposts in the region. In December 2014, Russia established the Arctic Joint Strategic Command in order to protect the Russian interests in the region and the Russian Northern Fleet had become the new Command’s main striking force. Questions arose about the establishment of a Strategic Command, which is usually reserved for wartime, instead of establishing a core Military District.
Later, in early 2015, Russia exercised military patrols in the region from its Northern Fleet, involving thousands of servicemen with several surface ships, submarines and aircrafts. More interestingly, Russia is currently planning to jointly explore oil in regional fields with China in order to make sure that Russia has a rising military and economic power like China involved into its stake in the region so that such cooperation favours Russia at the time of escalation of any military conflict.
In such an environment, the current militarization efforts in the region is likely to increase with almost all the regional countries working for further increasing their military deployments and exercises in the region, and there appears little hope and opportunity for any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement) regarding the disputes. It can be well presumed that without political agreement, the current non-hostile debate over the Arctic could turn into a violent confrontation.
If the disputes over the control of the Arctic resources are not resolved quickly, it could turn into a larger military conflict that would not just involve the Arctic countries, but would also drag a larger part of the region into this conflict, leading to a regionwide war. Since Arctic states – Canada, Russia and the U.S. – alongwith other regional powerful states (especially the UK, France and Germany) would be involved in the aforementioned regional military conflict, such regionwide conflict would have the potentiality to turn into a worldwide conflict, dragging rest of the world into the mess.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Some of China’s ASEAN neighbours (especially Philippines and Vietnam) have been claiming parts of the South China Sea as each of their own territory. On the other side, China also has also been claiming territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by its ASEAN neighbours and has constructed an artificial island in the region. The relevant ASEAN neighbours of China have been firm on their claims and have been conducting joint militarily drills with the U.S. in order to ensure that China does not establish firm control over their claimed territories in the South China Sea. The U.S. has been maintaining military presence in the region and has been conducting the abovementioned military drills with some ASEAN states in order to ensure that its freedom of navigation under the international law is properly guarded and its allies’ interests are well protected.
A recent Arbitration triggered by the Philippines’ immediate past government regarding the South China Sea dispute went against China’s interests. On the otherhand, the recent closeness between China and the newly elected President of the Philippines, a country traditionally known to be an U.S. ally, made many analysts apprehend that U.S.’s major ally in the dispute is backing off from its claims against China on South China Sea. But such an apprehension is wrong; because, although the Philippines’ newly elected President intends to earn economic leverages from China by his recent rhetoric against the U.S., he could not afford to let go his country’s alliance with the U.S. in reality.
It is worth mentioning that the South China Sea is a major maritime trade route, with trillions of dollars in global trade passing through the disputed area each year. That is why, the region is of utmost importance to many countries across the globe, including the ASEAN states, China, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The region is particularly important to the U.S. as over a trillion dollars worth trade from the U.S. alone passes through the disputed waters.
Throughout 2015 & 2016, the U.S. and China had involved in highly confrontational conducts against each other in the South China Sea. In instances, the U.S. sent naval ships within the 12 miles of a Chinese-controlled isle, while in another instance it sent military aircraft over the disputed areas. China, on the other hand, had already built an artificial island on the disputed waters and Chinese coastguard-backed boats has been elbowing out fishing boats from ASEAN states from fishing within the disputed areas.
Chinese Naval Chief Wu Shengli warned that if the U.S. continues with its conducts against China in South China Sea, there could well be an instance of seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air that could spark war. Such a warning is the reflection and outburst of increasing tensions that might take the shape of military conflict in no time if sensitive incidents in the disputed areas are not handled properly. A simple military error in the disputed waters between the two sides may lead to a “regionwide” military conflict in the Asia Pacific region, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Since the ‘geopolitical interests’ and the ‘economies’ of many countries around the world are well connected with China and the U.S., and also since may countries beyond East Asia and Southeast Asia (including India and Saudi Arabia) have interests in ‘maritime routes’ in the South China Sea, the countries outside East Asia and Southeast Asia would somehow be dragged (directly or indirectly) into this conflict, and hence, we might witness another world war in our small, yet way too polarized, planet.
