China’s New Land Border Law: Repercussions for India and Neighbouring Countries

China’s New Land Border Law: Repercussions for India and Neighbouring Countries

By – Teg Prataap Singh Sandhu;

The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, which operates as the legislative body of Communist China, passed the new Land Border Law on the 23rd of October, 2021. The legislation which contains 62 articles and 7 chapters, came into effect on the 1st of January, 2022 can be heralded as a stratagem to convert border disputes into conflicts over sovereignty. The controversial law epitomizes the brinksmanship model adopted by Premier Xi Jinping to tackle border disputes. 

The legislation is a provocative move by the Chinese to unilaterally delineate borders with its neighbouring states. The law has ruffled feathers in New Delhi as it was implemented by the Chinese amidst a border standoff with India. China as of today shares a 22,000-kilometre border with an astonishing fourteen countries; however, it only shares non-demarcated boundaries with India and Bhutan. Currently, the Chinese have illegally occupied 38,000 square kilometres of Ladakh, and claim sovereignty over 90,000 kilometres of Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, the Chinese claim territory over 760 kilometres of Bhutanese territory. The Chinese modus operandi counteracts the various bilateral attempts to resolve the border issues leaving a militarised solution as the sole viable alternative for India and Bhutan.

Given the controversy the new Land Border Law has stirred, it is critical to analyse the aspects covered in the law which make it contentious. The legislation primarily asserts Chinese sovereignty over its territories as inviolable and sacred. It states how delimitation of boundaries would be fixed by the Chinese authorities along with the relevant neighbouring state to determine the physical extent of territorial sovereignty between the two nations. 

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) are the two bodies working in tandem to nullify security threats along disputed territories. The PLA is tasked to ensure that territory markers are not violated by any external actors whereas the Police Force prohibits any Chinese entity from partaking in activities that could jeopardise the status quo with a neighbouring state. The indigenous population residing along the borders is mandated to abide by the demarcation as per the new law and support the PLA and PAP to uphold Chinese sovereignty along the border areas. The legislation aims to establish buffer zones along border areas while using a hybrid civil-military model. The Chinese state aims to promote economic and social development through the establishment of infrastructure and public services in disputed territories as a reward for protecting Chinese interests. 

Modus Operandi Behind the New Land Border Law

The new Land Border Law echoes territorial expansionism, a concept that has remained central across different Chinese regimes. The Chinese mechanism is viewed as a move to install ‘Xiaokang’ defence villages in disputed territories. Beijing is now prioritizing establishing villages and towns along its border areas as it utilizes civilians to expand into Indian territory under the garb of protecting its sovereignty. After the development of Chinese settlements in disputed areas, negotiations over these territories would become an even more complicated process. Therefore, the Chinese stratagem aims to incentivize settlements along border areas which would be extremely valuable since any border settlement in the future would be implemented as per the Sino-Indian Border Defence Cooperation Agreement which dissects territory according to the settled population in the particular area. 

The legislation exhibits a dichotomy in the Chinese posture while handling border disputes with India and other neighbouring states. The Chinese response to the land border dispute with India and Bhutan is reflective of the intimidation tactic used by the Chinese to coerce its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The Communist Party adopted the Maritime Police Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Law as it sought to combat all alien encroachments in its maritime domain. As China simultaneously indulges in land and maritime expansion, the common denominator between the new border laws pertaining to both theaters is to legitimize the use of all means necessary to uphold Chinese sovereignty in disputed territories. 

China has claimed that large parts of Northern Bhutanese territory lie under Chinese sovereignty which has historically caused severe discord between the two states. However, in a surprising turn of events, China has backtracked on its assertions over Northern Bhutan in a bid to expand into Western Bhutan. The change in stance results from the geostrategic significance of West Bhutan since it could be utilized as a launch-pad to expand into Southern parts of Bhutan which lie in close proximity to the chicken’s neck, the Siliguri Corridor. Further, Beijing now also asserts sovereignty over the Sakteng sanctuary which could be used as a military base for operations in Arunachal Pradesh. 

