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Tilting at Windmills?

By May 12, 2020June 30th, 2020China, India, Political Warfare, The Weekly

The mother of fools is always pregnant”– Alan Hirsch

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” John R. Wooden

       (Day 58 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)

“Tilting at windmills is a literary term used for fighting imaginary enemies. The idiom is first seen in the English language in the 1640’s. It is taken from the classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel, Don Quixote becomes enamored with the idea of chivalry and spends his time fighting with windmills, imagining that they are giants. “Tilting” is the medieval sport of jousting with a lance. Basically, the term refers to Quixote’s tilting at windmills as an exercise in futility. 

This week, we will take a look at a series of rather unheralded global security events. They are, in many respects, dangerous exercises in futility. These occurrences are being down-played by many in the global media, but their fragile nature leaves approximately three billion people in a very precarious situation.

High in the Himalayan mountains, far from anyone’s notice, continued clashes occur between the Chinese and Indian armies. They are frequent and significant, and definitely belong in the more than meets the eye category. The occasion that sparks a visit to this subject, is the clash that occurred on the weekend of May 9th, 2020 between Indian and Chinese forces in the high altitude pass of Dalmot. This is the highly disputed area that has been the site of numerous confrontations between the Indians and the Chinese. The increase and intensity of these skirmishes lead me to ask the questions: What will it take for one of these clashes to cause a major incident? What will happen when it does? Suddenly the tilting at windmills becomes much more than a mere tilt.

It is not my desire to engage in fear-mongering, nor am I trying to make a mountain out of a mole-hill, but I want to take a brief look at what could happen when soldiers from two of the largest armies in the world regularly engage in unplanned, armed combat, far away from the policymaking corridors of their nation’s capitals.  It leaves a lot of room for chaos and escalation in a world that seems to always be teetering on the brink of war anyway.

Review.

When one considers the extent of global power in the world, few think of India as a potential contender for regional dominance. Democratic India, which will soon surpass China as the world’s most populous country, and will boast the fifth largest economy in the world is not to be considered small economically, or backward militarily. We all know about China and the leanings of their leadership towards regional and global preeminence. Few are aware, however, of the rapid global ascendence of India. India represents itself as a major player on the global stage and continues to grow at a rapid rate both economically and militarily. India is set on positioning itself, so as to be dominant, regionally, and globally. 

How can we know if a nation is positioning itself as a global power?  The simple answer has to do with the country’s commitment to acquiring aircraft carriers and long-range submarines. India is increasingly becoming a major player in naval aviation and has a significant presence in the Indian Ocean when it comes to its aircraft carrier operations.

Aircraft carriers represent the strategic capability to project power at will. An aircraft carrier is not just a single ship.  They come with a whole array of support ships and are one of the world’s most formidable power structures. For a reference point, the United States has eleven carrier strike groups. Each strike group has one carrier, generally two or three guided-missile cruisers, one destroyer, a submarine, sixty or seventy aircraft, and over five hundred missile silos.

What other nations have aircraft carriers? —China (1), Italy (1), Russia (1) Turkey(1) United Kingdom (1), and India (2 with a 3rd being built.) India currently controls the Indian Ocean with the presence of its aircraft carriers.

That was just a basic overview of India’s capabilities. I will not get into China’s capabilities, which are more well known, though not as extensive as one might imagine. The growth of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the past decade has been expansive. Technologically, they are considerably behind the West, but with sheer numbers of antiquated systems, mixed with new technologically advanced ground and aviation systems, they pose a considerable threat to any potential enemy, including the United States.

What happened? 

On Saturday, May 9th, four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured after a tense brawl near the Naku La border area (entrance of the Muguthang Valley), a pass at a height of over 15,000 feet in the Sikkim sector. The two Asian giants share a 2,400 mile-long demarcated border with several sectors in dispute. The skirmish is said to have started as a result of Chinese troops transgressing into what the Indians consider Indian territory, near Nallah in the Ladakh sector. 

“[The] Chinese became physical with Indian personnel to which the Indian Army tried to stop. And, in that, there was a physical brawl. Several soldiers from both sides have sustained injuries”, an Indian Defense Ministry official revealed. These kinds of face-offs are occurring at increasing rates all across the India-China border areas. 

In 2019, there was a serious stone throwing confrontation between the two forces near Ladakh, in which dozens of troops were injured. Soldiers from both countries were also involved in a skirmish on 11 September, when Chinese troops objected to the presence of an Indian Army patrol on the northern bank of Pangong Tso Lake. As per official data from the Indian Defense Ministry, the Chinese troops have transgressed into Indian territory as many as 752 times in the last two years. Both nations have accused each other of entering their territories on a regular basis.

