High Time India Jettisons Non-Alignment
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 Oct , 2021

An equidistant map of the world centered on Delhi. Showing true bearings and distance from Delhi. Excerpted from: Transition to Guardianship: The Indian Navy 1991-2000

Though the Non-alignment Movement is languishing as a vestigial organisation in geo politics, Indian diplomats suffer from yesteryear hangovers and cling on to its decrepit concepts.  As I had written sometime back; it is perfectly in order to engage Pakistan on J&K bilaterally as it covers under the Shimla Agreement of 1972, however, the same template is a disaster while dealing with China.  China is always charry to engage multilaterally with ASEAN on its annexation of the South China Sea or on the Code of Conduct. While dealing with China it has to be multilateral and we need strong and formidable allies.  It is high time we come out of our shadows of non-alignment and have strong and reliable allies while dealing with China. What are our options?

China has annexed 90 percent of the international waters of the South China Sea as its national territory. 

Quad is an informal group comprising four nations; Japan, the US, India and Australia as partners.  It was formed in 2007 and further impetus was given in 2017.  India was not forthcoming as it was always looking over its shoulders towards China; seemingly gauging its reaction? India was wary to incur China’s displeasure and ensured that it was not a defence alliance.  Each time, be it our foreign minister or our official spokesperson would always go out of turn to convey that the grouping is not aligned against any country in particular.  Unwittingly, such assurances further enhance the suspicions of China as it is very obvious that no other country in the region can qualify for such dubious distinction for being worthy of collective targeting by regional and extra-regional powers. It was conveying the obvious without having to state it in specifics.

QUAD neither has a permanent secretariat nor a permanent headquarters.  It was basically formed with an eye on China. However, lost its steam when Australia dropped out of the grouping for three years and re-joined in 2010.  Thanks to China; its unabated belligerence and unbridled hostility towards all littoral and border countries catalysed a network of hostile groupings around it. I really do not want to recount its endless forays into the East China Sea to lay claim to the Senkaku Islands under Japanese control.  Its steadfast opposition to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and bullying of the littoral countries by executing small but significant military actions enabled it to establish a national territory over international waters in contravention to the UNCLOS.  It only shows its absolute scorn to international rules and laws and utter disdain towards rights of smaller powers.  Its contemptuous spurning of the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that had unequivocally ruled that China has no claim over the South China Sea, shows its aversion to rule-based international order. 

China has annexed 90 percent of the international waters of the South China Sea as its national territory.  Nine dash line, though formed in 1947, was formally given by China to the UN for the first time in 2009.  A tenth dash was drawn in 2013 to show Taiwan also within the proposed extent.  The dashes are not plain dashes as most understand; each dash has three corrugated small dashes with one dot each in the two gaps. It is similar to the Chinese Land Border which of course is continuous unlike the dashes of the South China Sea which support a gap of 200 to 300 nm between them.   A close look at the markings of the maritime border show that it has been marked in the same way as the national territory of the land border. Hence, China minces no words to claim the South China Sea as its territory and not merely its EEZ or territorial waters.

China, with its hubris has unleashed its wolf diplomats and has driven itself into a geopolitical corner.

On 9 Aug 2021, the UNSC after a debate on ‘’Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation” under the chairmanship of PM Modi; all including China agreed to the centrality of UNCLOS as the leading international legal framework governing maritime activity. This was an important admission by China, having violated almost all its clauses.  It shows contradictions in China’s interpretation as it has trashed the ruling of PCA formed under the UNCLOS and at the same time has ratified the law. It also exposes its perfidy as it does not know how to handle its duplicity; agreeing to the clauses where it is advantageous, and repudiating those which do not suit it.

After its annexation of the South China Sea, China continued with its belligerence towards Australia as the latter had sounded the bugle to inquire into the origin of Covid 19. If China is really not guilty of any lapse in the origin of the Covid, then it should be as keen as Australia to find out the origin of the deadly pandemic that has already taken nearly 5 million lives across the world.  The Chinese official press even threatened Australia that China would subject it to missile attacks should it interfere in Taiwan Straits.