The law also highlights the growing fears within the Communist party as the region confronts the establishment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Given the erratic nature of the Taliban entity, the region faces a new threat that has the potential to infect the South Asia region with instability. Moreover, the law lies in alignment with the formation of a common Chinese identity which forms the focal point of the Xi Jinping regime. Education is utilized as a mechanism to promote loyalty to the Chinese state and build a common Chinese ethos that vibrates across the homeland. The legislation is an attempt to endow ethnic assimilation as Beijing attempts to coerce shared Chinese ‘consciousness’ among the masses.

India’s Response 

The new law has been at the receiving end of stern criticism by Indian hawks as the legislation poses the risk of derailing the Indo-Chinese dialogue to solve border conflicts, leaving a militarised solution as the sole alternative. The Indian External Affairs Ministry condemned the law since it is a unilateral attempt by the Chinese to resolve border disputes on its terms. The Indian government stated that the legislation could hamper the various bilateral treaties, dialogues, and agreements to maintain peace in the non-demarcated border shared between the countries. Further, the Chinese efforts were vehemently denounced as through the law they sought to legitimize the 1963 Sino-Pak border agreement which New Delhi regards as illegal. 

Consensual delimitation of borders with India has historically been a stance that China has avoided. The Chinese blueprint behind territorial encroachment involves disclosing ambiguous historical treaties and maps to claim sovereignty over foreign territory. Having arm-twisted 12 of its land neighbours into establishing borders based on Chinese terms, the strategic course taken by Beijing concerning the border dispute with India also reflects the same. However, adopting a maximalist approach with India on border issues could be rued by the Chinese in the future given the growing economic and military might of the Indian nation. The Modi government has been clear in its stance towards foreign incursions: Under no circumstance would India forego its legitimate territory. The Chinese are aware that provoking India could lead to dire consequences in the South China Sea and the East China Sea since India is a central figure in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) Bloc which is emerging as an important security mechanism in the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, as a reminder to highlight the importance of the Indian market for Chinese goods, New Delhi imposed anti-dumping duty on Chinese goods for a minimum period of five years on products related to industries such as thermal power plants, refrigeration, and dye. 

Importantly, the law comes at a time when border tensions are unresolved post the border clashes of June 2020 in Galwan Valley. Border areas across Demchok, Depsnag, and Pangong Lake have witnessed a recent surge in border infrastructure development and military deployment as the two sides have sought to deter territorial incursions. The doves of Chinese foreign policy have termed the move inconsequential to India. They argue that the legislation endeavours to deter any future threat posed by the newly established Taliban regime in Afghanistan as well as to curb the increasing rate of illegal immigration from Myanmar and Vietnam into Chinese territories. 

Repercussions on the Status Quo

Given the hostile borders relations shared between India and China, the new Land Border Law has the potential to further complicate bilateral relations between the two countries. The latest map unveiled by the Chinese state incorporates the complete state of Arunachal Pradesh, and territories of Uttarakhand and Ladakh, all of which lie under Indian sovereignty. The first tipping point could be the handling of Indian citizens in disputed areas that Beijing insists to be Chinese sovereign territory, since the present-day Chinese map includes a major chunk of Indian territory. Another possible bone of contention could be the mandatory Chinese consent required to build border infrastructure in disputed territories. Given the contrasting nature of claims between India and China over the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the PLA would resist the formation of permanent defence structures by the Indian army. This could further spread hostility along the borders, given the flare-up of the Chinese and Indian armed forces in recent times which has led to the two states indulging in an infrastructure arms race along various sectors of the border areas. Lastly, the Chinese tactic resonates with the salami-slicing technique the dragon is infamously renowned for. However, given the fact that the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is unlikely to budge on its territorial sovereignty as demonstrated in Galwan and Dokhlam, the Chinese need to reassess their options as it is too far-fetched to assume that a country of India’s stature could be bullied by unilateral declarations. 

Teg Prataap Singh Sandhu is a master’s student pursing Diplomacy, Law and Business from OP Jindal Global University. I have previously interned at think-tanks such as National Maritime Foundation and Global Peace Foundation. My research interests include Chinese Foreign Policy; Peace and Conflict Studies in West Asia and South Asia. I have published articles related to the spread of political Islam across the Middle East; The failure of democracy in Pakistan, and the Chinese debt trap diplomacy. I am presently working on the project ‘Management of the Indo-Bangladesh border’ with UNESCO, Guwahati. 

