Hypes regarding military buildup among major powers and the underlying challengesHYPES REGARDING MILITARY BUILDUP AMONG MAJOR POWERS AND THE UNDERLYING CHALLENGES
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Keshav Prasad Bhattarai
Power in international politics means set of state capacities that is mainly contributed by different factors
from geography to natural resources to the quality of its human demography and industrial capacity.
Nevertheless, state capacities are most commonly manifested by the level of military that a country has
attained. Inevitably, that kind of military power if is not backed up by a sound economy, internal strengths of a
country and technological advancements, the state capacity projected by its military power carries less
Undoubtedly, United States since the end of Second World War has become a prominent military power and
since the collapse of Soviet Union an unchallenging one- a kind of hyper power. However, at a time where only
change counts- the world has witnessed a major shift in balance of power following to War in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Both wars have not only soaked the confidence of American people and its leadership, the economic cost
United States paid in these two wars was enormous.
The irony was that the United States fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; but China became the ultimate
winner. When America was engaged in war, China became world‟s second largest economy. When the dragon
country was pouring more and more money in its defense budget, Uncle Sam was making huge cuts in its
defense spending. Similar was the case with political influence worldwide and United States has to accept the
humiliating term as a “declining power”. On the other hand, the newfound wealth generated by the immensely
accelerated power of globalization has brought a major shift in global power paradigm and emerging economies
like China and India. They have also become a rule setter in a new international system after the war in
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Amid this, Thomas Gibbons- Neff in an article published in early last month in The Washington Free
Beacon has quoted the Former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy - Seth Cropsey, and reported that
American sea power and global projection was in trouble. Cropsey further stressed the threat of the recently
tested DF-21D - a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile designed to destroy large surface ships from some 2,000
The DF-21D, is considered as a dangerous and powerful weapon. Experts say that it is at the heart of the anti-
access/access denial (A2/AD) strategy of the China‟s army - aimed at denying an enemy surface fleet command
of the high seas.
This can be conveniently fired from a mobile truck-mounted launcher into the atmosphere, with assistance
from over-the-horizon radar, satellite tracking, and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles. It can deliver its
multiple warheads to its target at a speed greater than sound. Giving reference to an expert - Michaela Dodge,
Gibbons-Neff has admitted that under the current sequestration cuts, the U.S. Navy will be reduced from
approximately 285 ships to 195 in the next thirty years.
In August 26, Bill Gertz in The Washington Free Beacon published another news story that described
about the recent launching of three small satellites into the orbit by the Chinese military - as part of
Beijing‟s covert anti-satellite warfare program.
Gertz giving reference to U.S. official has mentioned that the three satellites, launched by a Long March-4C
launcher, were conducting unusual maneuvers in space that was indicative of the Chinese preparation to
conduct space warfare against satellites.
The three are working in tandem and one of the satellites was equipped with an extension arm capable of
attacking orbiting satellites – as a part of a Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon or „Star Wars‟ program, that
poses greater threats to U.S. satellites.
An anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon can attack and destroy any satellites in the space or collect intelligence
information and can be based in air, land, or sea.
First on January 11, 2007, China had destroyed one of its aging satellites orbiting 865 kilometers above the
Earth by a ballistic missile launched from China‟s Xichang Space Center.
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The social, economic, political, territorial, and strategic cost India paid for its independence was perhaps
unparallel in world history. But, even after its independence, India repeatedly failed to realize its
tremendous potential for its misguided policies especially - strategic and economic. One example is
enough to specify it - while we all know that profit is a reward for entrepreneurship, hard work and
technological advancements, Jawaharlal Nehru- the first Prime Minister of India - who ruled his
country for more than 16 years, considered profit a dirty thing. JRD Tata – one of the great pioneers of
modern Indian industry, once reported that when he went to see Nehru and talked about the necessity of the
public sector making profit, Nehru told him that he hates profit. When Tata insisted his plea, Nehru furiously
yelled at him - never talk about the word profit - a dirty word.