A referendum, which is widely addressed as the Brexit referendum, took place in mid-2016 regarding Britain’s (precisely the UK’s) membership of the European Union (EU); the same EU that was formed in order to ensure, alongwith several other reasons, peace in Europe and avoid wars among the European neighbours. The referendum went in favour of Britain’s exit from the EU.
Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU, which would atleast take two more years, may pave the way for several other EU member states to follow suit, causing a serious power-imbalance in the greater Europe. In such a scenario, there is the likelihood that Europe will become bipolar and would become a fragmented territory.
In recent times, Britain has been attempting to create a “northern league” consisting of European countries with “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes. All the probable northern-leaguers – namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Britain itself – share a common desire to restrict the power of the EU. With the attempt of forming such a bloc or alliance, Britain is perhaps trying to restrict the expansion of the EU and to divide the existing EU in order to serve Britain’s own hegemonic interests.
After “formally” leaving the EU, if Britain makes its move towards institutionalizing the “northern league” and also joins the non-EU trade bloc European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bi-centric Europe would emerge — one led by France & Germany (the Franco-German duo) under the banner of the EU and the other led by Britain.
One of the two European blocs that might emerge out of Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU may lean towards, or align with, the Sino-Russian side of global polarity in confronting the other side that would avail the backing from the U.S. With such two opposite blocs in Europe, further division, cold relations, conflicts, wars and proxy wars are the only possibilities.
The conflict of interests between the Western bloc (led by the U.S.) and the Eastern bloc (led by the former Soviet Union) during the cold war period had led to several proxy wars across the world. Similarly, the Saudi-Iran regional rivalry has been resulting in a number of proxy wars for last one decade. Therefore, it would not be ‘unprecedented’ if the two spreadheads of the two future European regional blocs, one led by the Franco-German duo and the other led by Britain, start fighting between themselves through proxies in the region in near future. However, a direct war between these European spearheads is most likely to spread all over the world (world war), similar to what we have seen in the previous two world wars that started as European conflicts only to turn into world wars.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between two major regional foes, Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to make accessibility to the region risky for Russia and energy starved China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts think that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then get the U.S. embroiled into it and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from the lower global oil price.
The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances are at one side of the Syrian conflict; the other coalition involves Assad regime, Iraqi regime, Iran and Russia. Although two major powers – Russia and the U.S. – are involved in this conflict, a Russia-U.S. direct confrontation is unlikely. No UNSC member can fight another UNSC member as per UN provisions. However, such international provisions never matter when conflict of interests reaches the height and heat of confrontation goes out of control. But, what would really keep these two powers away from fighting each other are not the UN provisions, but the reality that both are nuclear armed states and a war between these two nuclear-superpowers means total annihilation of not only these two major powers but also a larger part of human race and earth’s landmass. However, the possibility of a war between these two military & nuclear superpowers is not totally out of the cards and any such conflict between these two powers would, for sure, drag rest of the world into it.
It seems our globe does not lack reasons to engage in chaos. The two world wars initially were European conflicts that turned gradually into world wars. For sure, the start of another war between any two major powers would drag the world into it. Another world war would mean the landmasses, waters, and environment and, most importantly, living species including human being would become the targets of war machines of the global military elites, jeopardizing the peace and stability of our globe.
Why the “Coronavirus Ceasefire” Never Happened
Six months ago, when COVID-19 had just moved beyond the borders of China and embarked upon its triumphant march across Europe and North America, politicians and foreign affairs experts started discussing what will happen after the virus is vanquished. The debate that ensued balanced the fears and concerns of pessimists with the hopes and expectations of optimists, with the latter believing that the pandemic and the global recession that followed would inevitably force humankind to put its differences aside and finally unite in the face of common challenges.
Six months later, we can say without any doubt that, unfortunately, the optimists were wrong. The pandemic did not bring about the changes in world politics they had been hoping for, even with the ensuing recession making things worse. And we are unlikely to see any such changes in the near future. Sadly, COVID-19 did not turn out to be a cure-all for regional conflicts, arms races, the geopolitical competition and the countless ailments of humankind today.
