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LAC: Avoiding Club and Fist Fight

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Image: BMN Network /flickr

Though ensured that the differences will not escalate into disputes, inconclusive but unprecedented Lieutenant General-level talks were held at Chushal on June 6, 2020, between India and China, declaring the disengagement of their troops and infantry combat vehicles in the Eastern Ladakh area, started from early June. Both moved back their forces to 2.5 km, with China’s People’s Liberation Army restraining itself in Galwan area, Patrolling Point 14, 15 and 17 (Hot Springs) north bank of Pang Tso and Chushul area out of the five areas of conflict. Chushul still has to be declared in the public domain. While keeping all the hotlines open, it was also decided to continue with the lower commanders meetings more frequently. The Chinese foreign Minister’s spokesperson, Mr. Hu Chunying has also declared that “the diplomatic and military channels of China and India held effective communication on the situation along the border and reached positive consensus.”

With the Chinese having a deployment of fighter bombers, Rocket forces, air defence radars, jammers etc at a few km from the Line of Actual Control( LAC), where does the actual issue lie? Will both be able to halt any major build up or maintain the status quo ante April 2020 and continue to seize the tactical gains in piecemeal? After all, Doklam Pateau is in control of China. China, India and Bhutan do not agree where their borders meet. Similarly, the standoff continues in the contested Fingers area on the north bank of Pangong Tso where Chinese troops are not allowing Indian patrols beyond Finger 4 — it is 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says denotes LAC.

These recurrences of episodic conflicts; Depsang 2013, Chumar 2014 and Doklam 2017, are however, all peddled by the differing perceptions on strategic and political interests of both China and India. Launched in 1991, a marked strategic shift in India’s foreign policy; the Look East Policy extends India’s economic and strategic linkages in Southeast Asia to solidify its regional influence. It is undoubtedly aimed at counterweighing China in the region with the aligned support of  US. Similarly, a competitive defence force in the border areas by both India and China is keeping the paradox in peace alive. The Indian Army has moved its battalions of three Infantry Divisions, based in Leh, forward but the country is also looking for a quick diplomatic resolution. Significantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping also asked the People’s Liberation Army to scale up battle preparedness during the parliamentary session being held in Beijing. The region of South Asia, hosting the flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is particularly destabilized in this atmosphere of “fist and club fight.”

Nonetheless, the question remains if it would step up into a full-fledged armed conflict in these difficult times of COVID 19. Any dissection and understanding of the consequential implications of the current standoff in view of the historical, political and the geographical configuration of the border between India and China is mandatory. Unlike mutually agreed Line of Control (LoC) between Pakistan and India, the LAC is neither clarified nor confirmed by the two countries. Except for the middle sector, even the mutual exchange of maps about their respective perceptions has not taken place between India and China. This has led to different perceptions of the LAC for the two sides, and soldiers from either side try to patrol the area up to their perception of the LAC. Essentially, what Indians believe to be ‘their side’ is not the same as what the Chinese believe to be ‘their side.

Divided in three sectors, the LAC falls in the western sector and falls in the union territory of Ladakh. It is 1597 km long. India tried to launch itself in the region by constructing 225 km long Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) all weather road. It is less than 10 km west of the LAC at Aksai Chin with a significant strategic importance. It connects Leh to DBO, virtually at the base of the Karakoram Pass that separates China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region from Ladakh.DBO is the northernmost corner of Indian Territory in Ladakh, with the world’s highest airstrip.  The Indian Air Force (IAF) revived it in 2008, as one of its many Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) along the LAC, with the landing of an Antonov An-32.

In August 2013, the IAF once again landed its newly acquired Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 transport aircraft at the DBO ALG, doing away thereafter with the need to send helicopters to paratroop supplies to Army formations deployed along the disputed frontier.

On the other hand, the Chinese build-up along the Galwan River valley region overlooks, and hence poses a direct threat to the DSDBO road. It is to the West of DSDBO where China enjoins the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan. This is very critical for the flagship project of

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to which India is unjustifiably objecting persistently.

The unprecedented high levels of tension at multiple locations in eastern Ladakh on the disputed India-China border owes also much to India’s increasing infrastructural developments in the border areas of Ladakh as well. China is particularly sensitive about the Indian activity around Galwan as well. This leads us to dig into the comparative force posture of both the countries.

Hence, an eyeball to eyeball situation at two places in Ladakh, with strong statements coming from both sides, can’t be interpreted as an auspicious situation. During his comments in Mandarin Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has once again reiterated that “Chinese border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquility in China-India border areas. At the same time, we will resolutely defend the sovereignty and security of our homeland.” 