For decades, under the Nehruvian economic policy, a great country like India was mocked everywhere in the
world and its huge possibilities were locked under the garb of so-called socialist ideals.
Because of this, India was left to gasp along with the weight of its huge geography, population, pervasive
poverty, mass illiteracy, and the economic woes created by its shortsighted policy goals of its political
leadership. Poor health of its economy was responsible for the challenges it was facing in its national
integration in past and is the same at present for a continental country like India with so many cultural
All these when coupled with hostile neighbors like Pakistan and China -- followed by unfriendly western powers
led by United States, India had turned out to become an impossible country. Only after a humiliating defeat at
the hands of Chinese, Indian policy makers began to think in a strategic way. Indira Gandhi the daughter of
Nehru himself - played the subtle defense and military diplomacy so well that despite continued American and
Chinese threat to use force against India, she succeeded in dismembering Pakistan and helped to create a new
country – Bangladesh. She built a new history of South Asia and challenged the limitations of its geography.
Largely, she succeeded in getting compensation for the humiliating defeat that India suffered at the hands of
China could not move to the expectations of Pakistan- its closest ally in South Asia was perhaps the greatest
shock Pakistan received in its national history. Neither the Nixon administration could intervene even though
its Seventh fleet was ordered to move into the Bay of Bengal to deliver psychological or possibly even a military
threat to India.
Iskander Rehman has quoted Napoleon who once said that - the policy of a nation could be read in its
geography and India read its geography very well. It played a subtle diplomatic and military role with the
creation of Bangladesh and geo-politics received a new definition in Asia with a new strategic treaty with
Soviet Union during the creation of Bangladesh.
With Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, India began to gain its strategic height and defense capabilities.
P.V. Narsimha Rao gave India a new destination with liberal economic policies and Atal Bihari Vajpayee ensured
the rise of India as a great power. Later with Manmohan Singh when Indo- American civil Nuclear Agreement
was signed in 2008, India was admitted as a proud member of major world powers.
Recently India launched its first indigenously built aircraft carrier that helped India join the elite club of
nations after Britain, France, Russia, and the United States. This has triggered much hype in international
media and euphoric mood in India that as reflected by Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony who according to
Beijing Review hailed the launch as a “crowning glory”. Beijing Review commenting that, "Cooperation and
competition between China and India are in a dynamic balance”, further quoted Antony who said - "India
needs a strong navy to defend itself and will press ahead with developing its maritime capabilities”.
The 37,500-ton warship that will be fitted with advanced weaponries and that can carry some 30 aircraft will
cost India some US $5 billion. The warship will become operational in 2018 joining the other one - The
Vikramaditya that will be handed over to India by Russia within this year, replacing the aging INS Viraat aircraft
carrier that is in service for long. Defense analysts have unanimously admitted that with Vikrant kind of
achievement- India has beaten its Asian rival China – that has brought into service its first Aircraft carrier - The
Liaoning, only in last September. That was a former Soviet carrier retrofitted in China.
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Just two days earlier of the new aircraft launch, India announced the activation of its first indigenous nuclear-
powered submarine 'INS Arihant' for sea trials. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described this “a giant stride in
the progress of our indigenous technological capabilities”.
In another major strategic show, the Indian Air Force (IAF) landed its C-130J Super Hercules transport plane at
the world's highest and recently activated Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip in Ladakh, near the Line of Actual Control
(LAC). It was close to the location where both India and China were engaged in a stiff a stand-off in last April.
The airstrip was resurrected, reactivated, and was made operational when a twin-engine aircraft from
Chandigarh landed there in 2008 after a gap of 43 years. It was used in the 1965 war with Pakistan.
Commenting on the new development of Indian naval power – experts in official Chinese media claimed that
the INS Vikrant and INS Arihant were significant in enabling India to project its power across the oceans from
the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. However, the Global Times - the mouthpiece of Chinese Communist party
commented that it would boost India's defense capability and military power, but have little influence on the
military situation in Asia.