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

By Rahul Karan Reddy;

The future of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is set to scale new heights at the 20th Communist Party National Congress in October 2022. It is arguably the most important political event of the year in China. More than 2200 delegates, including provincial Party bosses, military officials and other political elites will come to Beijing and elect members to the Central Committee and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). The Party Congress will ultimately reveal a new Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), composed of China’s top leaders in charge of the economy, military and Party. Most importantly, Xi Jinping appears poised to begin a third term as General Secretary of the Party. By securing a third term, Xi would break with the precedent set by his predecessors who gave up the title after two terms.

The 20th Party Congress is likely to fortify the consolidation of Xi Jinping’s political authority which began in 2012 at the 18th Party Congress. By scrapping the 10-year term limit for the office of president in 2018 and passing the Party’s third historical resolution at the 6th plenary session of the Central Committee in November 2021, Xi has signalled his intentions to stay on as China’s leader for the foreseeable future. Xi also cemented his legacy beside Mao’s by introducing his theoretical contribution – Xi Jinping Thought – into the Chinese constitution at the 19th Party Congress. His political ambition to engineer the rejuvenation of China hinges on the outcomes of and reactions to the 20th Party Congress, which are sure to have an enduring impact on political elites. Nonetheless, Xi’s decision to stay on as China’s paramount leader could spark discontent among Party officials and bring changes to the balance of power between factions in the Party. Concurrently, Xi Jinping’s third term will also raise uncertainty around institutional norms of succession, term limits and age limits.

Xi’s Strategy and Outcomes of the Party Congress

Under Xi Jinping’s direction, the Party Congress is likely to reorder the landscape of elite politics in China through appointments, promotions and retirements. Xi is aware that the period leading up to the Party Congress in October will shape expectations and perceptions surrounding the outcomes of the event. He will look to ensure the smooth and uneventful conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the National People’s Congress in April and May and diplomatic engagements with the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and United Nations (UN) in August and September respectively. Ensuring these events are a success will be crucial for Xi Jinping to build political momentum going into the Party Congress. The desire for stability is also reflected in Xi’s emphasis on unity within the Party and the country. His warning in November against domestic threats to the CCPs legitimacy and reiteration of the two upholds indicates a desire to protect his legitimacy and authority. 

Xi promised no mercy in the fight against corruption, which has served the purpose of eliminating rivals and resistance to his leadership of the Party. Additionally, the anti-corruption campaign continues to enhance his popular appeal by tackling the corruption of Party elites. Interestingly, the campaign lost momentum in Xi’s second term, reflecting the emphasis on stability and leadership unity among factions in the Party. According to Cheng Li, in Xi Jinping’s second term only two members of the 376-member Central Committee were targeted by the CCDI, compared to 42 members in his first term.

Xi Jinping is likely to make several changes to the composition of China’s top leadership. For instance, he will promote a new generation of leaders born in the 1960s. With at least 11 members of the 25-member Politburo and two members of the PBSC due to retire in 2022, China’s top leadership will see a new generation of leaders enter the Politburo and even the PBSC. Xi may also appoint leaders born in the 1950s who have reached the retirement age in an effort to maintain the balance of power between factions or emphasize the continuity of leadership.

Alternatives and Rivals

Xi Jinping emerged as China’s most important leader in 2012 and did not appoint a successor at the 19th Party Congress in 2017. The absence of a successor on the horizon puts him on the cusp of becoming China’s paramount leader without term limits. Two potential successors to Xi, Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, were eliminated from consideration for the job in 2017 when Sun was charged with corruption and Hu failed to win promotion to the PBSC. It is possible for Xi to appoint a successor in October 2022 although it is unlikely since Xi initiated the two safeguards campaign in 2019 to protect the unrivalled leadership of the Central Committee and his place at its core. However, at the Beidaihe informal summit before the Party Congress, factions and top leaders will network and lobby for positions in China’s top political bodies. Wang Qishan, China’s Vice-President and the former CCDI director, is one important actor whose experience and network in the Party could prove significant.

Xi Jinping’s strategy to manage potential rivals and resistance to his rule involves side-lining any threats to his leadership through the anti-corruption campaign, appointments to ceremonial roles and selective application of age limit rules. The most recent target of the anti-corruption campaign was Dong Hang, a former CCDI inspector and close aide to Wang Qishan. Xi also ensures that local leaders do not form power bases and networks in their provinces by reshuffling provincial Party secretaries and governors. By November 13, 2021, provincial committees completed their leadership transitions. These transitions have produced newly elected officials who are no longer distinguishable by faction. 