Both China and India are nuclear states sharing a 2,167 mile long border. Together their populations are about 2.7 billion, more than a third of the world’s total population live in the two countries. Both have achieved speedy economic development in recent decades. India has significantly expressed its territorial ambitions not only in the border areas but is also denying the long standing rights to its own people such as, by revocation of Article 370 of its own constitution which provided independent status to the Indian Occupied Kashmir. Ending of inconclusive dialogue between the two states in the throes of aggressive presence, statements and ambitions by India is particularly destabilizing for the South Asian region. More so, the premise of bilateral issues of the two countries is now multi-pronged.  The anti-China institutionalization for competitive national interest of US in the region is further worsening the situation.  Emboldening one against other can cause immense damage not only to the region, but to the entire world.

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Defense

Asia’s Increasing Security Concerns: Special Focus on India-China

Aditi Mukhopadhyay

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In a globalized world system like never before the rising powers like India and China has in the recent times more and more focuses on the maritime security in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean region. As the thrust of power shifted from the West to the Asian countries there has been greater competitive focuses between India and China. The best way which the emerged power tries is to strike a conflict between the emerging powers and rightly so whereby both these emerging economies of Asia have been trying to prove its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.  United States have been backing India because of the assertive nature of China. The Asian security to a great deal depends on the security cooperation between India and China along with United States the world hegemonic power which has been influencing the Asian region to a great deal.

The major security challenges according to China in Asia have been its positioning in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and also the nuclear issues of Iran. The Korean Peninsula is the only area where the Cols War situation still persists. Adding to these North Korea being equipped with missile power and nuclear power may add to the challenges to Asia’s peace and order. China has always been apprehensive that a third country such as the USA may use Korea which is a neighbor of China to challenge its security in the present times. China has also been facing various conflicts in the South China Sea with various Southeast Asian countries and also Russia, and India. It has been in confrontation with Philippines over the nine dash lines involving the Scarborough Shoal and the huge involvement of the UNCLOS to rule out China having conquered most of the territory. China having been an emerging power is trying to acquire its energy security in the South China Region which has been the evidence of its possible increasing assertiveness and influence in the South China Sea region. China wants to prevent Iran from showcasing the nuclear arms which may result in the increase in the price of oils in the world market and would be a major challenge to the Asian security and peace.

India has been infested with the security challenges which are no different from other Asian countries like that of South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and so on. Major points of concern for India has been its unresolved territorial disputes, terrorism, maintaining economic prosperity, procuring energy needs, and so on, sovereignty issues. Indian has till date various sovereignty issues which had its roots from the times of the British colonization. Having to deal with versatile ethnicity, language, culture and religious preferences India is infested with various conflicts and issues internally which puts a challenge to its security needs. Moreover, it has serious territorial confrontations with Pakistan and China whereby Kashmir, Aksai Chin and so on form a major area of concerns. India has also been infested with “cross border terrorism” whereby Pakistan has been blamed by India several times. India had accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agencies for training, guiding and aiding for terrorist attacks in the Indian territories. Moreover, India had also internal terrorist and anti-national groups such as Maoists and ULFA which continuously puts a threat to the internal security dynamic of Indian system. Another very critical concern for India is its economic development which is essential to reduce poverty in the country and to provide with their basic needs. Also, technological advancement is required for the infrastructural development of the country. India is also in the dire need of preventing its climate change strategies along with the Global Commons and also to have greater access to energy pipelines to fulfil its energy needs. Such examples have been the TAPI pipelines. Also, to India China has been a major security threat because of the possible emerging power and its assertive nature in the Asian region. Both these countries have overlooked its areas of common interests to build in a competitive and conflicting relation between each other which may be prove to be a complete destroyer to the Asian peace and security relations. China has been continuously increasing its naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region and both these countries have been at standoffs at various situations to avoid only an armed attack several times.

In the present scenario of Covid-19 outbreak there have been greater suspicions and a chance of complete reconsiderations of foreign policies of various countries with that of China. Adding to these the China-India standoff which happened in the Galwan valley has also added to the security challenges and threat to the Asian region altogether. The situations have been complicated as the thrust and responsibility of spreading the epidemic have been completely pointed towards China as it was the emerging country for the viral disease. Along with India, United States have also been in a state of serious doubting towards the intentions of China in this pandemic situation which has put the whole world order in a serious turmoil. On the other hand, taking lead to the situations of Covid-19 China has started increasing is naval power and forces in the Indian Ocean region which have proved to be a major security concern for India.

India-China relations is a major yardstick to count on the security issues of various other Asian countries which have both traditional and non-traditional challenges to maintain stability, peace and security in the Asian region. The Asian countries have been suffering from challenges of ethnic conflicts, territorial integrity, climate change issues and also human rights and concerns of environmental protection. Adding to these economic development and energy needs have always been the rising concerns in the Asian region. Asian region has been characterized by multifaceted security challenges and needs which have remained unsolved at various instances. An all-inclusive peace, stability and strategic approach is the need of the hour to resolve the security needs of the Asian region. Being the emerging powers of Asia, China and India should focus on the common interest areas and bring about a climate of cooperation and peace rather than that of conflict and competition and prevent the apprehensions of a possible armed conflict in this region. 