These persisting ailments are more than evident in relations between Russia and the West. No positive steps have been made in the past six months in any of the areas where the positions of the two sides differ significantly, be it the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the unrest in Syria, the political instability in Venezuela or the war in Libya. The fate of the New START and the nuclear nonproliferation regime remains unclear. Moscow continues to be the target of new economic and political sanctions. Russia and the West are locked in an intense information war. There are no signs of a “coronavirus ceasefire,” let alone a full-fledged peace agreement, on the horizon.
Of course, Moscow has placed the blame for the lack of progress squarely on the shoulders of its western partners. While this may indeed be true in many respects, we must admit that the Kremlin has hardly been overflowing with ideas and proposals over the past six months. Even if Moscow did want to reverse the current negative trends in global politics, it has not taken any steps on its own to do so. Nor has it proposed any large-scale international projects, or even tried to temper its usual foreign policy rhetoric and propaganda.
On the contrary, the various troubles that have befallen Russia in the “coronavirus era” – from the public unrest in Belarus to the unfortunate poisoning of Alexei Navalny – are explained away as the malicious intrigues of Russia’s geopolitical opponents. For all intents and purposes, the Kremlin is in the same position now, in September 2020, that it was in back in March. The chances of another “reset” or at least a “timeout” in relations have disappeared completely, if they ever existed in the first place.
So, why did the “coronavirus ceasefire” never happen? Without absolving the West of its share of responsibility, let us try to outline the obstacles that Russia has put in the way of progress.
First, in an environment of unprecedented shocks and cataclysms, there is always the hope that your opponent will eventually suffer more as a result than you will. Many in Russia see the 2020 crisis as the final damning indictment of the West and even an inglorious end to the market economy and political liberalism in general.
The recent statement by Aide to the President of the Russian Federation Maxim Oreshkin that Russia is poised to become one of the top five economies in the world this year is particularly noteworthy. Not because the country is experiencing rapid economic growth, but because the German economy is set to fall further than the Russian economy. If you are certain that time is on your side and that you will emerge from the crisis in better shape than your opponents, then the incentives to work towards some kind of agreement hic et nunc are, of course, reduced.
Second, the current Russian leadership is convinced that any unilateral steps on its part, any shifts in Moscow’s foreign policy, will be perceived in the West as a sign of weakness. And this will open the door for increased pressure on Moscow. Not that this logic is entirely unfounded, as history has shown. But it is precisely this logic that prevents Russian leaders from admitting their past foreign policy mistakes and miscalculations, no matter how obvious they may have been. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult to change the current foreign policy and develop alternative routes for the future. In fact, what we are seeing is a game to preserve the status quo, in the hope that history will ultimately be on Moscow’s side, rather than that of its opponents (see the first point).
Third, six and a half years after the crisis in Ukraine broke out, we are essentially left with a frozen conflict. Turning the large and unwieldy state machine around, rewiring the somewhat heavy-handed state propaganda machine, and changing the policies that determine the everyday actions of the army of “deep state” officials is tantamount to changing the trajectory of a supertanker carrying a load of hundreds of thousands of tonnes. It is perhaps even more difficult, however, to change the opinion that has taken shape in Russian society in recent years about the modern world and Russia’s place in it. Just because the Russian people are tired of foreign politics, this does not mean that they will enthusiastically support an updated version of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” of the second half of the 1980s or the ideological principles of Boris Yeltsin and Andrei Kozyrev’s foreign policy of the early 1990s.
Fourth, the balance of power between the agencies involved in the development and practical implementation of Russia’s foreign policy has changed significantly in recent years. The role of the security forces has been growing in all its aspects since at least the beginning of 2014. Conversely, the role of diplomats, as well as that of the technocrats in the economic structures of the Russian government, has been dwindling with each passing year. It is the security forces that are the main “stakeholders” in Donbass, Syria, Libya and even Belarus today. It would be fair to say that they have had a controlling interest in Russia’s foreign policy. The oft-quoted words of Emperor Alexander III that Russia has only two allies, its army and its navy, perfectly reflect the shift that has taken place in the balance of powers between these agencies. We should add that this shift was largely welcomed and even supported by a significant part of Russian society (see the third point). Of course, the siloviki are, due to the specifics of their work, less inclined to compromise, concessions and basic human empathy than diplomats, economists and technocrats.