And finally, age-limits that govern the reappointment of officials are selectively observed for certain candidates at the highest levels while they are enforced on others at the provincial level. For instance, the Party Secretary of Yunnan, Ruan Chengfa, retired after turning 65 in November 2020. Several other provincial party secretaries also retired in 2020 after turning 65 that year. Although provincial party secretaries like Ying Yong, Peng Qinghua and Chen Run’er continue to maintain their positions in spite of being nearly the same age as Ruan Chengfa, retirements and promotions at the Central Committee and provincial levels are largely consistent with age-limit rules. For example, between August and December 2021, none of the 79 personnel changes to the Central Committee deviated from the age-limit rules. Age limit rules are observed consistently at the provincial levels to ensure the promotion of a handful of officials based on their loyalty and proximity to Xi Jinping. On the other hand, retirement rules are ambiguous at the Politburo level and beyond, allowing them to be selectively applied to retire or side-line officials based on their factional loyalties.

The Post-Pandemic Future

In November 2021, Party members were instructed to prepare for the election of delegates to the Party Congress. The Party’s Organization department announced a meeting to make arrangements for the election that will run until June 2022. But the Party and Xi have more than just the Party Congress to think about. This year they face challenges on several fronts that threaten to undermine China’s rise. Xi will have to confront challenges facing China’s slowing economy, growing hostility in its external environment and instability within the Party. The Beijing Winter Games are currently underway and China faces pressure from the US and its allies on human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. China must also contend with outbreaks of COVID-19 in the face of a zero-covid policy that will test the resilience of Xi’s efforts. Moreover, China’s economy is slowing as it grapples with turmoil in the real estate sector and sluggish manufacturing and services activity. Beijing will also have to manage US-China strategic competition and sustain its diplomatic engagements like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) without overextending itself. These challenges converge to create a highly charged and tense political environment for Xi Jinping.

As Xi seeks a third term in power as General Secretary, he has decided to enhance the legitimacy of the Party and his rule. The common prosperity agenda outlined by him was designed to address the inequality of wealth through the use of taxation and income redistribution schemes. The Party has also initiated a variety of social policies in the interest of common prosperity: from banning for-profit tutoring to placing restrictions on the “996” work culture at tech companies. From a political standpoint, Xi is likely to continue consolidation of power while carefully managing the Party reaction to his third term as General Secretary. By pursuing a third term, avoiding to appoint a successor and purging his rivals, Xi Jinping has sparked fears of the cult of personality, much like the one that dominated Chinese politics in the 1950s and 1960s under Mao Zedong.

Rahul Karan Reddy is an international relations analyst pursuing a Masters degree from O.P Jindal Global University in Diplomacy, Law and Business. He is the author of ‘Islands on the Rocks’, a monograph detailing the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between China and Japan. His research focus is China and East Asia. He was a research analyst at the Chennai Center for China Studies (C3S) and an intern at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), writing articles and reports on China’s foreign policy and domestic politics. His blog, Asian Drama, follows the rise of India and China as they navigate the Asian Century.

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

By – Anubhav S Goswami;

In a bid to boost the firepower of its army along the Line of Control (LOC), Pakistan has bought SH-15 Howitzer from People’s Republic of China (PRC) to deter India. These artillery guns were delivered under a contract that the Pakistan Army had signed with China Northern Industries Corporation (NORINCO) after the February-March 2019 tensions with India. The total number of SH-15 to be delivered to Pakistan under the contract is 236, of which some units have been supplied . In this article, alleged capability of SH-15 to fire nuclear shells is discussed with a major focus on Pakistan’s advocacy for the use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) in its deterrence posture against India.

Howitzer that can fire nuclear shells?

SH-15 systems are capable of firing 155 mm NATO ammunition as well as indigenous ammunition. They are fitted on the chassis of a truck that can carry 60 rounds of ammunition in four boxes. The range of the SH-15 is said to be 53 km and as this artillery system can be transported via most medium cargo planes like the Y-9, its utility as an extremely mobile munition platform for rapid response teams is immense. Furthermore, in many reports of past and present, it has been said that the SH-15 howitzers are capable of firing nuclear shells. However, this has not been confirmed by any credible source. Nonetheless, SH-15 provides the advantage of having a ‘shoot and scoot’ system that is best for the use of nuclear shells as it is “easy to hide and easy to use against troop concentration”. This article assumes that an SH-15 can indeed fire nuclear shells.