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Maintaining Command of the Sea: Maritime Doctrines of Pakistan and India

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Maritime and naval component is an important part of political, economic and military domain of a maritime nation. This component enhances a states role in foreign policy, diplomacy, economy and especially in military domain to further its national interests. Pakistan and India apart from being a hostile neighbors with over 3,323 km of international land border also share maritime space in Indian Ocean Region. To ensure robust presence and control of the maritime frontiers it’s the responsibility of the navy and its maritime forces to establish the writ of the state in alignment of national interests. For this purpose to understand and devise the role and duties of the navy a doctrine is established which acts as a anchor to establish the norms of the naval and maritime components and develop understanding among tri services (Army and Air-Force) and also of one state’s national maritime objectives with other states. Thus, for this purpose the establishment of a naval doctrine is necessary for a maritime nation. Pakistan being a responsible maritime state has published its own maritime doctrine termed as “Preserving Freedom of Seas” in December 2018.India on the other hand enjoys largest coastline of 7,516 km among any other maritime state with its blue water navy ambitions. The Indian Maritime Doctrine which was published in 2009 highlights the naval ambitions of yet a developing state which causes grave concerns and challenges to Pakistan’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region. Thus, a comparative analysis of both these doctrines underlines the aims and objectives of how both these states perceives the space of Indian Ocean Region.

Indian Ocean Region

Indian Ocean Region is the worlds third largest water body which comprises an area of 65.556 million sq km and have a coastline of 66,526 km. The IOR lies in one of the worlds most contested region which is rich in natural resources including fossil fuels, oil and gas, fisheries and untampered ores and minerals. The IOR has four most crucial access points or choke points namely water ways of Suez Canal (in Egypt), Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Strait of Malacca (located between Malaysia and Indonesia) and Bab-al-Mandeb (located near Djibouti and Yemen). The area is currently facing various turmoil’s and challenges including civil unrest, state conflicts and is in the lime-light of the major power politics and strategic interests. The northern part of Indian ocean region ferries 70% of sea borne oil trade and about 50% of sea borne trade.[1]

Pakistan and India both share a significant importance in the international politics due to their geographical positioning and relevancy to major land and maritime routes. Pakistan enjoys an area of 350 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone in Indian Ocean Region, while, India maintains a significant larger jurisdiction over 2.8 million sq km of space in Indian Ocean.[2] With over two naval engagements of 1965-1971 and disputed territories in the region including Sir Creek dispute, both of these South Asian states hold Indian Ocean as a vital component of their strategic apparatus in political, diplomatic and military domains. The economic importance attached to the mercantile component of the Indian Ocean Region thrives the economy of not only Pakistan and India but also the world at large with the onslaught of advance sea borne container freights and other vessels.

Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine 2018

The Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Navy was published in December 2018 during Maritime Security Workshop which was held at Karachi.[3] This doctrine was published after a research of seven years by the academicians of Naval War College. The doctrine is a comprehensive document on issues pertaining to the maritime affairs and role of Pakistan Navy in mitigating them in the light of national interests. The main role as highlighted by the document is to protect the vital maritime interests, ensure national security and mitigate threats posed by any sea based source, economic viability and implement vital foreign policy tools and diplomacy through the naval component. Other major factors highlighted by the doctrine highlights the commitments of Pakistan at the international level and the responsible role played by Pakistan to fulfill its role to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region under its Area of Responsibility (AoR).

According to the document, the role of the doctrine is to establish particular set of principles which are advocated by major policy narratives acquired through experience and provide guidance pertaining to certain issues. The purpose of the doctrine should be to highlight the important factors, give accurate and authentic information, while, remaining flexible with continuous change. The doctrine helps in analyzing and managing change, the shared principles and practices, and is the force behind the institutional development which pursue fundamental national objectives. The interplay between the policy, strategy and doctrine is based upon the national interests and objectives enunciated in the constitutional directives issued by political leadership.[4]

The Naval and Maritime Strategy

According to the document the naval strategy deals with the aspect of employment and deployment of the naval forces in time of war and peace. While, the maritime strategy comprises of a broader domain encompassing the issues pertaining to maritime ecosystem, economy, trade, security and safety, threats and opportunities emanating from the maritime domain. The economic component include the sea borne trade, fishery and marine resources, natural resources, while, the threats include sea borne human, drug trafficking, gun-running, piracy and poaching.

