US-India Global Review

thrust into East Pakistan, severing Pakistan's Eastern and Western wings and helping to create the new state of Bangladesh. India acted only after an influx into West Bengal of refugees fleeing Pakistan's civil war had forced its hand, however. Unable to absorb the flow of new arrivals, it had little choice but to attack East Pakistan and put an end to the crisis. The modesty of this martial record has helped to create the impression of a strategically pas- sive India, which despite its con- siderable economic and military heft is hesitant to use force in any- thing more than domestic policing and counterinsurgency operations. The accuracy of this characteriza- tion is of more than academic interest. India has emerged as a central partner in U.S. efforts to balance rising Chinese power in the Indian Ocean/Asia-Pacific region, and Washington has invested heavily in helping to build Indian strategic capacity through arms sales, technology sharing, joint military exercises, and deep- ening diplomatic engagement. An India unwilling to use force beyond its borders would be of limited utility to regional balancing efforts and a poor choice for a close partnership with the United States. It is easy to exaggerate the like- lihood that India will prove to be a passive behemoth. Its strategic track record is more complicated than initial appearances suggest. India has engaged potent adver- saries in the past, including numerically superior Chinese forces in 1962, a qualitatively bet- ter-armed Pakistan in 1965, and a nuclear-armed Pakistan in 1999. Although India did not launch these conflicts, and not all of them crossed international borders, they did involve protracted combat that entailed significant cost and risk. But now India may be evincing an increased willingness to employ force beyond the confines of its own territory. The Doklam standoff, in which India deployed troops to Bhutan in response to Chinese provocations, was partic- ularly notable in this regard. What prompted India to adopt such a confrontational policy? The answers to this question are manifold. First, India is treaty- bound to cooperate closely with Bhutan on strategic matters. This cooperation is broadly understood to imply an Indian obligation to ensure Bhutanese security. The Bhutanese government opposed China's road-building, labeling it a "direct violation" of existing bound- ary agreements and calling for a return to the status quo. Second, even though China was not building its road on Indian soil, the project threatened India's security. Doklam is not only per- ilously close to the Indian border but also near the Siliguri Corridor (often called the "chicken's neck"), which links India's heartland with its northeastern region. At its nar- rowest point, this corridor is only about 17 miles wide. In the event of a war, a PLA pincer movement could cut off India's northeast from the rest of the country - a fear that has long plagued military planners in New Delhi. Third, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration appears to believe more than many previous Indian governments in the utility of force in addressing security con- cerns. For example, in June 2015, Indian troops crossed the border into Myanmar and attacked the camps of anti-Indian insurgents. Just over a year later, Indian com- mandos crossed the Line of Control dividing India from Pakistani territory in the disputed territory of Kashmir, and attacked a number of Pakistan-supported terrorist training camps. Although previous governments had con- ducted similar operations, they had carefully avoided discussing them publicly. In this case, howev- er, Indian officials then provided detailed public briefings about the raids. Indeed, Modi, in a public address in New York, went to so far as to say that, "When India conducted surgical strikes, the world experienced our power and realized that India practices restraint but can show her power when needed." The current gov- ernment's willingness to not only acknowledge these operations, but actually to highlight them, marks a distinct policy shift. In the case of China, despite initial friendly overtures following Modi's election, India has adopted a more assertive stance. It made clear to China's President Xi Jinping during his state visit to But now India may be evincing an increased willingness to employ force beyond the con- fines of its own territo- ry. The Doklam stand- off, in which India deployed troops to Bhutan in response to Chinese provocations, was particularly notable in this regard. What prompted India to adopt such a con- frontational policy? 18 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018