However, the more important ambiguity is over Pakistan’s possession of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW). Does Islamabad possess miniaturised nuclear weapon to fit into an SH-15 Howitzer? SH-15 could only be made nuclear-capable if Pakistan’s attempts to miniaturize its nuclear weapons are successful. Pakistan has been working on a TNW program since 1984; former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf had claimed in conservation with a top US diplomat that Islamabad had created a “minuscule nuclear warhead” in the latter half of 2011. Another top establishment person, former Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, confirmed in Washington DC in October 2015 that Pakistan already possessed low-yield battlefield weapons to counter India’s Cold Start strategy. India’s Cold Statrt doctrine envisages a pre-emptive operation virtually from a “cold start” to deny Pakistan the advantage of early mobilisation with Indian “integrated battle groups” (IBGs; divisional-size forces) launching “limited offensive operations to a shallow depth, to capture a long swathe of territory almost all along the international boundary”.

Furthermore, for India, the selling of an alleged nuclear-tipped artillery to Pakistan raises serious questions on China’s already notoriously infamous proliferation record, raising the threat quotient vis-à-vis national security even more.. Beijing has mastered a perfect strategy of supplying conventional weapons to Pakistan to keep India alert on its western border. China also secretly transferred nuclear weapon technology and material to Pakistan beginning the 1980s. Islamabad benefited from those assistance to the extend that it enabled them to  develop its nuclear deterrent against India. Evidences speak of China passing the entire design for a nuclear weapon to Pakistan in the early 1980s. This was a first where a nation “handed over the full design for a nuclear weapon to a strategic partner”. In the case of Islamabad’s TNW programme, there’s no evidences of China helping Pakistan to miniaturise an atomic bomb. However, Pakistan’s short-range ballistic missile, the Nasr (Hatf 9) – a “quick response” tactical nuclear delivery system –  is derived from China’s WS-2 tactical rocket.  Such collaborations in the past gives enough grounds for future China-Pakistan cooperations on TNWs, particularly on nuclear artillery, an open-ended possibility.

Nuclear artillery in sync with FSD

Since it conducted nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and force posture evolved from ‘minimum credible deterrence’ to ‘credible minimum deterrence’ in line with the dictum of ‘full-spectrum deterrence’ (FSD). FSD is meant to enhance Pakistan’s deterrent capability “at all levels of the threat spectrum,” including the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. FSD came into being on Sept 5, 2013 after Pakistan’s top body on research, development, production, use and security of the nuclear programme approved and adopted it as the country’s nuclear doctrine. The FSD also occupies a critical role in Pakistan’s recently adopted National Security Policy (NSP) where the cardinal policy objective is to “deter any aggression by maintaining a cost-effective and adaptive military, focused on modernisation and optimisation of force structures to ensure adequate conventional capability and maintain full spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence, without getting involved in an arms race”.

The need for a change in the nuclear doctrine was felt in Islamabad after Pakistani strategists concurred that India’s limited warfighting concepts of ‘Cold Start’ and Pro-Active Operations (PAO) necessitate the requirement of newer range of options for Pakistani decision-makers. Islamabad believes that Full Spectrum Deterrence will help Pakistan deter threats of a limited war under the shadow of nuclear weapons. Doctrines of limited war evolve when there is strategic instability between two conflicting nations. From Pakistan’s point of view, strategic instability in South Asia is caused by Pakistan’s lack of strategic equivalence with India due to the vast asymmetry in conventional capabilities between the two nations. Former head of Pakistan’s all-important Strategic Plans Division (SPD), Lt. General (retired) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai said that to restore strategic stability between Islamabad and New Delhi and make war less likely, deployment less likely of battlefield nuclear weapons became necessary to extend Pakistan’s conventional deterrent capabilities

The NSP also calls for the development of “requisite conventional capabilities” in full-spectrum deterrence to “defend Pakistan’s territorial integrity at all costs”. In line with FSD, TNWs are meant to provide strong deterrence against India’s proactive military doctrines like the Cold Start which, according to Pakistani analysts, calls for up to “eight independent armoured brigades to penetrate up to 50 kilometres (about 31 miles) into Pakistan without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds”.