Maritime Force

The naval component of the strategy comprise upon the employment and deployment of naval fire power against surface, sub-surface, air and ashore based threats. The domain of the naval strategy also comprises of the electromagnetic and cyber domain also which are neutralized by various hardware assets and human capital having technological edge over the adversary. This technological edge is ensured by maintaining advanced cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, amphibious assault ships and other fleet auxiliaries.

Foreign Policy Tool

The maritime forces maintained by a state should be flexible, versatile, and sustainable giving them mobility and readiness to operate when and where needed as the need arises, thus, ensuring the naval supremacy of a maritime power nation. Moreover, navy is an important component of the foreign policy ensuring the pursue of entailed objectives such as freedom of navigation, extension of alliances through friendly port visits, aiding in humanitarian and disaster relief operations among others.

International Maritime Regimes

The interaction of states on the high seas is regulated and controlled by various international regimes mainly United Nations Convention Laws of Seas (UNCLOS-1982). The role of the international maritime regimes is crucial to regulating the sea space between the states. Pakistan being a responsible member of the international community is a member of various cooperative, economic and security regimes. Regimes such as Indian Ocean Maritime Affairs Cooperation which was ratified in June 1983 focuses upon ocean governance and management. The Indian Ocean Rim Association which was signed in Mauritius in 1997 focuses upon regional technological and economic cooperation in maritime domain among member states. The International Maritime Conference such as AMAN are held biennially from 2007 by Pakistan to promote cooperation among regional naval forces and share same sense of security towards the maritime threats and challenges. Western Pacific Naval Symposium emphasizes upon pragmatic cooperation between the major states and has developed code of unplanned encounters in sea among the member states which ensures safety and develop bilateral relations.

Maritime Security Initiatives

The maritime security initiatives were readily taken in the aftermath of the 9/11 incident in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the international water ways. These initiatives ensure that the sea is safe from all threats and challenges. These initiatives comprises of issues relating to conventional maritime security issues, state sovereignty, non-traditional maritime security problems, terrorism, territorial disputes and human and drug trafficking issues. The initiatives comprises of International Ship Port Facility Security Code ISPS, which was launched in December 2002, focuses on security issues pertaining to port facilities and maintaining good order at sea. Other initiatives such as Automatic Identification System AIS is similar to Identification of Friend or Foe IFF but on sea regulating the movement of sea vessels and personnel onboard. Other multifaceted maritime security initiatives include Secure Freight Initiatives SFI, Proliferation Security Initiative PSI and Container Security Initiative CSI. These initiatives monitor sea based cargo and personnel movement through various checks and balances using non-intrusive equipment and optical character recognition instruments.

Maritime Environment

The progressive rise in the economic power centers especially in Asia-Pacific from trans-Atlantic has raised the stakes for the maritime component of trade, geo-politics and strategic dominance in the region. The threats in the region include jeopardizing the maritime trade due to political purposes, sea lanes of communications, combat restricted exclusive economic zones. The increasing maritime threats include smuggling, human and drug trafficking, gun-running. Moreover, the initiation of  China-Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC is the pilot project to enhance the economic importance of the Gwadar port and Pakistan in the region.

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Climate change is a considerable threat which is dramatically impacting the coastal domain, increasing the sea level, changing the wave patterns, soil sedimentation and unpredictable storm events. These alterations impact the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem and also threatens the coastal regions.

Collaborative Maritime Security

The collaborative maritime security initiatives include Pakistan’s active participation in the Combined Task Force 150 and 151 which has been regularly commanded by Pakistan Navy. These task force ensures that the water ways in the Northern, Western and Central Indian Ocean are kept free from piracy and trafficking, ensuring a safe environment to the economic trade and free movement of sea freight.

Command Of The Sea

The command of the sea is projected through maritime power which enables a nation to control the sea through various spectrums of threats including surface, air, electromagnetic and cyber domains. The naval strategies are adopted by various sea based platforms which perform naval blockade, Force benign role such as ensuring balancing and avoiding head on collision with a greater enemy, naval diplomacy, coercion, gun-boat diplomacy and deterrence at conventional, sub-conventional and nuclear level among many others.

Maritime Command and Control

Maritime command and control is ensured by having a situational domain awareness across the sea based on technological advanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition ISRTA systems. Thus, the domain awareness helps in establishing a more robust and flexible strike element according to changing threat environment. The contemporary increase in sub-conventional maritime threats has forced navy to converge its focus upon threats generating from non-state actors either at land or sea.

The nuclearization of the Indian Ocean by the adversary has raised the stakes in the region, while, the adversary is still instigating in sub-conventional warfare under the cover of nuclear umbrella. Thus, the deliberate desire of the enemy to keep the conventional theater alive calls upon changing the apprehensions regarding the conventional threat. The Pakistan Navy considers that the prevalence of deterrence across all the spectrums must be ensured and upon the failure of the deterrence the protection of maritime interests must be ensured at all costs. For this purpose Pakistan Navy has adopted the approach of provocative, and flexible mobility using the sea space, regulating attrition from multi-dimension cause dilution of enemy forces. Lastly the approaches include hit first with maximum effects and minimum application of force. The nature of naval warfare in coming era will require a robust and flexible force posture ensuring stealthy capabilities. The high-tempo and high-intensity diversion and disruption of sea lanes of communications of the enemy using submarine component of the force to dominate the war theater are among the major priorities of the navy.