All these factors preventing the conceptual renewal of Russia’s foreign policy can equally be applied to its geopolitical opponents. Politicians in the West are also hoping that time is on their side, that Moscow will emerge from the crisis weaker and more vulnerable, and thus more malleable than it was before. They also believe that any unilateral steps, any demonstration of flexibility in relations with the Kremlin, will be met with an even tougher and more aggressive policy. Negative ideas about Russia have also taken root in the minds of people in the West, and foreign policy is being “militarized” there just as much as it is in Russia.
Thus, neither the coronavirus nor the economic recession will automatically lead to a détente, let alone a reset in relations between Russia and the West. We are, in fact, moving in the opposite direction, once again running the risk of an uncontrolled confrontation. However, this unfortunate situation is no reason to give up on the possibility of signing new agreements, even if COVID-19 will no longer be in our corner moving forward.
From our partner RIAC
India’s strategies short of war against a hostile China
Since India’s independence several peace and border cooperation agreements were signed between the India and China. Prominent among them was the Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954. A majority of the agreements were signed between 1993 and 2013. Recently genuine efforts were made by PM Narendra Modi by engaging Xi Jinping at the Wuhan and Chennai summits. But China is nowhere near to settling the border dispute despite various agreements and talks at the military and civilian levels.
After the 1962 war peace was largely maintained on the Indo China border. During the Mao and Deng era consensus building was the norm in the communist party. XiJinping appointed himself as chairman of the communist party for life. Today power is centralized with XiJinping and his cabal. Through Doklam and Galwan incidents Xi Jinpinghas disowned the peaceful principles laid down by his predecessors. China’s strategy is to keep India engaged in South Asia as it doesn’t want India to emerge as a super power. After solving a crisis on the border China will create another crisis. Beijing has declining interest in the niceties of diplomacy. Under Xi Jinping China has become more hostile.
China has been infringing on India’s sovereignty through salami tactics by changing the status quo and attempting to own the border territory. At Galwan on Xi Jinping’s birthday the PLA demonstrated hooliganism by assaulting Indian border positions. China violated the 1996 and 2005 bilateral agreements which states that both armies should not carry weapons within 1.24 miles on either side of the border. India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar mentioned that the standoff situation with China in Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh is “surely the most serious situation after 1962.”China is constructing infrastructure, increasing forces and deploying weapon systems on the border.
Options for India
India led by PM Narendra Modi has implemented a realist foreign policy and a muscular military policy.India ended the age of strategic restraint by launching special operations and air strikes in Pakistan. Since the Galwan incident India has increased the military, diplomatic and economic deterrence against China. India is constructing military infrastructure and deploying weapon systems like SU 30 MKI and T 90 tanks in Ladakh. India banned a total of 224 Chinese apps, barred Chinese companies from government contracts and is on the verge of banning Huawei. Other measures include excluding Chinese companies from private Indian telecommunications networks. Chinese mobile manufacturers can be banned from selling goods in India.
India should offer a grand strategy to China. India has a plethora of options short of war. Future talks should involve an integrated strategy to solve all the bilateral issues and not just an isolated resolution of a localized border incident. All instruments of military and economic power and coercive diplomacy should be on the table.
China expects other nations to follow bilateral agreements and international treaties while it conveniently violates them. India should abrogate the Panscheel agreement given China’s intransigence and hostility. China claims 35,000 square miles of territory in India’s northeast, including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China occupies 15,000 square miles of India’s territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas. India’s primary objective is to take back territories like Aksai Chin. While the secondary issue is the resolution of the border issue and China’s support to Pakistan. India can leverage the contemporary geopolitical climate to settle all issues. India can target China’s soft underbelly characterized by issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and the economy. China raises the Kashmir issue at international organizations. As a countervailing measure India can raise Xinjiang at international organizations and conferences.