Most military strategists and planners in Islamabad agree that TNWs complete FSD as it allows Pakistan to choose the rung on the escalation ladder at which it can deliberately upscale the war before the country suffers any considerable degradation of its armed forces. TNWs, if fitted in a 155 mm shell with a stated range of 53 km, will add value to Pakistan’s deterrence strategy that revolves around escalation dominance at all rungs of the military ladder, from low intensity to conventional and nuclear war.

Do TNWs establish strategic stability in South Asia?

The rationale for FSD is that TNWs would help further stabilize nuclear deterrence and credibility in the South Asian region. However, the experiences of American and NATO commanders that have dealt with TNW’s during the Cold War suggests that it is futile “of attempting to develop either doctrine or force structure to employ [TNWS] on the battlefield.” Another American officer opines that “rather than contributing to deterrence by offsetting the conventional military superiority of the Soviet Union, the use of tactical nuclear weapons instead would have almost certainly guaranteed uncontrolled escalation in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe”. The prime reason for such bleak observation is the tactical nature of TNWs, which require some form of delegation of authority to battlefield officers for its deployment in the thick fog of war. 

Now on a battlefield, Pakistani TNW launchers could only be deployed dangerously close to the fighting, which would expose them to India’s conventional firepower. This is where a battlefront military officer might be confronted with a use-it-or-lose-it dilemma that could threaten Pakistan’s command and control structure of its TNW forces. Therefore TNWs come with a high risk of being used prematurely when not authorised. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described this as the “Mad Major Syndrome”. Pakistan claims to have a strong command and control structure and a reliable communications system for safe deployment of TNWs on the battlefield. Yet, deployment of TNWs will inevitably make Pakistani battlefield officers anxious about its survivability, making the TNWs a highly destabilizing agent for strategic stability in South Asia. 

India’s concerns in the region

Since Pakistan’s FSD reserves the right to first strike at theatre level, nuclear artillery enjoys a natural advantage over other delivery systems due to its ability to destroy counter-force targets on the battlefield. Counter-force targets could be anywhere from Rajasthan to Drass in Ladakh. According to one report, the howitzers will be mainly deployed in the mountainous plains along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. However, another study points out that nuclear artillery in the Kashmir region is unlikely due to Kashmir being the bargaining factor for Pakistan, and “destruction of Kashmir by use of nuclear weapons would mean Pakistan losing its bargaining factor”. However, nuclear artillery use in areas like the Kargil, Dras and Batalik sectors is possible. Runn of Katch region in the Rajasthan border also provides much scope for Pakistan’s counterforce operations. 

However, the counterforce capabilities of Pakistan’s TNWs are not credible yet. India’s massive advantage in obtaining real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and an equal advancement in space-based military capabilities can blunt the counterforce capabilities of Pakistani battlefield nuclear weapons. Critics also question the sufficiency of Pakistan’s fissile material (particularly plutonium) stockpiles that are critical for deploying an adequate number of nuclear artilleries to demonstrate its deterrent value against Indian integrated battle groups (IBGs). Given Pakistan’s limited fissile material, nuclear shells are likely to be deployed in limited numbers.

In addition, academics question the military utility of Pakistan’s TNW program. Physicists such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, A. H. Nayyar, and Zia Mian have claimed that battlefield nuclear weapons will have limited military utility against invading Indian armoured formations. TNWs will destroy only a few Indian tanks and armoured vehicles, thus falling short in their effectiveness in deterrence. 


Procurement of SH-15 Howitzer by Pakistan leaves much room for guesswork about its rumoured TNW capabilities. Pakistan’s National Security Policy 2022 stresses extending the nation’s conventional capabilities to “maintain full spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence”. TNWs are seen as an extension of Pakistan’s conventional deterrent capabilities as laid down in Islamabad’s Full Spectrum Deterrence doctrine. It is in this context, a careful observation and study of SH-15’s role in Pakistan’s TNW force structure is critical. 