The future warfare environment would be in a network centric environment which would be prone to cyber threats upon the major critical infrastructure. Navy is working on ensuring that the force is ready to overcome the future challenges in coming years ranging from information wars to cyber threats and ensuring interoperability of land and air-forces in synchronization with navy thus ensuring accomplishment of goals as desired by political leadership.

The Comparative Analysis of Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine with Indian Maritime Doctrine

The maritime doctrine of India was published in 2009, which propagated the increasing role of Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region highlighting the Blue Water Navy ambitions of India. The doctrine of Pakistan Navy contrasts and contradicts the Indian Naval apprehensions at various points. While, both of the doctrines ensure to maintain the conventional and nuclear deterrence and ensure capability enhancement to overcome the upcoming information and cyber warfare domains. The Indian Naval doctrine undermines the chances of any Force-Benign and force balancing posture and subsequently highlights the of the role of maintaining a strategic superiority in the region. While, the maritime doctrine of Pakistan ensures that it is a responsible state by complying to international commitments pertaining to maritime domain. Indian Navy on the other hand does not highlight and discuss the importance of the maritime security initiatives altogether. Thus, this aspect highlights the Indian Naval ambitions to acquire superiority in the region.The contrasts in the doctrines of India and Pakistan are there to persist, but there are various similarities along various points relating to the command of sea and on war. The highlighted points include the realization of prevalence of sub-conventional warfare and the rapid change in the battle field and role of the navy in terms of combating various threats. The role of the navy has enhanced from maintaining control of the sea at non-conventional low intensity conflicts to conventional and all out nuclear conflicts including the total-war scenarios.[5]

Recommendations

To maintain strategic stability and effective control over the maritime domain it is recommended that Pakistan should engage in effective diplomatic relations with states in Indian Ocean Region especially Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar and engage in enhancing the naval capabilities of these states, lease naval assets and deploy listening posts in the region to maintain surveillance over Indian naval movements. This ambit could be further expanded to Strait of Malacca especially Malaysia, Indonesia and in Strait of Hormuz due to its economic and strategic importance as more than 80% of energy resources for Pakistan flow through the Persian Gulf.  Pakistan should  diplomatically engage Gulf States especially Oman which hosts Indian Naval listening post in Ras al Hadd to monitor the potential hostile naval activates of India Navy in specific which has enhanced its patrolling in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.[6] For maintaining an effective maritime domain awareness in the region it is recommended that Pakistan Navy should develop an Information Fusion Center (IFC) in the region including allies states which would enable to maintain a joint maritime domain awareness, further enhance the ambit of its Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP) and Amman Naval Exercises.[7] This would enable the navy to develop a comprehensive network centric capability which would act as force multiplier and enabler for the navy to obtain its objectives as described in the maritime doctrine effectively. The strategic competition in the region and the changing strategic and military alliances following formulation of US Indo-Pacific Command following multiple strategic agreements between India and USA following 2+2 Dialogue, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA),[8]India US Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOSA), Basic Exchange Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue[9] would enhance Indian naval capabilities to project its blue water ambitions not only in the Indian Ocean Region alone but beyond that especially in South China Sea and Persian Gulf.[10]Indian also have developed its Information Fusion Center for Indian Ocean region to enhance its maritime domain awareness with collaboration with regional and international partners including US and Australia in December 2018.[11] Thus, following materialization of these agreements especially COMCASA would enable India to use not only US and NATO maritime domain awareness assets but also the real time and exclusive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in potential areas of interest in Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea vis-à-vis Pakistan and China’s naval capabilities. Thus, the emerging strategic picture following contemporary shifts in the region especially in maritime domain would pose a considerable threat to viability of maintaining command of the sea for Pakistan in its area of interest. For this reason Pakistan should develop and enhance considerable force structure, establish and deepen its strategic relations with the regional allies mainly China for enhancing its naval capabilities and maintain command of the sea according to its national interests and to counter the threats posed from Indian Blue Water ambitions.

