What are the dissuasion strategies employed by India and China to manage the situation on the Line of Actual Control and bilateral relations and are they working – here is a review.
India-China Line of Actual Control “standoff” – the simplest definition of what exists at least in two points of face-to-face contact between troops – has led to a deterrence by defence in that both sides the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are unable to now change the status quo unilaterally.
Multiple rounds of talks have been held between military commanders at various levels with the senior or corps commander’s talks having gained prominence. 20 Rounds have been held so far but differences over disengagement and de-escalation at two points – Depsang Plains and Demchok continue.
Both sides are now reconciled to live with the reality at least for the winter of 2023-24.
On the larger plane there has been a policy stasis in India China relations with New Delhi making the same dependent on the status quo as existing in April 2020 on the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. China on the other hand has proposed that relations should not be hostage to the boundary standoff.
China can afford to forget and carry on as the present positions occupied by the PLA are to its advantage. At the same time the PLA has been able to deny the Indian Army access to several patrolling points in Eastern Ladakh.
India is aiming to regain patrol access to 26 patrolling points — out of the 65 in eastern Ladakh to which access has been denied to the Indian troops since April 2020.
By proposing to normalise relations despite the standoff on the LAC, China hopes to assume a dissuasive posture vis a vis India where dissuasion defined as the goal, “to convince a potential attacker that the cost-benefit calculus of aggression is unfavorable, partly through emphasizing the costs of aggression but also through offering reassurances and benefits that make a world without aggression more attractive. It is an approach designed to make aggression as unnecessary as it is costly”.
So dissuasion here includes a combination of deterrence through defence and denial as well and assessed incentives to India for normalisation of relations.
On the other hand India’s dissuasion is aimed to prevent China from initiating future competition by imposing costs for initiating aggression on the LAC in May 2020 despite a number of mutually accepted agreements to maintain peace and stability between the two sides.
By insisting normalisation will be determined by status quo on the LAC, India is sending a message that any attempts in the future to unilaterally fix the same will not be acceptable.
Is Dissuasion Working?
A key component of a dissuasion strategy [or for that matter deterrence] is how it is perceived by the adversary.
A review of the “interests, motives and imperatives,” of the opponent need to be assessed and the acceptance of costs associated with the same.
Given that India is continuing with economic and trade relations with China at a pace that was existing in the past, there is a sense of, “assumed normalcy,’ while in the diplomatic sphere the participation of India and China in multiple multilateral forums is seen as compensation enough by Beijing.
The costs for not restoring status quo are not seen adequate for China to accept India’s terms.
India is also not losing by not normalising relations as it is continuing engagement with China in spheres of Delhi’s interests that is trade until alternative options are developed.
QED – A breakthrough in the India China stasis will not be broken unless there is a structural change that occurs in terms of incentives for change.
Unfortunately, the military costs to both sides in terms of deployment and survival of thousands of troops in extremely hostile terrain and climate is a footnote.