China has been militarily and diplomatically supporting Pakistan against India. Pakistan is a rentier and a broken state that sponsors terrorism. India can establish bilateral relations with Taiwan thus superseding China’s reunification sensitivities. China has territorial disputes with 18 countries including Taiwan and Japan. India can hedge against China by establishing strategic partnerships with US, Australia, Japanand Vietnam.
An overwhelming military is a deterrence for China’s belligerent foreign and military policy. The 1990Gulf War demonstrated the capabilities of high technology weapon systems. As compared to China’s rudimentary weapons systems India has inducted 4th and 5th generation weapons like the SU 30 MKI, AH 64 Apache and T 90 tanks. The deterrence capacity of fighter aircrafts is reduced as they cannot target China’s coastlines due to their restricted range. Full deterrence can be achieved by ICBMs and nuclear powered submarines. With these weapons India can target centers of gravity like Shanghai and Shenzhen.
China is not a signatory to arms limitations treaties like Start I and Start II. China continues to expand its nuclear weapons stockpile and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like DF 21 and DF-26B which are banned by the INF Treaty. India is a law abiding stable democracy in an unstable region with two hostile nations on its flanks. US and Russia can relax the arms control mechanism considering India’s’ impeccable record on peace and non proliferation. This will allow India to buy Russian weapon systems like Zircon and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, Topol and Bulava ICBMs and Yasen and Borey class SSBN submarines. While US can sell SSBN submarines and C4ISR gathering platforms like RC 135 and RQ 4 Global Hawk.
China remains a security threat for Asia. As China foments instability the APAC region from South Asia to South China Sea remains volatile. The Quad can be expanded to include Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia and multinational naval exercises can conducted in the South China Sea.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. China fought small wars with India, Vietnam and Soviet Union. Vietnam defeated the PLA at Lang Son in 1979 with advanced weapon systems and guerilla warfare. India can increase militarily cooperation with Vietnam. China attacked the Soviet Union on the Ussuri river leading to heavy PLA casualties. Historically relations between Russia and India have been close. As a result of the Indo Soviet Friendship Treaty China did not support Pakistan during the 1971 war. India can enhance its military and diplomatic ties with Russia to the next level.
Strategic partnership with US
Its time for a partnership between the world’s largest and the world’s biggest democracies. India and the US have a common objective to preserve peace, maintain stability and enhance security in Asia. India’s reiteration at leaders’ level and international forums that both countries see each other as allies for stability in the APAC region is not enough. India has to go beyond the clichés of the need for closer ties.
Due to the China threat the US is shifting its military from Europe and Middle East to the APAC region.US and India can establish an Asian equivalent of NATO as China’s destructive policy frameworks and threatening postures remain a strategic threat. India should enhance and deepen cooperation with the US intelligence community in the fields of MASINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, TECHINT and CYBINT. Both countries can form an alliance of democracies. If China militarily or economically targets one of the member country then the alliance can retaliate under a framework similar to Article 5 of NATO. Thus power will be distributed in the APAC region instead of being concentrated with China. A scorpion strategy will ensure that China does not harass its neighbors. The strategy involves a military pincer movement by India from the west and US from the East against a hostile China. India can conduct joint military exercises with the US in Ladakh. China cannot challenge Japan and Taiwan due to the US security agreements with these countries.
The world has entered the age of instability and uncertainty. The 21st century is characterized by hybrid warfare through military and coercive diplomacy. South Asia is not a friendly neighborhood where peaceful overtures lead to harmonious relations. China is a threat to India even in the context of a friendly relationship. Diplomatic niceties have no place in India’s relations with China. India can impose costs on China which can be more than the benefits offered by normalizing relations. The application of measures short of war without engaging the PLA will reap benefits. India can fulfill its national security requirements and global responsibilities through a grand strategy.
A policy of engagement and deterrence is crucial against an antagonistic China. While India attempts to develop cooperative ties with China it will need to continue to enhance and implement its military and coercive diplomatic strategies. China does not represent a direct military threat to India but at the same time one cannot deny that challenges remain.
COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.
The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.
Disrupting the Status Quo
Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.
Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.
As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.
The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.
Riding Down the Slope
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.
Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.” India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?
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