India has become the world‟s largest arms buyer country. Next to India is South Korea. Looking into the
volatility of the region South Korea has launched a newest and powerful 1800-ton submarine. The new
submarine - the Kim Jwa-jin named after its famous general. President Park Geun-hye inaugurated launching
ceremony of the diesel-powered submarine - weaponized with a range of ship-to-land missiles and torpedoes.
The vessel can remain underwater and is capable of taking a round trip from Seoul to Hawaii without refueling.
On the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, last month, Japan unveiled its biggest warship
since World War II. Although Japanese officials prefer to claim it as a helicopter carrier, according to the
details presented by Global Times, Izumo that is bigger than the carriers made by Britain, Italy, and Spain
could potentially be launched to carry fighter jets like F-35 and other fixed wing aircrafts.
Chinese defense ministry reflected its deep concerns over “Japan's constant expansion of its military
equipment” and appealed Japan‟s Asian neighbors and the international community needs to be highly vigilant
about the new trend.The ministry also warned Japan to learn from the history, adhere to its policy of self-
defense, and “abide by its promise to take the road of peaceful development."
About one month later of the launching of Izumo, Japanese Defense Minister has called for an increase in
military spending to cope with the threats posed by China‟s rising military power and North Korea‟s long-range
After these developments in its neighborhood, South China Morning Post has recently reported that the Chinese
President Xi Jinping has recently paid his first visit to the country‟s sole aircraft carrier. The South China
Morning Post giving references to analyst reported that it was meant to send strong messages to its regional
rivals from India to Japan following to renewed US focus on the region and strengthened naval capabilities of
China‟s other neighbors like Philippines and Vietnam.
Except North Korea, almost all countries in the East and South East Asia want United States make a strong
presence in the region to contain the immense rise of China. Countries like Japan, South Korea Taiwan,
Philippines, and a bit farther Australia are its close strategic partners. Vietnam -an emerging economic and
military power informally and Indonesia the largest country in South East Asia and an emerging economic
power, has formally expressed their desire to enter into a strategic partnership with the United States.
After the Indo- U.S. Civil Nuclear deal – a privileged status offered to none other than India - it has become an
informal American strategic partner in Asia and Pacific. Obviously, India and United States have developed
extensive economic relations with China; both have considered China as their strategic rival and have never
failed to reflect their keen desire in containing China‟s ever-growing military rise.
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On September 03, 2013, The Diplomat has published a highly serious article written by Amitai Etzioni on
America‟s - Air Sea Battle (ASB) plan to respond China‟s military challenge. According to Etzioni China, over the
past two decades has been developing anti ship missiles with anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities that
could undermine the international right of free passage in China‟s surrounding waters in the case of a conflict
over Taiwan or contested islands in the South and East China Seas. This would prevent the U.S. to carry out its
commitments to its friends or allies in the region.
The ASB concept as envisaged is developed in the theory that - first the U.S. attacks China‟s reconnaissance
and command-and-control networks to degrade the PLA‟s ability to target U.S. and allied forces. Next, the
military takes the fight to the Chinese mainland, striking long-range anti-ship missile launchers where they are
located. It would be matched by attacking China's air defense systems, command control centers, and other
anti-access weapons. Indubitably, it will turn out to be a “total war with China” that may ultimately lead to a
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has just produced a report –named Silver Bullet: Asking the Right
Questions About Conventional Prompt Global Strike. According to the report prepared by James M. Action, the
U.S. military has been researching and testing the “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” (CPGS) system for a
decade to respond Beijing‟s anti-access/area-denial activities to some regions.
These weapons can strike distant targets in a short period – against anti satellite ASAT weapons system and
anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities developed by China against United States in its bid to respond U.S.
rebalance to Asia.
Similarly, these non-nuclear weapons could be used to counter anti satellite weapons and other sophisticated
defensive capabilities. It could deny new proliferators the ability to employ nuclear arsenal and kill high-value
Action has explained the international ramifications of CPGS including the escalation risks, the problem of
target ambiguity and misinterpretation on the part of potential adversaries. They would make efforts to
acquire similar systems, and may enhance deterrence against the aggression and against the United States and
its allies as well.