Conclusion

The Indian Ocean Region is a shared space between not only the two South Asian neighbors but also by the whole world which is connected by the intricate web of land, sea, air and cyber links. The role of doctrines is to ensure stability and maintain rationality among the state actors in their dealings at various levels of analysis. The maritime doctrines of both Pakistan and India ensure that while they both long for peace and stability in the region they will not undermine their national security at any cost. To ensure peace and stability in the region, Pakistan has showcased its commitments to international community ensuring that it’s a responsible nation. While, the Indian on the other hand with their aspirations of becoming sole regional power are undermining their commitment to peace and security in the region. While, the trade and economics are a crucial part of the maritime domain Pakistan is working on readily to reinvigorate its economic resources to pursue its national interests accordingly. It is advised that India with its power ambitions may act a regional destabilizer that would enforce Pakistan to take provocative steps to maintain strategic balance.


[1] “Indian Ocean Region,” US Naval War College, https://usnwc.libguides.com/IndianOcean, Accessed on December 19, 2019.

[2] “The Exclusive Economic Zone of the Seas around India,” Geography and You, January 24, 2018,  https://www.geographyandyou.com/exclusive-economic-zone-seas-around-india/, Accessed on December 19, 2019.

[3]“President launches first Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan,” Pakistan Today, December 21, 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/12/21/president-launches-first-maritime-doctrine-of-pakistan/ (Accessed on December 19, 2019).

[4] Naval Headquarters, Islamabad, ”Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Preserving Freedom of Seas,” 2018.

[5] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Navy), “Indian Maritime Doctrine,” 2009.

[6] “Indian Listening Station In Oman Monitoring Pakistan’s Naval Communications,”Aamen, February 27, 2013, https://www.aame.in/2013/02/indian-listening-station-in-oman.html

[7]SOHAIL A. AZMIE,“Regional maritime security patrols: Pak Navy’s initiative for preserving freedom of the seas,” The Nation, June 2, 2019, https://nation.com.pk/02-Jun-2019/regional-maritime-security-patrols-pak-navy-s-initiative-for-preserving-freedom-of-the-seas

[8] Ankit Panda,“What the Recently Concluded US-India COMCASA Means,” The Diplomat, September 09, 2018,   https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/what-the-recently-concluded-us-india-comcasa-means/

[9]Patrick M. Cronin, “US Asia Strategy: Beyond the Quad,” The Diplomat, March 09, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/us-asia-strategy-beyond-the-quad/

[10]Dinakar Peri, What is LEMOA?,The Hindu, August 30, 2016,https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/What-is-LEMOA/article15604647.ecein

[11] Pradip R Sagar, “Indian Navy launches Information Fusion Centre to boost maritime security,” The Week, December 22, 2018, https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2018/12/22/Indian-Navy-launches-Information-Fusion-Centre-to-boost-maritime-security.html.

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Gray Zone Conflicts in Asia Pacific

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The Asia Pacific region holds front row seat in geo-political, economic, and strategic issues in international relations. The pivot to Asia policy of the west following shift of economic and technological base from the Atlantic to the Pacific region which tends to challenge and shift the global balance of power, western led international democratic system, following the economic rise of China. Thus, the emerging challenge put west in a precarious situation in which they felt to defend their hegemony and control over the region. For this purpose the west mainly US called upon using is diplomatic, economic and military elements of national power to contain the rise of China and maintain its hegemony over the region. Thus, the emerging tug of war for power domination in the region have given rise to gray zone conflict in which both sides are engaged in disrupting activities in between the threshold of diplomatic norms and total war. Either it be ongoing trade war, diplomatic and political or military coercion to a level which is short off any direct engagement leading to war and carried out to acquire veiled national interests. Thus, to analyze the gray zone conflicts in the Asia Pacific we can analyze and unfolding increasing hostility in South China Sea region. The ongoing US-China Tariff wars, increase in military diplomacy by the US in Asia Pacific under containment of China policy, use of coercive diplomacy and sanctions by the actors involved. Thus, analyzing and taking these dimensions into consideration we can categorize the contemporary events and policies adopted by the major powers along the sidelines of gray zone tactics.

Gray Zone Conflict

The changing nature of warfare strategies are based on engaging the enemy with an indirect approach which is above the line of normal diplomatic practices and below the threshold of an all-out war. This scenario has been described by various scholars as a Gray Zone Conflict in the strategic studies lexicon which is  broad manner means the activities which are conducted beyond the steady state deterrence in an attempt to obtain security objectives without resorting to direct use of sizeable force in conventional manner. The actors involved use various tools ranging from political coercion, disinformation campaigns, political and economic coercion, cyber and space based operations and most importantly use of proxy and state controlled elements are used to carryout the gray zone tactics. The use of these tactics could also be accessed by the analyzing the following toolkits:

Information and Disinformation Information Operations:

