India should establish forward bases to advise armies of neighbouring nations, build special forces and enhance joint maritime patrols with the US in the Indian Ocean to meet security challenges, a US-based think tank has recommended after the Doklam crisis with China.
The South Asia Center of Washington-based Atlantic Council, in its report The Sino-Indian Clash and the New Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific India should propose regular India-US-China talks at least on an annual basis, perhaps on the margins of the G20 or the East Asian Summit meetings aimed at minimising the risk of misperception or miscalculation.
The think tank said while China and India have substantial economic ties and common interests, particularly as both are members of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) organisations and G20 nations, nonetheless, legal territorial issues will continue to spur Indian skepticism about Chinese intentions.
In a series of recommendations, the report authored by Bharath Gopalaswamy and Robert A. Manning, says that there was a distinction between counterbalancing and containment.
India and China were locked in a 73-day stand-off in Doklam, a tri-junction between the Sino-India and Bhutanese border near Sikkim, from 16 June this year after Indian Army personnel stopped the Chinese Army from building a road in the area. The standoff ended on 28 August after both sides reached an understanding on a quick “disengagement” of border personnel.
Noting that in a dynamic Indo-Pacific security environment, Sino-Indian ties have grown more problematic, the report said that as a democracy and a committed market-oriented economy, India appears more focused than China on the rules-based global order, while trying to build a larger role and expand its voice and influence within it. It recommended that India and the US should enhance joint maritime patrols in the Indian Ocean.
Both nations should seek to assert their presence in the international sea lanes where China is expanding its reach, it said noting that this would help the United States and India collectively balance the Chinese military ascent in the Indian Ocean.
Additionally, the United States and India must boost bilateral security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. India should also seek assistance from Japan and the United States in developing its indigenous shipbuilding capabilities and should consider permitting Australia to join the Malabar exercises to resurrect the initial Quadrilateral grouping, the report said.
India, it said, should improve its carrier aviation capacity, which will help maintain sea control in the Indian Ocean. India’s military structure is based on carrier battle groups, which gives it an advantage over the Chinese Navy, it said.
However, China’s push for naval modernisation over the last decade has widened the gap in the capability of both militaries, and India needs to overcome its deficits by developing a long-term plan to enhance its naval capacity, it said.
“Specifically, the United States can play a major role in helping India modernise its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet,” the report said.
“India must seek to improve its space surveillance capacities. India already possesses a developed space program which it must utilise to serve practical military needs,” said the Atlantic Council.
According to Atlantic Council, primarily, India should focus on replicating a national security architecture similar to that found in countries like the United States, Israel, and China. India should seek to establish a body like the United States’ Office of the Federal Chief Information Security Officer.
“India should establish forward bases to advise the militaries of neighbouring countries. India could set up a brigade for each South Asian nation (other than Pakistan), which would take on the responsibility of training and advising the militaries of those countries,” Atlantic Council said.
“India could also create a satellite campus of the National Defence Academy, or an entirely new academy, to train greater numbers of Bhutanese/ Nepali/ Bangladeshi/ Sri Lankan troops in India,” it recommended.
Noting that the recent use of its special forces on Pakistani territory demonstrates India’s willingness to conduct asymmetrical warfare, the report said India should seek to centralise the command of all its special forces units, which are currently under the purview of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Research and Analysis Wing.