Pakistan believes TNWs are crucial for strategic stability in South Asia. However, low-yield battlefield deterrent by Pakistan will only create a risky cycle of misperceptions between New Delhi’s No-First-Use policy and Islamabad’s unstated policy of First Strike at a tactical level. Such doctrinal mismatch will reduce the scope for future crisis management and resolution, posing a great challenge to regional stability.

Anubhav S Goswami is a Research Associate at Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. Additionally, Anubhav is a Doctoral Scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P Jindal Global University. His doctoral research is based on the comparative analysis of American Grand strategy in the context of changing world system from Unipolarity to Multipolarity. His research interests include U.S Grand Strategy, Sino-American strategic competition, Taiwan’s sovereignty, Indo-US Strategic relationship, Indian Foreign Policy, Indian grand strategic thought and Japanese Foreign Policy.

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

By – Abhishek Sharma;

In today’s uncertain and fluctuating geopolitical terrain, and with the emergence of new alignment and reaffirmation of partnerships, the world seems to be taking a direction towards a polarized order led by China and U.S. Beijing, with its ideological ‘friends’ Moscow and Pyongyang are challenging the U.S in their respective regions. While the US-China trade war has been on for long, DPRK has sought an explicit demonstration of advancing missile capabilities while Russia has been increasing its troop numbers near the Ukraine border (threatening NATO). But what other factors are shared between the authoritarian ‘Trinity’ of China, Russia and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) apart from antagonizing the U.S.? Is it that all of them are now capable of hitting the U.S with strategic weapons? Is it their Ideological conformity against what they call international (imperialistic) values and norms that constricts them in pursuing their objectives? The reasons are manifold, but first we must contextualize the emergence of the new geopolitical and geoeconomics order in the International System (that already existed in the international society) mainly led by a rethinking in the European capital and a more substantial strategic alignment with the U.S. In this article, the main focus remains on the role of the DPRK in this shifting geopolitical scenario as a ‘strategic spoiler’ for U.S. and DPRK’s closeness with China. In addition, the need for the U.S. to relook its strategy in North-east Asia towards DPRK to avoid strengthening China’s motives is assessed.

DPRK missile demonstration and the US

DPRK, China, and Russia have been in global headlines for different reasons: Russia due to its military buildup on the Ukraine border and the imminent threat of invasion in Ukraine; China is occupied with the Beijing Winter Olympics; while DPRK seems to be the busiest partner absorbed with testing advanced missiles. Some experts have pointed the trend of repeated missile testing by DPRK as a signal towards the U.S. for renewed engagement. This development also comes when the elections in South Korea are slated to be held in March. The atmosphere in Pyongyang also seems suitable for engagement with the U.S. At the 4th Plenum of the 8th Central Committee of Korean Worker’s Party conveyed from 27-30 December 2021, statements made by Kim Jong-un about prioritization of ‘Rural Development’ shows that the DPRK is concerned with the increasing discontent rising among the citizens of the countryside who are hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, the U.S. has seemed uninterested in DPRK since Biden Administration came to the White House. It is an open secret that the decision to engage with the DPRK regime is not taken by Seoul but Washington D.C. After one year in office, the Biden Administration’s strategy towards DPRK has come under severe criticism with no ambassador appointed in Seoul apart from a U.S special representative to North Korea Ambassador Sung Kim.

With DPRK testing more missiles in 2022 than in 2017 alone, the focus in Washington D.C. seems to be shifting again towards Pyongyang. The Trump administration strategy of ‘sanctions and coercive diplomacy’ and the ‘isotopic’ continuation by the Biden administration in the form of ‘serious and sustained diplomacy’ has shown no results in changing attitudes in Pyongyang. On the contrary, DPRK has demonstrated the extent to which it can develop its deterrence arsenal by testing hypersonic missiles on January 5 and 11, which shows the level of technological sophistication achieved by DPRK. In addition, the recent testing of Intermediate-and-long range ballistic missile Hwasong-12 reaching a maximum altitude of 2,000 km and traveling 800 km is its most extended missile test since 2017. This test also breaks off the suspension announced in 2018, a moratorium of not testing nuclear devices and long-range ballistic missiles. DPRK also launched two short-range ballistic missiles tests through a rail-based system as a counter-strike measure on January 14. Even the testing of Cruise Missiles shows the overall strategy of DPRK in boosting its war deterrence against the U.S.