Use of print, electronic and cyber media domains to manipulate and distort the information or spread disinformation to create confusion and perish the enemy’s will to resist by spreading propaganda and sowing doubt. US and China both have engaged in a constant disinformation campaign against each other in contemporary era where US is continuously propagating China as a revisionist and oppressive state which is engaged in oppressing Uyghur Muslims in Xingang region, shifting the regional population into re-education camps. US being wary of China’s economic rise and game changing project of BRI is persistent to sabotage China’s growing economic rise and for this purpose has excessively propagative that China’s BRI projects have hidden objectives based on their vague deals, debt trap policy which would exploit weak economic countries giving China exclusive access and control over the resources of the poor states. China on the other hand has recently revived its foreign policy approach and is actively engaged in countering allegations waged upon it in international media which Chinese used to avoid previously. Trump administration has continuously blamed China of involving of corrupt practices blaming it to cover up spread of Coronavirus Covid-19 as early as November 2019, while, the world came to know about it in January 2020 with help of bribing WHO which didn’t carried out its job and helped China in covering the issue, thus, Trump administration tried to hide its own incomitances by articulating this narrative.

Political Coercion:

The use of coercive instruments which can illicit or licit tools to affect and manipulate the decision making and political composition process within a state to reach for a desired outcome. China has over the years tried to assert its control over the Hong Kong which is currently being run under one state two systemspolicy. China recently changed its security and internal prosecution and extradition policies following which riots and civil unrest erupted in Hong Kong. According to Beijing the increase in civil unrest had been fueled by foreign elements mainly UK which is trying to instigate the current situation to increase political instability in the region. China has also openly criticized the role of US intelligence agencies mainly CIA in order to disrupt the political situation in Hong Kong. John Bolton in his memoirs have also accused Trump administration of colluding with Chinese CCP under Xi Jinping to assist Trump government in reelection in 2020 presidential campaign, a claim which is denied by both states. But this highlights the level of political coercion and manipulation among the major powers to acquire control and power.

Economic Coercion:

The use of coercive economic and financial tools, use of sanctions, illicit financing, effect the exchange rate, balance of trade of an adversary to achieve desired objective. US-China world leading military and economic powers were engaged in trade war during July 2018 when US imposed tariffs and restrictions upon imports from China as it felt threatened that its economy was engaged into unfair and unequal trade with China which also violated the intellectual property codes and conducted corporate espionage harming US industrial sector. US was suffering from over $ 336 billion trade deficit and over $566 billion net trade deficit. Thus, President Trump placed tariffs over Chinese imports and China retaliated in kind. In July 2018 Trump administration imposed 25% tariffs on $50-300 billion worth of imports from China and China as a result imposed 25% of US goods comprising $34-60 billion.

The emerging trade wars between US and China is not isolated only to the trade wars but has its implications infringed into complex global economic system which is interdependent and proportionally linked with the policies and economic decisions made by one state impact others directly. China’s economy during 2000 was barely at par with US until China became part of World Trade Organization WTO in 2001. This gave China exponential growth opportunities for building its export relations ships with other states resulting in 10-40% turn over ultimately making its GDP over $14.2 trillion second to US only which had a GDP of over $21.44 trillion. China accounts for 50% of global growth and 30% of global prospects. The economic tensions resulting from US-China trade wars amid the pandemic had negative impact on global economy.

The trade wars among major economic giants have impacted the global economic integration with impact on businesses not only in US and China but have placed the global economic fabric in a flux and tension. US initiated trade wars against China to destabilize its economy, bring back the industries and factories back to US mainland from China. But according to wall street journal in January 2019 reported that China’s trade surplus amounted to $ 323.32 billion following US tariffs implementations despite Trumps efforts to restrict imports from China. This highlights that the enormous amount of imports and control of global trade market by China has over shadowed the US attempts to impact it. But it had adverse impact on global economic growth as according to IMF world economic outlook report the global economic growth had decreased from 3.6% in 2018 to 3.3% in 2019 following US China trade wars.

 Due to the impositions of tariffs US economy faced a drop of 0.3% of its GDP while its real consumption decreased by 0.3% and private investment by 1.3%. The economic rift between US and China also caused the stock exchange market of US to lose investment and over 1000 points in foreign exchange in August 2019. In contrast China was able to withstand the impact following the economic battle with US due to its control over the world economic supply chain. Thus, giving an insight that the US was much more vulnerable and dependent upon Chinese economy for its normal economic growth and consistency in supply chain. Following this, the US retracted from its economic war and lower the tariffs on imports from China by reducing over 15% of its tariff from over $120 billion imports while maintaining a tariff ban of over 25% on $ 250 billion worth of goods import. In response China reduced tariffs over $75 billion import trade from US. Following the peace trade agreement both states will work on enhancing their economic cooperation, improve and carry out legislative trade reforms. Thus, analyzing this situation the complex economic interdependence had forced both major powers to retract from their aggressive economic posture and negotiate their way out as the survival for their economies depend upon relative gains approach.