In Mahabharata – the famous Hindu classic there is a dialogue between Yaksha- the demigod and Yudhishthir-
who later became the king of Hastinapur - the greatest empire of his time. The questions Yaksha asked to
Yudhishthira are considered the most difficult and even today, when someone faces some most difficult
question they say it as – “Yaksha Prashn” or . According to the story, if Yudhishthira could answer all the
questions asked, he had chance to save the life of any one among the four of his brothers already been killed
as they drank water from his well without answering his questions. Among many other difficult questions
Yakshya asked Yudhishtara what is the most surprising thing in the world? The answer Yudhishtara gave was-
It means everyday people see hundreds of people dying before their eyes, but they do never think and thus
behave in a way that they will never die – and this according to him was the most surprising thing.
And perhaps the most surprising thing in present day world is - why the countries are engaged in a never ending
arms race - while they have seen and experienced that no weapon or weapon system can become and remain
exclusive to them, give full protection to them or with least possibility that the time will come to use them in
The newly emerging global system characterized by the growing influence of China and India has yet to take
shape, but it has already begun to demand a new world order. Evidently, if the major powers like United
States, China and India fail to deliver such an order with a comprehensive defense diplomacy, more turmoil
and tragedy will come to govern the newly emerging international system.
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India – even with so many internally turbulent times has become a major world power. Japan with the level of
its economy, sense of nationalism and mastery over modern technology, can never give China any upper hand
in its military capability to dominate it. Besides, the world has bitterly experienced that a small but viciously
violent jihadist or rebel group of people can challenge the world‟s most powerful country and make it suffer
with enormous economic woes and force it to make serious compromises in its defense acquisition and
spending. Whereas China or India, still a developing country, with so many internal problems from poverty,
internal violence, climate change, regional developmental imbalances and water and food shortages, may
succumb to any such pressures and the huge potential they are unleashing may easily change into national
The President of Council on Foreign Relations and an acclaimed analyst in international politics -Richard N.
Haass has made an exceptional remark in his new book - Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting
America's House in Order. The single language conclusion he made is that - the biggest threat to the United
States comes not from abroad but from within. Haas argues that an avoidable economic crisis, crumbling
infrastructures, poor quality of education, growing debt burden, and unrestricted spending on entitlements
have dangerously compromised American national security than by a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, or
What Haass has said in case of United States applies more truly to countries like India or China. Every nation
has some intrinsic strength and the political leadership of a country that is able to represent the strengths of
the nations and its people including the best use of national resources for internal peace and prosperity, is the
best security of a country. Besides, defense of a country depends upon the strength of its economy, billions of
dollars poured on importing or developing advanced weapons at the cost of people‟s basic requirements, and
their well-being, seriously compromises the health of its economy and national defense as well. This can never
keep a country secured and prosperous.
Ian Bremmer in his provocative book – Every Nation for Itself, explains leadership vacuum or shrinking power
gap of major powers in a non-polar world. Bremmer names the present day world as a “G- Zero World” where
many countries are strong enough to prevent the international community and take any actions to maintain
some kind of global order. However, none of them has the economic, political, or military power to maintain
the status quo in their favor. According to him, no one is there to drive the bus and take a lead to address the
daunting global challenges from terrorism to climate change and from nuclear proliferation to stability of
global economy and food and water security.
Countries with their wealth and defense capabilities may wish to rule over the world, but among the
community of nations, there are no spaces for them to rule- whereas they have no boundary to prosper and
ensure a descent life for all, if they can develop viable strategic options to live and work together. Obviously,
never the world was in need of greater cooperation among them than any time before.
The lesson the 21st Century has taught us is simple but perhaps most difficult to learn and adopt It is indeed -
their foreign policy begins at their home, but their peace and prosperity remains at the hands of people across
their borders- among the powerful and among the weak. Failures to find a better modality to accommodate
each other and find ways to live and prosper together with other countries can never ensure their national
security despite their wealth, their military, and their advanced weaponries.
Eurasia Review September 8, 2013