All these tests signal the clear intention of the regime in Pyongyang towards pursuing a credible deterrence against the U.S. by advancing its capabilities and capacities. This also highlights the failure of U.S. foreign policy under both Trump and the Biden Administration in restricting North Korea’s aim of achieving credible deterrence. These developments change the power dynamic in the northeast Asian region, creating more uncertainty both in Seoul and Tokyo. The lack of progress towards the DPRK problem shows a need to relook at the whole issue from a different lens.

Emerging of New Axis: Closing proximity between China, Russia, and DPRK    

The developments in the Korean peninsula show the complicated nature of geopolitics playing in the Indo-Pacific region and the U.S.’s failure to keep up with various concerns of its Allies and Partners. What adds to this fast-changing geopolitical situation is the emergence of ‘generated’ conflict in a different regions where U.S. interest lies. The current developments highlight the inability of Washington D.C to address and manage various foreign policy decisions when push comes to shove. The emerging convergence of the geopolitical and geoeconomic in the polarized international system has finally aligned the interest of various European capitals with the U.S. that earlier ignored the geoeconomics dimension of their relations due to domestic concerns. However, the ‘New’ strategy emerging amidst the re-alignments seems to favor Beijing. The U.S. preoccupation with Russia and DPRK has shown the U.S.’s limited capacity in dealing with multiple challenges. China has successfully benefited from the U.S. conflict with Russia and DPRK, keeping the U.S. occupied with North-East and South-East neighbors. Besides, China is trying to consolidate political capital by standing firm with its neighbors to show solidarity. China’s explicit support in UNSC with Russia on the Ukraine issue stands starkly against its abstention stand on Crimean Resolution in 2014 in UNSC. On January 20, China and Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council from imposing sanctions on North Korean officials engaged in the DPRK missile tests program. The convergence of interest between China, Russia, and the DPRK increases as new geopolitical realities emerge. ‘ China’s efforts to boost ties with Russia and North Korea are based on its national interests and the common interests shared by countries in the region, and most importantly, in these ties, all countries are equal’ stated an expert in Global Times. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the relations between the three countries had only grown.  China remains the largest trading partner of both Russia and DPRK, and with increasing sanctions from the west, Beijing has been the only reliable partner for both Moscow and Pyongyang.

Strategy towards North Korea going forward

China is emerging as the clear strategic competitor for the U.S in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S strategy for strengthening interest-based partnerships in the region should not focus only on aligning with new partners like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam and strengthening ties with the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. Further, there must emerge a new strategy that looks from different prism at U.S. ties with DPRK. This should involve taking into account both Seoul’s and Tokyo’s concerns. These encompass the transfer of OPCON to South Korea, support the development of Nuclear Submarines, and encourage closer ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Some changes like the removal of missile restriction made last year indicated the intention of the U.S. administration towards giving Seoul more strategic autonomy. At the same time, an acknowledgment that North Korea will not suspend its missiles program under forced sanction can be a starting point. A renewed engagement between U.S. and DPRK should be the way forward to ensure that the regime in Pyongyang doesn’t become more dependent on Beijing. This strategy must be based on reviving inter-Korean relations. The outlook of the U.S. towards DPRK should not be one-dimensional; in other words, focusing only on denuclearization. U.S. should also engage DPRK in cybersecurity and aim for a strategic outlook of policy in the Indo-Pacific that minimizes its theatres of conflict going forward. Such a strategy is beneficial for the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region like Vietnam and India. They are standing against Chinese hegemony and wish to see the U.S.’ increasing role in ensuring a Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP). To maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. needs to manage its adversaries in another region more effectively. The U.S.’s strategic approach needs to link the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and its direct effect to the security of the Indo-Pacific region and the common factor of China. A strategy that strengthens its position in the region and weakens the hands of the Trinity should be the way forward.

Abhishek Sharma is a Doctoral Student in Korean Studies under the Department of East Asian Studies at University of Delhi. He is a postgraduate in International Relations from South Asian University. He is interested in evolving Geopolitics of East Asia and the Indo-Pacific Region, focusing on India-South Korea relations and Indian Foreign Policy. His research interests also include the intersection of Gender and International Politics, particularly in Environmental Peacebuilding, Nuclear Disarmament, and Feminist Foreign Policy