Cyber Operations:

Use of cyber domain to wage attacks in cyber domain by hacking, using viruses, trojan attacks, attack critical infrastructure, carry out disruption in communication, distortion of information and manipulation of political processes using malicious malware in cyber domain. US and China have both engaged in organized cyber operations against each other. While US had blamed China for carrying out industrial and corporate espionage, intellectual property theft using cyber domain.  US has banned various Chinese electronic gadgets and devices, telecom giants and revamped its own technological coordination from China based upon allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft conducted by China. The recent ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei from US and arrest of its CEO from Toronto Canada has been made under this context.

Space Operation:

Outer Space has become a competing zone for major power actors and they are in constant friction to maintain their dominance and hegemony by disrupting the competitors position of advantage  by interfering in space-enabled services, equipment, communication and satellites data uplink procedures. Both China and US are actively engaged in claiming the cosmos for themselves. Space is considered the battlefield of the future, with major states including the USA, China, and Russia maintains a constellation of 1327, 263 and 192 respectively out of over 2666 satellites in space. The majority of satellites used by these states act as important ISR platforms, communication relay bases, with scientific and environmental applications. The USA is the first state which has inaugurated its space force as a separate armed force on 21 December 2019 with a hefty budget of over $1.4 trillion. These space forces are designated to perform three major functions in strategic military roles which are to collect ISR, enhance protected communication and protected data link within the command hierarchy and also to protect own space assets while destroying and targeting enemy space-based assets by using kinetic kill vehicles such as Anti-Satellite Weapons ASAT or directed energy weapons. Both China and US have developed orbital and space missions to outer space in which China has gained subsequent advancement which was marked by landing its spacecraft Chang’e 4 on dark side of the moon for the first time in history. China recently also launched its orbital and rover mission to Mars naming Tianwen-1 consisting of a lander, rover and an orbiter in a single space flight which is also a remarkable feat in itself.

Proxy Support:

Use of non-state, quasi state elements to wage or obtain military objective or control a certain territory to influence or achieve specific political outcomes.    

Provocation by State Controlled Proxies:

The use of paramilitary elements in conjunction with private entities while aiding and financing them to achieve certain interests through informal use of force. This also includes sabotage activities, clandestine intelligence operations and use of private military contractors which operate outside the realm of normal state control and authority. 

SCS is one of the major focal point of friction between  China and the West. The region is estimated to be a rich source of energy and natural resources, a major sea lane of communication with geo-strategic implications. China has been asserting its control over the region under its revisionist policies claiming on  historic suzerainty claims and 1948 nine-dash line. China has actively gained its control over the region by creating military bases on  artificial islands in Spratly and Paracel islands, carried out extensive geo-logical surveys for extracting resources in the region while rejecting the concerns of regional states by deploying Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. While US has been actively engaged in enhancing its  diplomatic and military  cooperation with regional states to coerce China under the premise of Freedom of Navigation (FoN), increasing its military cooperation and carrying out routine naval and aerial patrols in the region. During May 270July 2020, US had carried out various air sorties of its strategic air command over the South China Sea and near Taiwan Strait in a blatant and blunt act of aggression and assertion against the Chinese A2AD and claims over SCS. China also had carried out month long naval exercises in the SCS region in response. US had also deployed strategic weapons in Okinawa, Japan and in South Korea by deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD, and Patroit Air Defense Systems (PAC) to keep China in check.  US has also enhanced its ambit of operations in the region by creating Indo-Pacific Command on May 30, 2018 which is under the area of responsibility of US 7th Fleet. Thus, the SCS have the potential to be a major flash point of confrontation between the major powers in the future if the brinkmanship has not been maintained by the either side if balance of power in the region is shifted. US also has engaged in Quadrilateral military partnership which include US, Australia, Japan and India. US had recently arrested and convicted a Chinese female PLA officer on charges of espionage and VISA fraud as she was working on cancer research in US on false identity along with three other people on similar charges.

Conclusion:

In contemporary era various geo-strategic and political events are unfolding in Asia Pacific region. While, the major powers are trying to reinstate and assert their control, hegemony while the revisionist state is upon the verge of consolidating its own strength over the region to further counter and challenge the status quo. While the Thucydides trap is a prevailing phenomenon when we talk about the competition in Asia Pacific region. Thus, by observing the situation in the context of above mentioned toolkit that helps in analyzing the role of gray zone techniques, we can say that US and China is engaged in gray zone conflict in Asia Pacific region, where both actors are trying to avoid crossing the threshold of a conventional and total war and deterrence and perusing their veiled interests by engaging political, economic, cyber and space operations and proxies. The region is also engaged in a complex economic interdependence situation which tends to effect and impact the global economy in an adverse manner. The outcome for a major power competition as defined by Thucydides is based on a zero sum game / absolute gains, while such a scenario can emerge if both states are unable to maintain the brinkmanship and cross the threshold of total war based upon misconception and wrong interpretation of each others actions.

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