China, with its hubris has unleashed its wolf diplomats and has driven itself into a geopolitical corner. Just as it pushed Australia into a defence alliance; AUKUS and ensured its need to have nuclear powered submarines; it also pushed India firmly into QUAD and the grouping has started operating on an expanded agenda; thus, squeezing the strategic space of China.  The free and open Indo Pacific without any expansion and coercion in international waters has been reiterated in the new agenda; precisely targeting China during the Quad Summit Meeting held last month.

President Biden has worked out a network of defence alliances in the Indo-Pacific. The Mutual Defence Treaty since the 1953 and stationing of 26,000 US troops in South Korea has tied them into a defence alliance, though initially against North Korea has taken a new meaning recently.  In May 2021, during the visit of President Moon to the US they realigned their defence ties; that the US and South Korea will work together for peace and stability in Taiwan Straits.  This of course would be in addition to the threat emanating from North Korea; all the same it implies that the troops, resources of South Korea and its geographical area could be used against China in case of an attack by the PLA on Taiwan?

China in response has codified its ‘Anti- Secession Law in 2005’ that permits the use of force for unification of Taiwan.

A Mutual Defence Treaty between Taiwan and the USA was operative from 1954 to 1979.  After the US recognised ‘One China Policy’ the treaty ended and the ‘Taiwan Relationship Act’ has held its sway.  Act 3 of the Act does not talk of defence pact; it envisages that should there be any danger to Taiwan or to the American interest, the President will inform the Congress and an appropriate decision would be taken in response to such a danger. China in response has codified its ‘Anti- Secession Law in 2005’ that permits the use of force for unification of Taiwan.

China’s out and out aggressive air intrusions into Taiwanese airspace with 149 sorties in the beginning of this month in defiance to the navies of the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada on a joint exercise operating to the East of the island, is indicative of its resolve to take on the combined might of the US and its allies on the Taiwan issue.  I somehow still feel that the series of air intrusions by PLAAF in different configurations is indicative of a more sinister design.  The plan is designed to lull the Taiwanese Defence Forces into complacency.  I will not be surprised that one such intrusion becomes a full-fledged offensive to forcibly unite the country.  Such a possibility will be sooner than later and most probably would be before the 20th National Congress of CPC in Oct 2022, justifying Xi continuance at pole position in the CPC: There is certain unease in the Polit Bureau of CPC at Xi for crowning himself for life. 

Taiwan and her allies should not get surprised and ensure their surveillance resources are assiduously and continuously deployed to discern ground preparations in Fujian Province and at air bases in Eastern, Central and Southern Theatre Commands for possible Airborne Operations.  Concentrations of ground forces probably in the guise of exercise, marshalling of landing crafts, isolating Taiwan physically by air, sea and electronically would be a prelude to such an invasion.  Other Theatre Commands will be able to provide troops for the operations without having to concentrate and retain the element of surprise. 

Recent photographs have revealed that three air bases in Longtian, Huian and Zhangzhou are being upgraded, all of which are located in Fujian Province and are 160 to 300 Kms from Taiwan.  President of Taiwan Ms Tsai lng-wen has asked her military commanders to turn the island into a fortress, similar to a porcupine; obviously, she is aware of the danger and has sought long range missiles from the US.

In spite of such belligerence by China, I was slightly disappointed with the speech by President Biden at the 76th UNGA. 

In spite of such belligerence by China, I was slightly disappointed with the speech by President Biden at the 76th UNGA.  Not a word on the origins of Covid Pandemic, not a word against China on its annexation of the South China Sea, not a word on China’s offensive in Ladakh and the standoff with India though the latter being a vibrant democracy and a close ally.  Only place where there was some reference to China was while mentioning the Human Rights abuses across the world; Xinjiang was mentioned one among other places.  After having called Xi Jinping a ‘Thug’ last year, President Biden had a telephone call with him last month and commenced trade and defence negotiations.  Trade talks ended in impasse as the US wanted China to change its practices that harm the interests of its firms and workers; however, China wanted the US to create a more conducive environment for development of trade and economic ties between the two countries. Earlier, the Defence Officials from both the countries also met to open communication at the height of strained relations. Other than breaking the ice figuratively, no progress was made.