In 2017, Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a 2.5 month-long standoff after Chinese troops began constructing a road in the Doklam region, at a tri-junction area known as Donglang (in Chinese) on the border that separates India, Bhutan, and China.  On 18 June 2017, as part of Operation Juniper, about 270 Indian troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam to stop the Chinese troops from constructing the road. 

Why.

There are parts of the world that we never hear about, that are seriously unstable. The relationships between neighboring states is quite fragile. Our attention these days is usually drawn to what I call, our standard global conflicts: USA/Russia, USA/Iran, North Korea/ “Everybody,” Drug Wars and ISIS/West, etc. Little is being said of the other potential conflicts which could have a staggering impact on the entire world. 

The conflict sites are in places where neither you nor I will ever travel. For one reason, travel to these specific areas is banned for foreigners both in China and India.  Secondly, these places are not listed on any travel brochures, as “bucket list” places to visit. However, the reality is that there are real people who inhabit these high plateaus. Most are trans-Himalayan nomads known as, Dokpas and Lechenpas, also popularly known as Tibetan nomads who pastor their yaks in the valley floor. 

These agro-pastoral nomads are transhumant in nature. Transhumance is a highly developed form of pastoralism and is practiced widely in the Himalayas. Their form of existence is being greatly challenged, and depleted by governments, as they know no borderlines. They regularly travel between India, China, and Bhutan. These nomads are peaceful people who simply want to breed their yaks and sell their milk, meat, fur, dung, manure, hides, and horns. If humans are able to stamp out the peaceful coexistence of the nomads in the Himalayas, then what prohibits them from stamping out many other forms of peaceful cultural lifestyles?

These increasingly not-so-isolated instances of collision make this region a tender box for not only regional but global conflict. The Chinese and Indian soldiers are not merely tilting at windmills, their tilts (jousting) have the existential possibility of becoming genuine scenarios of significant armed conflict. These conflicts emerge in a world where there are already growing tensions at other border dispute sites, a massive trade imbalance, water disputes, China’s ever-expanding sphere of geopolitical influence in the Indian Ocean, and Tibet. This Himalayan plateau has the potential to become a spark that could light a bonfire of possibilities.

Action.

Is there something we can do to help mitigate the possibility of the peaceful lifestyle of nomads in China and India from being destroyed? They simply want to continue their cattle breeding and animal grazing. What can we do? 

Honestly, these are such faraway places, in parts of our world that reveal our geographical ignorance. What can we do to keep this tinderbox inactive? Pray.

The follow-up.

Russia’s Putin orders gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown despite a surge in cases… https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-russia-idUSKBN22N13B

US Defense Firms Hiring Thousands Amid Record Unemployment  … https://www.defenseone.com/business/2020/05/us-defense-firms-hiring-thousands-amid-record-unemployment/165270/?oref=defense_one_breaking_nl

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:  david@morethanmeets.co

Resources.

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/india-slowly-becoming-one-worlds-aircraft-carrier-leaders-109156

https://www.public.navy.mil/AIRFOR/cvn69/Pages/CARRIER%20STRIKE%20GROUP.aspx

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2020/05/mil-200510-sputnik02.htm?_m=3n%252e002a%252e2865%252ejv0ao0az9m%252e2nas

“Operation Juniper — inside story of how Indian Army pushed China back from Doklam”. The Print. 17 October 2019. Retrieved 20 October 2019.

https://www.cfr.org/search?keyword=Conflict+between+India+and+China

https://www.cfr.org/article/tilting-more-windmills-south-asia

India, China soldiers involved in border altercation: Indian sources”. Reuters. 18 August 2017.

Barry, Steven Lee Myers, Ellen; Fisher, Max (26 July 2017). “How India and China Have Come to the Brink Over a Remote Mountain Pass”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 August 2017.

Safi, Michael (5 July 2017). “Chinese and Indian troops face off in Bhutan border dispute”. The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2017.

CGTN (14 August 2017), ‘The Border’: A debate between China & India, retrieved 19 August 2017

“Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s Regular Press Conference on June 30, 2017”. Archived from the original on 1 February 2018. Retrieved 25 August 2017.

Bhutan rejects Beijing’s claim that Doklam belongs to China”. The Times of India. Retrieved 25 August 2017.

https://www.indiatourism.guide/places/lachen/the-muguthang-valley/

https://www.livemint.com/Politics/PsdTIEaclnM6EkEMUrMGDP/Seven-flashpoints-between-India-and-China.html

© 2019 • More Than Meets