So, what is President Biden really up to?  Can we trust him?  After our disastrous experience earlier with President Nixon and Kissinger; the confidence that we can repose in the US is always under an odium of distrust.  Even to this day, there is hesitation in drawing India closer; you must have heard the White House Press Secretary saying in no uncertain terms that India and Japan will not be a part of AUKUS.  As the QUAD was already in existence it would have been easier for the UK to join the grouping with the acronym AUKUSIJ; however, it was not to be; and, why should it be? 

India has never been an unconditional friend of the US.  Our so-called policy of ‘non-Alignment’ ensured that we had no friends and defence alliances when China attacked India in 1962.  A weak, doddering and a hungry India should have jumped into defence alliances with the West.  If we were in CENTO or SEATO; would it have been possible for China to launch an offensive against India and capture Aksai Chin?  We lost 37,555 Sq. Kms of our territory due to our feeble policy of ‘non-alignment’ and still we have not learnt a lesson.  Why? We still want to tackle the Ladakh intrusion bilaterally without involving other countries.  No doubt; we should develop a defence capability to take on China but it does not mean that we make it easy for it to intrude into our territory without international recrimination.  In case of a conflict with China; how and why will the US support us?  Without a formal defence treaty will it only be a lip service?  We can rest assured that Russia will be watching the conflict closely without batting an eyelid or raising a finger, then India expects what from others?  Yes; a steady supply of weapons, munitions and equipment from Israel, the US, France, Britain and possibly from Russia. 

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen PG Kamath

a veteran of Indian army;  was the former Commandant of Army War College, Mhow.  Currently, he writes on Ethics,Leadership Strategy and Current International and National issues.

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2 thoughts on “High Time India Jettisons Non-Alignment

  1. Totally agree with the writer, India should have immediately jettisoned non-alignment after the 1962 war with China and aligned with the West. It is still a mystery why we still hang on to this. One of the reasons often cited is to be independent of the major powers. What is the value of the so called independence when we cannot address the basic challenges to our security such as occupation of Aksai Chin by China which has its eyes on more of our territory, Pakistan, a much smaller and weaker state which can resort to terrorism to bleed us and create insecurity with our populace for three decades, collusion of two nuclear powers who aim to dismember and destroy India etc etc. No wonder India is defined as a “soft” state by many writers. Our leaders and strategists continuously fail to understand the basic tenets of ensuring national security and seems to be only driven by ideals. Very sad indeed.

    We need to get lessons from Vietnam which had not only stand up to the US during the Vietnam War but today can quietly challenge China. Also we must respect the courage and tenacity of the Taiwanese and their leadership to stand up against China.

    We must ask ourselves, where are we compared to these much smaller and weaker states. The more I ponder about this Indian approach to national security and independence for the past 60 years since the 1962 war, the lesser the confidence I have that this will ever change. Maybe it could be due to the concept of non-violence and the teachings of Buddhism entrenched in the Indian psyche which allowed invaders to plunder us for many centuries and sadly looks like significant change may not be visible anytime soon.

  2. A comprehensive take on QUAD and “non alliance”. Well presented.

    My two bit. I suppose an alliance need not be bound by formal treaties where by, say, the USA will establish Defence bases in India. That is the danger of formal Defence alliances which India does not possibly want ypt and rightly. Even with a formal alliance on sorts can we expect and do we want, for instance, the USA deploy troops along Pangog Tso?

    There are more to these pacts than what is apparent.

    Having said that non alliance was and is a disaster. But alliances can have different hues. In today’s world we can’t expect a one sided “friendship”. You give some you get some. The sum of the exchange is calculated by the economists and not military strategists!!!!

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